The best books on travelers

4 authors have picked their favorite books about travelers and why they recommend each book.

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Unsuitable for Ladies

By Jane Robinson,

Book cover of Unsuitable for Ladies: An Anthology of Women Travellers

Florence Nightingale, Freya Start, Gertrude Bell, Karen Blixen, and many other well-known women share their travel adventures in this wildly audacious and inspiring collection of stories. From encountering a madman in the Amazon to surviving a shipwreck, these intrepid globe-trotters overcome many challenges in their dauntless explorations. This book will show you a different side of these famous women.

Who am I?

Travel teaches and molds us. It certainly changed my own life. At age 19, I picked up my backpack and schoolbooks and moved from America to Austria. That experience opened my eyes to the world, and I’ve never looked back. Today, I’m a travel journalist, author, and editor at Go World Travel Magazine. I’m always on the lookout for fascinating tales of travel, but I especially appreciate learning from other female adventurers. They continue to inspire me. I hope these books will inspire you, too.


I edited...

A Pink Suitcase: 22 Tales of Women's Travel

By Janna Graber,

Book cover of A Pink Suitcase: 22 Tales of Women's Travel

What is my book about?

The recipe is simple -- take 22 adventurous women, drop them into fascinating destinations around the globe and add exceptional storytelling. The result is a compelling women's travel anthology called A Pink Suitcase: 22 Tales of Women's Travel.

A Pink Suitcase brings together a talented group of daring women as they journey across the globe on adventures that are as unforgettable as they are moving. These intrepid explorers take on the world with wide eyes, an open heart, and a woman's point of view. They tackle Mother Nature, dive into other cultures, and try new things. And in the process, they learn not only about new people and places, but uncover their own hidden strengths.

Alice Ramsey's Grand Adventure

By Don Brown,

Book cover of Alice Ramsey's Grand Adventure

I’m a big fan of Don Brown and this is one of my favorites. In this biography, we follow the adventure of Alice Ramsey who was the first woman to drive across the United States. It was 1909, so no easy task since there weren’t any interstates, road maps, or gas stations. Yet, Alice, along with her companions, set off. Magically, Brown lets us go along with them as they ramble past farms and fields, muster their way down roads clogged with pigs, dig themselves out of muddy holes, and urge the car across vast moonlit deserts, and over the grueling Sierra Nevada mountains. Alice’s grand adventure not only celebrates a woman’s first, but takes us along for the long, extraordinary, bumpy ride. Bravo Alice! Bravo Don Brown!

Who am I?

I’m an award-winning children’s author of more than 100 books, including many biographies. I first fell in love with biographies when I was a child and read about young blind and deaf Helen Keller. Blind and deaf? I couldn’t imagine. Yet, page by page, as I stepped into little Helen’s world, I felt as if I experienced her struggles, triumphs, and tragedies right along with her. I discovered that in spite of her great challenges, she succeeded. That’s why I love biographies and why I write them. I hope my biographies open a door into someone else’s world that can remind readers that they can succeed too, in spite of obstacles in front of them. I try to write the sort of picture books I love—funny, whimsical, captivating, and unforgettable.


I wrote...

Nonsense! The Curious Story of Edward Gorey

By Lori Mortensen, Chloe Bristol (illustrator),

Book cover of Nonsense! The Curious Story of Edward Gorey

What is my book about?

Nonsense! is about one of literature’s most creepily creative authors and illustrators who was the inspiration behind a generation of creators, including Lemony Snicket, Neil Gaiman, and Tim Burton.

Instead of following the crowd, Gorey did things his own way, writing strange stories with peculiar titles like The Abandoned Sock, The Galoshes of Remorse, and The Gashlycrumb Tinies. When other publishers rejected his work, he published them himself—curious stories that mingled sweetness and innocence, danger and darkness, all mixed with his own brand of silliness. Edward Gorey—mysterious, brilliant, a one-of-a-kind original. Will the curious stories of Edward Gorey ever end? Nonsense.

A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains

By Isabella L. Bird,

Book cover of A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains

When I find myself thinking, “I can't do that,” I think of Isabella Bird, living a brave and intrepid solo life on horseback in the 1870s, long before it was considered an acceptable thing for women to do. 

I can imagine the extraordinary bond she had with her mare, Birdie, and the extreme confidence she had in herself, as she shared trails with hunters and trappers, miners and ranchers, enjoying and appreciating nature, the wildlife, and the wild lands. She must have felt so free and self-assured.

Her humorous and astute observation of the colorful characters paint a picture of life in the West before it was settled, a West I wish still existed and that I could ride into.

Who am I?

