Books can unlock the world to us. They can put us exactly in a time and place and explore surroundings along with the characters. We can almost taste what our characters are eating. Smell the flowers around them. Feel the pain of loss when they leave.
I don’t know about you but after reading a great travel book, I’m ready to pack my bags! These are a few that have made me add some destinations to my already expansive Living List*.
Having walked more than 3,000 miles from Trafalgar Square to Morocco, Paula Constant finds herself at the westernmost edge of the Sahara Desert—and the brink of sanity.
Sahara is the story of Paula’s struggle to overcome her innermost demons and take control of her journey, her camels, and the men she hires to guide her through one of planet’s most extreme regions. Illness, landmines, and political red tape stand between Paula and the realization of a life’s dream. Though the wheels have fallen off her marriage on the course of her journey and her funds are quickly drying up, she is determined to complete the walk through the romantic Big Empty of Northern Africa to Cairo. Both a thrilling adventure and a story of joy, heartache, inspiration, and despair, Sahara is—above all—a celebration of the greatness of human spirit in all its guises.
Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.
After more than a decade of planning, John Higham and his wife September bid their high-tech jobs and suburban lives good-bye, packed up their home and set out with two children, ages eight and eleven, to travel around the world. In the course of the next 52 weeks they crossed 24 time zones, visited 28 countries and experienced a lifetime of adventures.
Making their way across the world, the Highams discovered more than just different foods and cultures; they also learned such diverse things as a Chilean mall isn’t the best place to get your ears pierced, and that elephants appreciate flowers just as much as the next person. But most importantly, they learned about each other, and just how much a family can weather if they do it together.
NOTE FROM TARA: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read this book. It’s one of my favourites and has inspired me to add places to my bucket list that weren’t on there already. Definitely a great read for anyone considering long term travel (and certainly if you are contemplating it with kids!) The Higham family spirit is strong and comes through with each and every page. I did not want this book to end…so I read it again.
After Kim and her husband decide to quit their jobs to travel around the world, they’re given a yellow envelope containing a check and instructions to give the money away. The only three rules for the envelope: Don’t overthink it; share your experiences; don’t feel pressured to give it all away.
Through Ecuador, Peru, Nepal, and beyond, Kim and Brian face obstacles, including major challenges to their relationship. As she distributes the gift to people she encounters along the way she learns that money does not have a thing to do with the capacity to give, but that giving—of ourselves—is transformational.
“I move throughout the world without a plan, guided by instinct, connecting through trust, and constantly watching for serendipitous opportunities.” —From the Preface
Tales of a Female Nomad is the story of Rita Golden Gelman, an ordinary woman who is living an extraordinary existence. At the age of forty-eight, on the verge of a divorce, Rita left an elegant life in L.A. to follow her dream of connecting with people in cultures all over the world. In 1986 she sold her possessions and became a nomad, living in a Zapotec village in Mexico, sleeping with sea lions on the Galapagos Islands, and residing everywhere from thatched huts to regal palaces. She has observed orangutans in the rain forest of Borneo, visited trance healers and dens of black magic, and cooked with women on fires all over the world.
Rita’s example encourages us all to dust off our dreams and rediscover the joy, the exuberance, and the hidden spirit that so many of us bury when we become adults.
NOTE FROM TARA: Another book I’ve read a couple of times now. I love this woman’s desire to dig in and be with the community versus just being a tourist. The latter is so easy to do, but to be a true traveller, you have to be in the community.
Robyn Davidson’s opens the memoir of her perilous journey across 1,700 miles of hostile Australian desert to the sea with only four camels and a dog for company with the following words: “I experienced that sinking feeling you get when you know you have conned yourself into doing something difficult and there’s no going back.”
Enduring sweltering heat, fending off poisonous snakes and lecherous men, chasing her camels when they get skittish and nursing them when they are injured, Davidson emerges as an extraordinarily courageous heroine driven by a love of Australia’s landscape, an empathy for its indigenous people, and a willingness to cast away the trappings of her former identity.
Tracks is the compelling, candid story of her odyssey of discovery and transformation.
“An unforgettably powerful book.”—Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild.
