Memoirs have always been one of my favorite genres to read. I can’t quite pinpoint what makes me love them so much, but I think it has to do with the fact that I get to (1) get a glimpse of the author’s life through their retelling of it and (2) see how they (re-)write their own story.
Travel memoirs are another joy of mine to read because it marries two of my favorite things: memoirs and travels. I get to travel alongside these individuals and experience from afar their rises and downfalls during their travels, their joys and pains, so as to get to know them. Travel often doesn’t go off without at least a couple of hitches along the way and going it alone is another feat altogether. Thus, each of these memoirs always carries a lesson, a practice, an insight that will no doubt inspire and ignite your own travel bug.
Below is a list of 7 inspiring books to inspire the solo traveler.
1. Wild, Cheryl Strayed
This book left me rendered speechless at many points along the way and ignited a fire within me that is still felt today. Wild tells the true story of twenty-two-year-old Cheryl Strayed’s 1100 mile trek along the Pacific Coast Trail in 1995. Beginning her journey after the death of her mother (a beautiful and heartbreaking part of the book), Strayed embarks on a journey to help make sense of and heal from her overwhelming grief, meeting unique individuals and discovering herself along the way.
I think a part of Strayed died, naturally, with the passing of her mother, and it took this incredibly tedious and challenging hike, taking her in many ways to her wits end, to heal and, ultimately, discover a new normal, a new life, without her mother that she could live with. Strayed paints a picture that is in no way blissful for a good chunk of the book, instead, revealing the almost unbearable pain that comes with grief and losing oneself, but necessary.
This is where healing happens, a comment I think Strayed depicts, whether consciously or unconsciously, by the end of the book. Not until you are on your knees, pleading and surrendering to your emotions, your pain, your grief, can you begin to heal, and Cheryl Strayed finds this out in the most physically demanding way.
But it is this physical journey that takes her beyond anything she thought possible where her healing begins, and, hearing Strayed depict this so viscerally, you can’t help but be in awe of her strength and, more universally, the strength that humans can muster when they need it most.
2. Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert
A classic inspiring book for the solo travel is Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. Not unlike Cheryl Strayed’s journey that began after the death of her mother and, consequently, losing herself in her grief, Gilbert embarks on a solo trip to Italy, India, and Bali after divorcing her husband and needing to move her life in a new direction.
The three locations that Gilbert visits each offer her experiences that begin to shape how she examines the world and her life, and, subsequently, exists. It’s a beautiful and raw telling of one woman’s journey toward finding happiness not only in the outside world but with her inner self. She meets multiple individuals along the way that shape her perspective and influence her healing.
I believe that any solo travel teaches you things and gives you insights that you’d never acquired otherwise, and Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love shows that in spades. An integral book for anyone who loves to travel!
3. Bleaker House: Chasing My Novel to the End of the World, Nell Stevens
I just love Nell Stevens. I have to say I’ve not read this book of hers, but I have read The Victorian and the Romantic: A Memoir, A Love Story, and a Friendship Across Time. Maybe it was my literature background that influenced my opinion, but Nell’s idea to merge, reflect, and complement her life with her subject’s (i.e. the subject of her Ph.D. dissertation) was so profound and captivating to me.
I was instantly entranced by the story she wove of Elizabeth Gaskell and how she integrated these vignettes into her larger memoir. It became clear early on that Nell wasn’t separate from Elizabeth, nor was Elizabeth isolated from Nell. The two are entirely connected throughout the novel, at least in my opinion, despite being centuries apart. That was part of the unbelievable charm of the novel.
I have no doubt that Nell Stevens is just as charming and engaging in Bleaker House, a memoir about her journey to write a novel. After winning a fellowship to write a novel, Nell chooses to travel far away from any distractions to actually make this book come to fruition. Of course, not everything goes as planned (does anything ever for anybody?), but that is where discovery comes in, those things that reveal an even better story than we could come up with ourselves, even with its challenges and obstacles.
4. Graduates in Wonderland: The International Adventures of Two (Almost) Adults, Jessica Pan and Rachel Kapelke-Dale
I read this book right after I graduated from my undergrad and feeling a little bit lost. I craved the experiences of others, to see what they did after graduation because I simply didn’t know what to do (besides look for a job, of course). I had dedicated the last four years to serious study and, once that finished, I craved figuring out what to do next. So when I picked up Graduates in Wonderland, I hoped Jessica and Rachel had the answers.
Spoiler alert: they didn’t have the answers, but nobody does. Every single young graduate’s — young adult’s — journey is a different one, and if Jessica and Rachel taught me anything it was that your life opens up after graduation in the most exciting ways, especially if you decide to travel.
After graduation, Jessica moves to Beijing while Rachel goes to New York, and the book documents their communications to one another, following them over the next few years to different countries. Each location impacts them differently and informs how they experience the world and, ultimately, themselves. A lighthearted and relatable read, Graduates in Wonderland teaches you to embrace the moment in your life when you are the most open and receptive to adventure.
5. The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost, Rachel Friedman
Another author whose graduation and fear of post-grad expectations spurred a journey away from home, Rachel Friedman’s The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost chronicles Rachel’s yearlong journey across three continents. After spontaneously purchasing a ticket to Ireland after graduation, Rachel forms a friendship with a free-spirited girl from Australia who quickly brings out in Rachel an adventurous side she never knew existed.
There seems to be quite a theme with each one of these travel memoirs, and something that I think is imperative within travel itself: plainly and simply, travel feeds the soul substance it never knew it needed, an elixir composed of risks, new things, first times, heartbreak, adrenaline and so much more. The Good Girl’s Guide is no different.
I wholeheartedly believe that traveling and all of the experiences that come with traveling teaches you more about yourself than anything ever could. A must-read on your shelf, Rachel Friedman’s The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost opens you up to the opportunity of getting lost as a good thing, for it is often by getting lost that we find ourselves.
6.Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback, Robyn Davidson
The next inspiring book my list is Robyn Davidson’s Tracks. Chronicling her unbelievable journey across 1700 miles of the Australian desert landscape in the 1970s. Davidson endures some serious obstacles and vicious predators with only the company of four camels and a dog. She begins to train these camels to help her across this challenging journey.
Like Cheryl Strayed’s physically and mentally challenging journey across the PCT, Davidson’s journey leaves me speechless. To see that one woman can do all she does, especially in harsh conditions and unkind situations, is inspiring beyond belief. In fact, inspiring is only the tip of the iceberg. Davidson shows her readers what women are capable of when we need to be. Prepare to be amazed by Davidson’s courageous journey, because I definitely was.
7. Travels with Myself and Another: A Memoir, Martha Gellhorn
Despite traveling with “another” at certain points within her book, this other being Ernest Hemingway, but Gellhorn’s Travels predominantly recounts her solo travels during World War II through China and the Carribean.
With this book, you really get a feel for how traveling was during the 1940s, a not-so-smooth journey compared to today, from the perspective of transportation (i.e. airplanes) to the atmosphere. A marvel of a memoir from a seriously feisty woman, you are sure to be amazed by how she navigates these harsh landscapes and unconventional obstacles.