I've been addicted to horses for as long as I can remember – not that I'm complaining. Reading The Black Stallion books as a youngster started me down the path of a life with equines. Everything fell into place, one step after another, as I became a racetrack groom, horse photographer, writer, traveler, Endurance rider, and author. I write and photograph for numerous magazines, and I’ve authored five books and several short e-stories on horses. My long-time love was my off-the-track Thoroughbred Stormy, who lived to be 30, and I currently own Hillbillie Willie, an off-the-track Standardbred who loves Endurance riding.


I wrote...

Soul Deep in Horses: Memoir of an Equestrian Vagabond

By Merri Melde,

Book cover of Soul Deep in Horses: Memoir of an Equestrian Vagabond

What is my book about?

Clinging to a four-legged rocket ship among the Pyramids in Egypt. Riding a racehorse on the Curragh in Ireland. Winning a first endurance ride in Texas. Flipping a packhorse down a cliff in California. Flying on a Lord of the Rings horse in New Zealand. Cowgirling it in Idaho.

Capturing the beauty, the humor, the thrills, the fun, the fear, and above all, the love of the equine that goes deep down into the soul, these serendipitous equine adventures are the fabric of an eclectic, adventurous lifestyle with magnificent horses.

A Sense of the World

By Jason Roberts,

Book cover of A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History's Greatest Traveler

If the word “echolocation” pricked up your ears in my previous recommendation, I think you’ll love this book which is both a biography and a deep dive into how one blind person used the senses he had to become the first person to go around the world. James Holman (1786-1857) lost his sight at the age of 25 while he was an officer in the British Royal Navy. His career was cut short and he refashioned himself as an author and adventurer known as the “blind traveler.” Roberts explains how Holman used his gentleman’s walking stick not only to detect obstacles and level changes in his immediate environment, but also used the sound of the metal tip bouncing off objects to guide him through far-flung regions of the world.


Who am I?

Thanks to a degenerative retinal eye disease, I’ve lived on pretty much every notch of the sight-blindness continuum. While going blind super slowly I’ve engaged with the science of seeing and not-seeing as an  academic and artist for about 25 years. I like to say that there are as many ways of being blind as there are of being sighted, there are just fewer of us. Besides teaching literature and humanities courses at NYU, I’ve lectured on art, accessibility, technology, and disability at universities and institutions around the country. I love sharing stories about the brain on blindness, and hope you find my recommendations as fascinating as I do.


I wrote...

There Plant Eyes: A Personal and Cultural History of Blindness

By M. Leona Godin,

Book cover of There Plant Eyes: A Personal and Cultural History of Blindness

What is my book about?

From Homer to Helen Keller, Dune to Stevie Wonder, the invention of braille to the science of echolocation, There Plant Eyes probes the ways in which blindness has shaped our ocularcentric culture, challenging deeply ingrained ideas about what it means to be “blind.” Blindness has been used to signify thoughtlessness (“blind faith”), irrationality (“blind rage”), and unconsciousness (“blind evolution”). At the same time, blind people have been othered as the recipients of special powers as compensation for lost sight, such as the poetic gifts of John Milton and  the heightened senses of the superhero Daredevil.

Godin—who began losing her vision at age ten—illuminates the often-surprising history of both the condition of blindness and the myths and ideas that have grown up around it.

Without Reservations

By Alice Steinbach,

Book cover of Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman

Without Reservations gave me hope following the death of my beloved husband of 37 years. Living with his unique and nontraditional worldview, I’d grown into and inhabited a wider, less conventional way of being than my suburban middle-class upbringing had prepared me for. But once he was gone, what and who was I going to be? Steinbach’s travelogue goes to many of the places my husband and I traveled in England and Europe, and that brought reminiscences of great pleasure. But it was her inner journeying in search of her soul that gave me the courage to embark on the inner travels toward self-discovery and the independence I faced in a newly widowed existence.


Who am I?

My mom handed me one of those little girl diaries with a lock and key when I was in third grade. I wrote my heart into those diaries until I needed more space and shifted to regular-sized notebooks. Writing is my way to know myself and make sense of my life. The journal I kept in the last months of my husband’s life helped me reassemble the trauma-blurred memories of his dying, and then, it supported my emotional rebirth during the year of intense grieving. It is with surprise and delight that I hear from readers who say I articulate their innermost emotions related to love and loss.


I wrote...

Life with an Impossible Person: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Transformation

By Joan D. Heiman,

Book cover of Life with an Impossible Person: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Transformation

What is my book about?

A woman’s adventures, struggles, and abiding love for a most unorthodox man throughout a 37-year partnership. An idealist, romantic, and eccentric astrologer-poet, Heiman’s husband believed there were places in the world, where each of us is most likely to unfold and best nurture our souls. The book follows Joan and Philip in their search for their place on the planet, journeying from dream to dream, country to country, and finally to the untimely and heartbreaking death of this wonderfully impossible and beloved man.

