Amazing Travel Memoirs That Should Be on Your Backpacking Reading List
So much of traveling is spent...well...traveling and between planes, trains, and automobiles we are often left scrambling for a way to pass the time. The long-term traveler knows there is no better backpacking buddy than a good book to keep you company and while away those hours in airports and bus stations, or even as you lounge poolside or work on your tan at the beach.
Here, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite travel-inspired memoirs. Even if you aren’t currently on the road, these authors recount their experiences abroad with enough wit and color to slake even the thirstiest of wanderlusters.
Photo by Kate Ter Haar
1. The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner
Former news correspondent Eric Weiner travels to countries on the top and bottom of the Happiness Index, from Switzerland and Bhutan to Moldova and beyond, to discover the secret to a happy life in this funny, insightful and heartwarming bestseller. If I had to pick a book to be stuck on a desert island with, this would be it.
2. Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard
Can a random lunch in Paris change your life? Elizabeth Bard thinks so, and that’s just what happens to her in this cute story about a girl who goes out to lunch and never comes back. Perfect for the hopeless romantic, it pairs nicely with a glass (or four) of wine and the beach.
3. The Sex Lives of Cannibals by Maarten Troost
Sex Lives is just the first in a collection of laugh-out-loud hysterical travel memoirs by Troost as he recounts his adventures and misadventures living on Kiribati, a secluded island in the middle of the Pacific ocean. Wedged permanently in my list of all-time favorite books, Sex Lives will leave you breathless- literally, I laughed so hard I couldn’t breathe.
4. Wanderlust: A Love Affair with Five Continents by Elisabeth Eaves
One of the best memoirs I’ve read in a long time, Wanderlust chronicles 15 years of writer Elisabeth Eaves’ life as she follows her heart around the world chasing a love of passionate affairs and faraway places. Eaves is beautiful, confident, and above all restless- but she makes no excuses and takes no prisoners. If you pick this up thinking it will be a love story, you would only be half right. Like the title suggests, it’s a love letter to travelling itself, to the world, and her stories will stick with you long after you’ve left your battered paperback on a bookshelf in some distant foreign land.
5. A Cook's Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines by Anthony Bourdain
Chef turned writer & TV personality Anthony Bourdain scours the globe in search of the best foods in this exciting behind-the-scenes journal of the making of his popular TV show No Reservations. Fans of Bourdain’s television shows will enjoy seeing his on-screen adventures unfold sans editing tricks and convenient censorships. His writing is witty and raw and will have you booking plane tickets by page ten.
6. The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost by Rachel Friedman
Rachel Friedman’s quarterlife crisis and a chance meeting with a vibrant and fearless Aussie backpacker led her on a snowballing series of adventures from Ireland to Peru in this heartfelt coming of age tale. More than just another travel memoir, Getting Lost is ultimately about finding your own way in the world and the deep, abiding (and sometimes life-altering) power of friendship.
7. Stranger in the Forest by Eric Hansen
Eric Hansen vividly recollects his experiences as the first westerner to cross Borneo’s wild and mysterious jungle interior on foot, alone but for two indigenous tribal hunters as his guides. Hansen is a gifted storyteller and his vivid descriptions of the world below the canopy will make you feel like you’re trekking alongside him as he navigates the seething maze of winding roots and tribal customs, offering keen insight and bittersweet “first-worlder” observations of a once inaccessible, relatively unknown part of the world that in recent years has been thrust to the forefront of tourism, caught between the two rapidly changing economies of Indonesia and Malaysia. It is a novel that will stick with you long after you’ve put it down, and a must-read for anyone traveling or planning to travel to Borneo.
8. Tales of a Female Nomad by Ruth Gelman
Following the dissolution of her marriage, children’s storybook writer Ruth Gelman sets off on a voyage across the continents, rediscovering what it means to be happy and, more importantly, independent. Central to the book’s heart are Ruth’s interactions with women around the world and she shows genuine interest and appreciation for their experiences.
9. Bangkok Days by Lawrence Osborne
Bangkok is my favorite city in the world and no writer, travel or otherwise, has painted a truer or more entertaining vision of Thailand’s notorious capital than Osborne. Take a tour of Bangkok see her gritty, glittering beauty through the eyes of a man who genuinely loves her. Full of epigrammatic insights and cynicism, Bangkok Days proudly exposes the best and worst of Bangkok’s City of Angels - which are all too often one and the same.
10. How Not to Travel the World: Adventures of a Disaster-Prone Backpacker by Lauren Juliff
If you’ve ever been so fed up with your life that you’ve considered chucking it all and running off into the sunset, then this book is definitely the one for you. New novelist Lauren Juliff is funny and relatable and, despite being page after page of mayhem and mishap, (or perhaps because of it) How Not to Travel isn’t just about disasters- it’s about triumph. It’s about falling in love with and believing in yourself and knowing that the light at the end of the tunnel was inside you all along. Oh, and hot Kiwis. Because any girl who’s backpacked the Banana Pancake Trail knows no Southeast Asia travel memoir would be complete without gorgeous New Zealanders.
By Natasha Peterson
Natasha Peterson, affectionately called Tasha Tuesday by people who secretly hate her, left a promising career as an adult video store clerk to travel the world without any money. Now a full time hostel volunteer & freelance travel writer, you can find her chasing stray dogs and men with long hair around Southeast Asia, attempting to ply their affections with 10 baht fried chicken. Follow her misadventures at The Boozy Backpacker.