The best travel books by women to inspire a journey of your own

Why am I passionate about this?

Over the course of my so-called career as a travel writer, the ‘I’ve-Got-A Big-One’ school favoured by the male of the species has ceded ground. Women, less interested in ‘conquering,’ have pioneered a kind of creative non-fiction that suits the travel genre. I prefer it to the blokeish business of seeing how dead you can get. It notices more. As the decades unfurled – Pole to Pole, via Poland – I realised, more and more, the debt I owe to the other women who not only set sail but also unsparingly observed the world that turns within each self. 

I wrote...

Glowing Still: A Woman's Life on the Road

By Sara Wheeler,

Book cover of Glowing Still: A Woman's Life on the Road

What is my book about?

Glowing Still is the story of Sara Wheeler’s travelling life in a notoriously testosterone-laden field. Launching at Nubility, Wheeler in these pages voyages, via small children, to the welcoming port of Invisibility (she leaves Immobility for the next volume). She notes what is "important, revealing or funny," writing in the introduction that when she set sail, "Role models were scarce in the travel-writing game." But advancing years usher in unheralded freedoms, and journey’s end finds Wheeler at peace among Zanzibar shows, contemplating our connection with other lives - the irreplaceable value that travel brings – and paying homage to her heroines. "Surely," wrote Freya Stark, "of all the wonders of the world, the horizon is the greatest."

Sara Wheeler is Britain’s foremost woman travel writer.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The View from the Ground

Sara Wheeler Why did I love this book?

Martha Gellhorn’s blend of reportage and imagination ensnared me when I was barely out of my teens, and her preferred form has come of age in my working life.

Not only do I think Gellhorn is a marvellous writer – at her best, one of the best – but I also identify with Gellhorn the woman. "The open road," she wrote, was "my first, oldest and strongest love." She lived from 1908 to 1998 and was writing the fighting for six decades, and although each conflict was different, her message remained the same: ‘There is neither victory nor defeat; there is only catastrophe." 

Book cover of The Lycian Shore: A Turkish Odyssey

Sara Wheeler Why did I love this book?

In many books, Freya Stark (1893 to 1993) covered mostly what we used to call the Middle and Near East – Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan.

In The Lycian Shore she sails in a small yacht along the coast of south-west Turkey. I love this book – it shows what women travel writers can do when they blend history and personal observation. I used to take her chapters apart when I started out to learn how she did it.

By Freya Stark,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Lycian Shore as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

Book cover of Looking For Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria

Sara Wheeler Why did I love this book?

Noo Saro-Wiwa was born in Port Harcourt, 'a tense oil city" in the south of Nigeria, and raised in Surrey.

Wondering why the land of her birth, "stretching from the tropical rainforests of the Atlantic coast to the fringes of the Sahara," rarely features on a tourist itinerary, she went home as a tourist. In these pages she shows – and this is why I so enjoyed her book – that a function of travel, and one more important than ever, is not so much taking pictures of lions but uncovering layers of history we don’t know.

Transwonderland represents an expression of Heimat – an untranslatable German word meaning one’s native land or region but, crucially, carrying a strong emotional charge. 

By Noo Saro-Wiwa,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Looking For Transwonderland as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

Book cover of Wheels within Wheels: The Makings of a Traveller

Sara Wheeler Why did I love this book?

Dervla Murphy (1931-2022) was queen of the road when I started out. I learnt a lot from her.

Visiting Rwanda is probably my top pick among her many travelogues but her best book by far, in my opinion, is the autobiographical Wheels within Wheels. "I had been brought up to understand," Murphy writes, "that material possessions and physical comfort should never be confused with success, achievement and security."

I had been brought up to understand the opposite, and this book showed me, as I tackled a travel memoir of my own, that like Murphy I must take those crucial lessons as a starting point. 

By Dervla Murphy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Wheels within Wheels as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

Book cover of The Springs of Affection: Stories of Dublin

Sara Wheeler Why did I love this book?

I picked this because it showed me – and still does – that the most foreign journey is within, and that when the body stops travelling, the spirit takes over the trek.

Brennan is a fabulous writer – at her best, among the best – and in her head (she wore a beehive that according to a colleague at The New Yorker was taller than she was) she is travelling all the time.

She ought to be better known. 

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Nigeria, journalism, and Dublin?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Nigeria, journalism, and Dublin.

Nigeria Explore 65 books about Nigeria
Journalism Explore 35 books about journalism
Dublin Explore 70 books about Dublin