NOTE FROM TARA: I first read this book in high school. I had been to the outback only a few years earlier. When I read this book at 18, I could not believe what this woman had undertaken – alone. I think this was one book that I’ve read in my life that truly inspired me to get off my ass and do something with my life. Something that included travel.
Yes, I know it’s a major movie now, but like most book-to-movie adaptations, the book is so much better.
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.
NOTE FROM TARA: What can I say? Cheryl Strayed is a rock star. I am a total groupie of this woman now. I read the book, saw the movie and then read the book again. Then I started following Cheryl Strayed on Instagram and Facebook.
This beautifully written, heartfelt memoir touched a nerve among both readers and reviewers. Elizabeth Gilbert tells how she made the difficult choice to leave behind all the trappings of modern American success (marriage, house in the country, career) and find, instead, what she truly wanted from life. Setting out for a year to study three different aspects of her nature amid three different cultures, Gilbert explored the art of pleasure in Italy and the art of devotion in India, and then a balance between the two on the Indonesian island of Bali. By turns rapturous and rueful, this wise and funny author is poised to garner yet more adoring fans.
NOTE FROM TARA: The same can be said for Eat Pray Love as I said for Wild. I read the book, saw the movie, read the book and then I saw the movie again. I get both hungry AND health conscious when I get involved with this book/movie. It makes me crave Italy like you wouldn’t believe, and be curious enough to visit both Bali and India… although neither have ever been on my Living List. That’s what a good book can do.
While not memoirs, these books will still transport you elsewhere.
In this #1 bestselling page-turner from “the queen of beach reads” (New York Magazine), a Nantucket novelist has one final summer to protect her secrets while her loved ones on earth learn to live without their golden girl.
On a perfect June day, Vivian Howe, author of thirteen beach novels and mother of three nearly grown children, is killed in a hit-and-run car accident while jogging near her home on Nantucket. She ascends to the Beyond where she’s assigned to a Person named Martha, who allows Vivi to watch what happens below for one last summer. Vivi also is granted three “nudges” to change the outcome of events on earth, and with her daughter Willa on her third miscarriage, Carson partying until all hours, and Leo currently “off again” with his high-maintenance girlfriend, she’ll have to think carefully where to use them.
From the Beyond, Vivi watches “The Chief” Ed Kapenash investigate her death, but her greatest worry is her final book, which contains a secret from her own youth that could be disastrous for her reputation. But when hidden truths come to light, Vivi’s family will have to sort out their past and present mistakes—with or without a nudge of help from above—while Vivi finally lets them grow without her.
With all of Elin’s trademark beach scenes, mouth-watering meals, and picture-perfect homes, plus a heartfelt message—the people we lose never really leave us—Golden Girl is a beach book unlike any other.
NOTE FROM TARA: Literally any book from Elin Hildebrand that is set on Nantucket will have you packing your bags and heading to the island. Nantucket has been on my list for YEARS because of Elin Hildebrand.
For Katherine Givens and the four women about to become her best friends, the adventure begins with a UPS package. Inside is a pair of red sneakers filled with ashes and a note that will forever change their lives. Katherine’s oldest and dearest friend, the irrepressible Annie Freeman, left one final request–a traveling funeral–and she wants the most important women in her life as “pallbearers.”
From Sonoma to Manhattan, Katherine, Laura, Rebecca, Jill, and Marie will carry Annie’s ashes to the special places in her life. At every stop there’s a surprise encounter and a small miracle waiting, and as they whoop it up across the country, attracting interest wherever they go, they share their deepest secrets–tales of broken hearts and second chances, missed opportunities and new beginnings. And as they grieve over what they’ve lost, they discover how much is still possible if only they can unravel the secret Annie left them….
NOTE FROM TARA: Every time I think of Santa Fe, I think of this book. While visiting there for the first time, I met some women at dinner who were on their own road trip of sorts. I love this book. You’ll laugh more than you’ll cry. It is a great example of the power of connecting through travel.
In Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone, a desperate family seeks a new beginning in the near-isolated wilderness of Alaska only to find that their unpredictable environment is less threatening than the erratic behavior found in human nature.
Alaska, 1974. Ernt Allbright came home from the Vietnam War a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes the impulsive decision to move his wife and daughter north where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.
Cora will do anything for the man she loves, even if means following him into the unknown. Thirteen-year-old Leni, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, has little choice but to go along, daring to hope this new land promises her family a better future.