Despite his tragic end, Philip was too loveably quirky for the book to be heavy or depressing. Heiman shares her story with pathos and humor, as well as offering reflections on the complex nature of loving, dying, grieving, and healing.

In a Strange Room

By Damon Galgut,

Book cover of In a Strange Room

Damon Galgut recently won the Booker Prize for his riveting, satirical The Promise, but, much as I admire that novel, Galgut’s earlier (also Booker-nominated) semi-autobiographical novel, In a Strange Room, remains my favourite. It comprises three long short stories, all centred on a character called Damon, alerting us to the autobiographical element of the stories. And yet Galgut resists the total identification of autobiography, partly by his device of switching disconcertingly between first and third-person narration (sometimes ‘Damon,’ sometimes ‘I’), and present and past tenses. But the novel is more than technical trickery: the shifting perspectives allow us different angles on the complex relationships depicted in the different sections, rather as a cubist painting affords us a multifarious perspective on its subject. And like other books on this list, this one features a protagonist who travels: something of a trope in South African writing.  


Who am I?

As an African author, I find that my books end up on the ‘African fiction’ shelf in the bookstore, which can be a disadvantage if my novel is, say, about Henry James or the Trojan War, both of which I've written novels about. As a lecturer in English literature, I've become acquainted with a vast and varied array of literature. So, whereas of course there are many wonderful African novels that deal with specifically African themes, I think the label African novel can be constricting and commercially disadvantageous. Many African novelists see themselves as part of a larger community, and their novels reflect that perspective, even though they are nominally set in Africa.


I wrote...

A Poor Season for Whales

By Michiel Heyns,

Book cover of A Poor Season for Whales

What is my book about?

My first novel, The Children’s Day, was, like many first novels, a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age novel.   Perhaps it is appropriate that this, my ninth, should be the contrary: an account of a middle-aged divorcée’s attempt to make a clean start away from her family, friends, and ‘appurtenances’ in a new town, with only her dog as company. But, of course, she discovers that appurtenances are not to be eschewed at will. An impudent young man of questionable motive seems to be intent on infiltrating her life; her children keep on turning up and disrupting her ‘retreat,’ and even her domestic servant refuses to abandon her. It’s a serious look at the stickiness of human relations, but, I hope, also funny in its depiction of the perils of attempted withdrawal. 

Travels with My Aunt

By Graham Greene,

Book cover of Travels with My Aunt

Henry Pulling, a reluctantly retired bank manager, meets his 70-ish-year-old Aunt Augusta for the first time in more than 50 years at his mother’s funeral. His Aunt is vibrant, even outrageous, and he is anything but—a man whose only hobby is growing dahlias. An Aunt myself, I love a story about a wild, non-traditional Aunt, and her relationship with her nephew. As the title suggests, the story is told through the eyes of Henry. His views of his life and their travels are filled with humor and insight. The joy of this novel follows the challenges that arise when two generations confront their expectations of each other and themselvesexpectations that are never more alive than when we travel. 


Who am I?

I’m a Canadian author who has been fascinated with how others see the world since I was a child. I was captivated by Charlotte’s Web. If pigs and spiders could be having unheard conversations, what else was I missing? I delight in stories that invite me into the distinct world of the narrator, so it’s no surprise that my novel, Entitled, is written from a unique perspective—that of a book. When done well, these stories let us see life through the eyes of someone else. If we all experienced our surroundings, just for a minute, as others did, perhaps there would be more humanity in this world. 


I wrote...

Entitled: Life isn't easy when you're a book

By Cookie Boyle,

Book cover of Entitled: Life isn't easy when you're a book

What is my book about?

The extraordinary adventures of an extraordinary book.

Entitled is a charming, humorous novel told from the perspective of a book seeking to find a home. As it is read, misplaced, loaned, and abandoned, our book, like its Readers, discovers love and heartbreak, loneliness and friendship, and ultimately becomes the author of its own journey. In the end, Entitled reveals the pull between the story we are born with and the one we wish to create for ourselves.

Gertrude Bell

By Georgina Howell,

Book cover of Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations

Who believes men alone have redrawn the maps of the world? Gertrude Bell, beautiful adventurer, mountaineer, archaeologist, writer, linguist, and self-taught photographer, championed Arab self-rule, advising the British military in creating the nation of Iraq after World War I. Thwarted in love, this Victorian debutante set forth on a life as colorful as Lawrence of Arabia, with whom she became a close friend. I marveled at her courage, traveling alone in the vast desert of Arabia with a few native guides, dining with Bedouin chiefs who had never deigned to receive a woman before. It’s impossible to describe her life in a few sentences, but it was a revelation to me that a woman of the Victorian era could accomplish what few men had, while remaining a correct English lady.


