As a passionate traveller, much of my wanderlust has been inspired by books. Reading about the exploits of others has fuelled my desire to hit the road and have adventures of my own. At a time when many of us are in lockdown, staying motivated and keeping our travel dreams alive is more important than ever. Here are twenty non-fiction travel books which have inspired me over the years.
1. Moods of Future Joys: Around the World by Bike Part One – From England to South Africa
Alastair has written so many excellent books that it’s difficult to choose just one. This is the first of two books which tells of his four-year bicycle trip around the world. This compelling account sees him setting off from his North Yorkshire village with his mother shouting after him that he has forgotten his helmet to camp in the wilds of Africa. Alastair is refreshingly self-deprecating and unafraid to share his insecurities. His resounding message is that if he can do it, anyone can.
2. Hand to Mouth to India: Hitchhiking to India with no money by Tom Thumb
An uplifting tale from Tom Thumb, who at twenty years old, made his way from England to India without a penny in his pocket. Hitchhiking and busking his way to the sub-continent with a backpack and clarinet, Tom shares colourful stories of the characters he encountered along the way and the abundance of kindness he received from strangers. The ultimate budget travel adventure which demonstrates how you don’t necessarily need money to hit the road.
3. Collected Works of Isabella L. Bird
Victorian explorer, Isabella Bird, suffered from ill health for much of her life, but it didn’t stop her having an array of adventures all over the world. During a period when women explorers were a rarity, she was the first female to become a ‘fellow’ of the Royal Geographical Society. These works include her travels in Japan, Hawaii and North America. Both keen travellers and history buffs will be riveted by the intrepid nature and vivid descriptions of her journeys.
4. Wild: A Journey From Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed
The Pacific Crest Trail was on my radar long before this book published, but this best seller re-ignited my resolve to undertake the 2,650-mile hike. Cheryl started walking after her life fell apart following the death of her mother to ‘find her way back to being the person she used to be’. Faced with sweltering deserts, snow-covered mountains, rattlesnakes and bears, the author walked 1,100-miles of the trail which starts at the Mexican border and finishes in Canada. A personal and captivating book which will resonate with anyone whose world has been devastated by the loss of a loved one.
5. Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck was 62 when he travelled all over the US in his campervan with his beloved French Poodle, Charley. Together, the pair embarked on adventures from Maine to California in the early sixties. Both a travelogue and an insight into a great American writer, Steinbeck’s observations are honest, humorous, and beautifully evocative. The book is a gentle journey into the America of another era and will appeal to anyone with a penchant for travels of a bygone era.
6. Lone Rider: The First British Woman to Motorcycle Around the World by Elspeth Beard
This is an absorbing and deeply personal story of a young woman who set off on a motorbike journey around the world in 1984. Taking place in a pre-internet era, the journey spanned two and a half years and 3,500 miles. It’s a rollicking ride and Elspeth doesn’t hold back when she describes the accidents, horrendous weather, and sexism she experienced en route. I was swept along on her awe-inspiring journey which definitely fell into the ‘un-put-downable’ category. Anyone with a vaguely adventurous spirit will enjoy this book, whether a motorbike enthusiast or not.
7. Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts
If you don’t want to catch a severe case of wanderlust, don’t pick up this book! Vagabonding will have you dusting off your backpack and booking your flight to a far-flung location before you reach the second chapter. Peppered with various quotes from travellers and writers, Rolf Potts offers practical and motivational advice aplenty. The author focuses on how travel can enrich your life and why you don’t need to be wealthy to embark on long-term adventures. It’s a particularly great read for first-time travellers who need that extra push to get out there and explore the world.
8. Giant Steps by Karl Bushby
Karl Bushby is aiming to be the first person to walk an unbroken path around the world, starting at the tip of South America all the way to his home in Sheffield, England. The book covers the first segment of the journey which took him across the Bering Straits on foot. Karl shares both his emotional and physical challenges, from loneliness and romances (of which there are many) to the unique encounters along the way. A gripping page-turner for adventure junkies and armchair travellers alike.
9. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
This beat-generation classic was written in the fifties by the original King of the Road, Jack Kerouac. The book is a novel based on the author’s road trip across the USA with his quirky, adventurous buddies. The freedom of the open road is romanticized with dazzling descriptive writing and the message is that life out there to be lived. It’s a timeless read that remains invigorating and inspiring, and will appeal to anyone with nomadic tendencies.
10. World Stompers: A Global Travel Manifesto by Brad Olsen
This is an offbeat guide for those planning a big adventure. Combining practical advice with words of motivation, it is accompanied by rudimentary, but engaging artwork, and has a funky youthful vibe. The author, who travelled to twenty-eight countries after graduating business school, shares his top tips on the best party destinations and key highlights of each continent. It’s aimed at backpackers on a shoestring budget, and while it’s not too deep, it’s a fun alternative to mainstream travel guides.