In a wild, remote corner of Alaska, the Allbrights find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the newcomers’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.
But as winter approaches and darkness descends, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own.
NOTE FROM TARA: After reading this book, who wanted to go to Alaska? *Raises hand* This is one of my favourite books ever.
From a master of the historical novel, Empress Orchid sweeps readers into the heart of the Forbidden City to tell the fascinating story of a young concubine who becomes China’s last empress. Min introduces the beautiful Tzu Hsi, known as Orchid, and weaves an epic of a country girl who seized power through seduction, murder, and endless intrigue. When China is threatened by enemies, she alone seems capable of holding the country together.
In this “absorbing companion piece to her novel Becoming Madame Mao” (New York Times), readers and reading groups will once again be transported by Min’s lavish evocation of the Forbidden City in its last days of imperial glory and by her brilliant portrait of a flawed yet utterly compelling woman who survived, and ultimately dominated, a male world.
NOTE FROM TARA: You are transported into the traditions of China. Much like Lisa’s See’s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and her South Korean novel, The Island of Sea Women, two other books I adore, this book transports you into a world so unlike western society.
After hard luck and heartbreak, Sunny finally finds a place to call home—in the middle of an Afghanistan war zone. There, the thirty-eight-year-old serves up her American hospitality to the expats who patronize her coffee shop, including a British journalist, a “danger pay” consultant, and a wealthy and well-connected woman. True to her name, Sunny also bonds with people whose language and landscape are unfamiliar to most Westerners, but whose hearts and souls are very much like our own: the maternal Halajan, who vividly recalls the days before the Taliban and now must hide a modern romance from her ultratraditional son; and Yazmina, a young Afghan villager with a secret that could put everyone’s life in jeopardy. In this gorgeous first novel, New York Times bestselling author Deborah Rodriguez paints a stirring portrait of a faraway place where—even in the fog of political and social conflict—friendship, passion, and hope still exist.
NOTE FROM TARA: This was a beautiful book that was hard to read, but so well written. You will feel the sand between your teeth with the imagery.
Vivid and compelling in its portrait of one woman’s struggle for fulfillment in a society pivoting between the traditional and the modern, The Henna Artist opens a door into a world that is at once lush and fascinating, stark and cruel.
Escaping from an abusive marriage, seventeen-year-old Lakshmi makes her way alone to the vibrant 1950s pink city of Jaipur. There she becomes the most highly requested henna artist—and confidante—to the wealthy women of the upper class. But trusted with the secrets of the wealthy, she can never reveal her own…
Known for her original designs and sage advice, Lakshmi must tread carefully to avoid the jealous gossips who could ruin her reputation and her livelihood. As she pursues her dream of an independent life, she is startled one day when she is confronted by her husband, who has tracked her down these many years later with a high-spirited young girl in tow—a sister Lakshmi never knew she had. Suddenly the caution that she has carefully cultivated as protection is threatened. Still she perseveres, applying her talents and lifting up those that surround her as she does.
NOTE FROM TARA: India is has never been on my Living List, but the vibrancy that comes through in this novel, the way her words make my mouth water, I am second guessing that decision.
Transporting readers alongside an extraordinary experience, Tara Marlow explores the strength and importance of female friendships. And by delving into complex and real-world issues while giving an authentic glimpse of the pilgrim trail, the author’s powerful message of gaining knowledge of one’s true self will engage and inspire.
Camino Wandering is a deeply emotional novel of women’s fiction. If you like relatable heroines, personal growth, and triumph over adversity, then you’ll adore Tara Marlow’s light in the dark.
NOTE FROM TARA: I had to include my OWN novel in this, as it transports you to France and Spain, to walk the Camino de Santiago, an 800km pilgrimage, with The Lovelies. One review stated: “Loved walking the Camino with these great characters! I felt like I was right there in Spain experiencing the pilgrimage, people watching, grabbing gear, overcoming the obstacles on the path, and rounding each corner to reveal another incomparable sight of the Camino de Santiago.”
*I say Living List a lot. For me, there is no Bucket List. It’s a list I live for.
What books would you add to this list?
I know there are more that I have, but I didn’t want to overwhelm this post. LOL!!
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