Who am I?

I am mom to three daughters, grammy to seven grandchildren. I am a storyteller and a voracious reader. There’s nothing better than to immerse myself in books about history, espionage, and family sagas. Growing up in northeastern Pennsylvania, I never suspected that I would travel the world one day, although I always dreamed of writing novels. Living in India for a time, I developed a passion for international affairs. I try to make the settings and culture of my novels as authentic as possible. To research the background for The Expatriate, I traveled to England, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, and the Eastern Republics of the former Soviet Union. 


I wrote...

The Expatriate

By Harriet Segal,

Book cover of The Expatriate

What is my book about?

The saga of Alexa Summerfield, an American woman who studies abroad in the 1930s, falls in love with an idealistic Austrian surgeon, and is caught in the maelstrom of World War II.

The Expatriate is a tale of international intrigue and danger, espionage and heroism, and undying love. Set in war-torn Europe, its main characters are involved in the OSS and the Austrian Resistance. There was an active anti-Nazi organization in Austria after the German occupation in 1938. It was especially strong among army doctors. The promise of Allied support for the nascent democratic movement became a sacrifice to realpolitik. At the war’s end, over 150,000 Austrian soldiers remained prisoners of war in Russia. Many of them would never see home again.

Flights

By Olga Tokarczuk, Jennifer Croft (translator),

Book cover of Flights

There are dozens of journeys contained within this unclassifiable work of fiction. With each episode or story or exploration, the reader begins to perceive how travel transforms and erases us, even as it shows us the true strangeness of the world. If that sounds vague, then I’d say that you don’t read Flights for its many stories, as you do for Tokarczuk’s quiet, steely, attuned prose and exhilarating ideas.  


Who am I?

I am the author of two novels, and I currently teach fiction writing in the MFA program at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. I’ve long been fascinated with journeys both real and literary. In the early 1990’s I lived in Taiwan and traveled across China—from Guangzhou to the far northwestern desert province of Xinjiang, an extraordinary journey that informed my first novel. 


I wrote...

Heaven Lake

By John Dalton,

Book cover of Heaven Lake

What is my book about?

When Vincent Saunders – fresh out of college in the States – arrives in Taiwan as a Christian volunteer and English teacher, he meets a wealthy Taiwanese businessman who wishes to marry a young woman living in China near Heaven Lake but is thwarted by political conflict. Mr. Gwa wonders: In exchange for money, will Vincent travel to China, take part in a counterfeit marriage, and bring the woman back to Taiwan for Gwa to marry legitimately? What follows is not just an exhilarating sometimes harrowing journey to a remote city in China, but an exploration of love, loneliness, and the nature of faith.

The Bean Trees

By Barbara Kingsolver,

Book cover of The Bean Trees

Whenever I re-read this book, I’m gob-smacked that it’s a debut novel. Taylor Greer just wants to avoid the fate of her peers—unwanted pregnancies and dead-end lives in the small Kentucky town where she was born—when she points her Volkswagen Bug due West in search of something different. She has no idea how different her life will become when she stops at a gas station in Oklahoma and a stranger puts a small child in the passenger seat of her car. The story of how Taylor and the child become a family with the help of some unlikely friends, is one that’s stayed with me from first read. Kingsolver’s writing is quietly and deeply dazzling and paints a stunning picture of what it means to find sanctuary, family, and home in a way you never imagined. 


Who am I?

In the ‘60s, everyone was reading—or claiming to have read—Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. I faked reading it, to appear cool. The idea of a road trip, though—characters running away, running toward, or often both—and the self-discovery that ensues—was so intriguing, I made it the heart of the novel I first drafted decades ago. I wrote about a middle-aged woman who flees her life to find a lost love and her lost youth, then put the manuscript away. For 30 years. When I retired from my social work career, I pulled it from the closet, revised it, and became an author at 74. 


I wrote...

So Happy Together

By Deborah K. Shepherd,

Book cover of So Happy Together

What is my book about?

Set in the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll ‘60s, when drama students Caro Mills and Peter MacKinley were kooky, colorful, and inseparable, and in the suburban ‘80s, when Caro’s creative spark has been quenched to serve the needs of her husband, Jack, and their children, So Happy Together explores the conundrum of love and sexual attraction, creativity, and family responsibilities, and what happens when they are out of sync. It’s a road trip story of missed opportunities, the possibility of second chances, and what we leave behind, carry forward, and settle for when we choose. It sits in that raw, messy, confounding, beautiful place where love resides.

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