I am plagued with a strong desire to travel. It’s something I was born with, and I have never grown out of it. Unfortunately, my life situation has prevented me from traveling much outside my little town for the past five or six years, and it isn’t something that will be changing in the near future. So, I have become an armchair traveler. If I can’t venture out myself, I will live vicariously through those who have the ability. Travel memoirs are some of my favorite books. These are just a few of the ones I love and recommend:
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
Back in America after twenty years in Britain, Bill Bryson decided to reacquaint himself with his native country by walking the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine. The AT offers an astonishing landscape of silent forests and sparkling lakes—and to a writer with the comic genius of Bill Bryson, it also provides endless opportunities to witness the majestic silliness of his fellow human beings.
For a start there’s the gloriously out-of-shape Stephen Katz, a buddy from Iowa along for the walk. Despite Katz’s overwhelming desire to find cozy restaurants, he and Bryson eventually settle into their stride, and while on the trail they meet a bizarre assortment of hilarious characters. But A Walk in the Woods is more than just a laugh-out-loud hike. Bryson’s acute eye is a wise witness to this beautiful but fragile trail, and as he tells its fascinating history, he makes a moving plea for the conservation of America’s last great wilderness. An adventure, a comedy, and a celebration, A Walk in the Woods has become a modern classic of travel literature.
Bill Bryson is a perfect blend of entertaining and informative, and A Walk in the Woods exemplifies this. If you’ve ever wanted to hike The Appalachian Trail, this book is a must before you journey forth. And if you’ve never wanted to hike The Appalachian Trail, you may just find it inspires you to buy a backpack and set off on an adventure. It certainly had me thinking about buying a tent and some good walking boots…for about 4 minutes. Then I remembered how much I like air conditioning and dislike dirt and bugs and snakes and bears…
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and she would do it alone. Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.
While this one didn’t leave me itching to lace up some hiking boots, I did find Strayed’s story fascinating and at times inspiring. If anything, it made me appreciate the beauty of the PCT and the fact that I really have no business going anywhere near it. Another good one to experience from the comfort of my sofa.
At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider
The wide world is calling.
Americans Tsh and Kyle met and married in Kosovo. They lived as expats for most of a decade. They’ve been back in the States—now with three kids under ten—for four years, and while home is nice, they are filled with wanderlust and long to answer the call.
Why not? The kids are all old enough to carry their own backpacks but still young enough to be uprooted, so a trip—a nine-months-long trip—is planned.
At Home in the World follows their journey from China to New Zealand, Ethiopia to England, and more. They traverse bumpy roads, stand in awe before a waterfall that feels like the edge of the earth, and chase each other through three-foot-wide passageways in Venice. And all the while Tsh grapples with the concept of home, as she learns what it means to be lost—yet at home—in the world.
I can’t even begin to imagine taking three littles on an international adventure like the Oxenreider’s. Honestly, just the planning of such a trip for a couple of adults seems rather daunting. So I really admire what they accomplish with this trip. I also appreciate the fact that they seem like such respectful and conscientious travelers. They embrace the cultures they encounter, which is the whole point of traveling, right?
My Life in France by Julia Child
Although she would later singlehandedly create a new approach to American cuisine with her cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking and her television show The French Chef, Julia Child was not always a master chef. Indeed, when she first arrived in France in 1948 with her husband, Paul, who was to work for the USIS, she spoke no French and knew nothing about the country itself. But as she dove into French culture, buying food at local markets and taking classes at the Cordon Bleu, her life changed forever with her newfound passion for cooking and teaching. Julia’s unforgettable story—struggles with the head of the Cordon Bleu, rejections from publishers to whom she sent her now-famous cookbook, a wonderful, nearly fifty-year long marriage that took the Childs across the globe—unfolds with the spirit so key to Julia’s success as a chef and a writer, brilliantly capturing one of America’s most endearing personalities.
So, this one is not strictly speaking a travel memoir exactly. But it’s close, and it’s honestly just a delightful little book. I may never get to visit the places she speaks about (and if I do, they’ll likely be vastly different by now), but I feel as if I have been there already. And better yet, I have been there with Julia by my side. If you haven’t read this one, you should. It’s utterly charming. Just like Julia.