11. To Shake the Sleeping Self: A Journey from Oregon to Patagonia and a Quest for a Life with No Regret by Jedidiah Jenkins
In a thoroughly modern memoir, Jedidiah quits his job and sets off on a journey by bicycle from Oregon to Patagonia. During the course of his journey he attempts to reconcile his sexual identity with his conservative Christian upbringing. An engrossing account of his exploits and quest to live a life without regret, it’s a story that will push others to trade the rat-race for a spiritual and physical journey of their own.
12. The Moonlight Chronicles: A Wandering Artist’s Journal by Dan Price
Dan is a true nomad who records his adventures in both words and drawings. Whether he is hiking the trails close to his hobbit house, or surfing in Hawaii, his life is about simplicity and connection with nature. He practices mindfulness, drawing things that most people are too busy to see as they rush through life. The Moonlight Chronicles offer a fresh perspective in the way we see the world around us.
13. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
Chris McCandless is a hero to many a drifter. As a young graduate, he rejected his middle-class family, abandoned his car and gave away all of his money before hitting the road to the remotes of Alaska. IBased on a true story, Into the Wild tells his story which tragically came to an untimely end when he died whilst living in an abandoned bus in Alaska. Including his own quotes and those of his favourite writers, this book is an inspiring insight into the mind of a true free spirit.
14. I Travel Light: The Man who Walked out of the World by Adam Greenman
Written in a simple yet effective style, Greenman recounts a decade of world wanderings. From building a treehouse on a Brazilian beach, to becoming a fisherman in India, to staying in a ruined cottage in the Spanish mountains, Adam survives on very little money and a wealth of self-sufficiency. Ultimately, the nomad renounces all his worldly goods and heads out to explore Eastern Europe. Brimming with enthralling exploits, it’s an ideal book for those aspiring to travel sustainably.
15. How to Live in a Van and Travel by Mike Hudson
For many years, Mike spent day after day gazing out of his office window thinking that there must be more to life. These days, his van is his office and he has created a life of adventure for himself on the road. In this book the author provides the scoop on van life and how to live and work on the move. Along with practical tips, he also provides oodles of motivation to anyone who has ever considered the free-wheeling life of a van dweller.
16. The Boy Who was Afraid of the World: A True Story of Fear and Hitchhiking by Jamie Bowlby-Whiting
Suffering from irrational fears and panic attacks as a child, it wasn’t until age twenty-five that Jamie decided to conquer his demons. Burnt out by a mundane 9-5 lifestyle in England, he decided to hitchhike, cycle, and raft his way across Europe. Not only is the book about pushing psychological boundaries and going beyond the comfort zone, but it’s also a riveting adventure story. An ideal read for anyone who needs a little help in overcoming their fears.
17. Running With the Moon: A Boy’s Own Adventure – Riding a Motorbike through Africa by Jonny Bealby
This adventure takes place a couple of years after Jonny’s fiancée died unexpectedly while travelling in Kashmir. Heartbroken, the author sets off across Africa in an attempt to find some meaning in his life. His tales of the landscapes, villages, people he meets along the way are vivid and lyrical. It’s a bittersweet tale of bravery, love, loss, and exploration which sweeps readers along on a journey of the heart.
18. Odyssey: Ten Years on the Hippie Trail by Ananda Brady
Back in the seventies, hippies blazed a trail for the backpackers who followed, and the rest is history. Ananda was one of the original hippies, and he recites the tales of his escapades in this engrossing memoir. Whether he was living the high life next to a lake in Guatemala or hanging out with Bedouins in North Africa, he immersed himself in culture, spirituality, and the company of his fellow seekers. Beautifully written, it’s a glimpse of an evocative era in the history of travel. Anyone with an appreciation for adventure and the counterculture will be enchanted by Ananda’s recollections of life on the Hippie Trail.
19. How not to Travel the World: Adventures of a Disaster-Prone Backpacker by Lauren Juliff
Despite Lauren’s long list of unfortunate experiences whilst backpacking around the world, her book is about following your dreams and finding humour in adverse situations. It’s a funny and relatable account of her travels and how she fell in love with life on the road in spite of her repeated mishaps. Although the book is about the highs and lows of travel, it’s ultimately life-affirming, and a light-hearted look at backpacking that will tempt readers into embracing their own misadventures.
20. The Kindness of Strangers: Penniless across America by Mike McIntyre
Mike left home to cross the USA without cash or credit cards, relying on the kindness of strangers for rides, food, and shelter. People from all walks of life offered him help, and he discovers, as many travellers do, that those who give most are the ones with least to share. Taking tributary roads through America’s small towns, Mike meets a host of characters, each with their own story to tell. The book is both a travel narrative and an insight into humanity. Mike’s story is told with sensitivity and humour and is a reminder of the goodwill that still exists in the world.