I’m a voracious reader. When I was little my dad would read me stories, and as I got older I fell in love with the worlds that words can transport you to.
Maybe it’s obvious, but I also love travel books. Memoirs that take you on a journey of self-discovery, tales that show you places you’ve never been, and experiences you can live vicariously through.
I love travel books, but it seems a lot of travel literature is dominated by men. Many ‘Top Travel Books’ lists feature Jack Kerouac, Rolf Potts, and Paulo Coelho. But where are the women?
I’m not denying the greatness of those novels, but I want to read travel books by women. I want to read about women overcoming obstacles and undertaking great voyages. As a solo female traveller I want to hear about their journeys of self-discovery, and how they experienced a world that is for the most part still ruled by the patriarchy.
I want to read about women who set off for epic motorcycle trips through Iran. Women who hike through the Australian outback. Brave women who face their fears and sail across the Pacific Ocean. These women inspire me to see the world. And when solo female travel can still feel like a scary endeavour, a little inspiration can go a long way.
You should still read On the Road, Vagabonding and The Alchemist, but first make sure to check out these top 8 travel books for solo female travellers.
8 Travel Books Every Female Traveller Should Read
1. Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found
By Cheryl Strayed
I read Wild at a really weird, emotional place in my life. My long term relationship had recently ended and I was coming to terms with this while working 80-hour weeks on a feature film in New Zealand. During that time of mental and physical exhaustion I started reading Strayed’s novel and finished it in two days.
Wild isn’t a travel novel as such, but it’s a book that will really make you want to get out and go for a big hike.
Strayed’s memoir is a journey of self-help and self-discovery, and takes place over her 1,100 mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. Along the way she loses a shoe (and most of her toenails), encounters mishaps, and ultimately finds strength she didn’t know she had. She learns a lot; about fear, about bravery, and about how to be strong as a woman alone on the Pacific Crest Trail.
“How wild it was, to let it be.”
2. Eat Pray Love
By Elizabeth Gilbert
Ok, I feel a bit cheesy for including Eat, Pray, Love on this list but it had to be done.
I have to say, at the start it almost felt like I was reading 50 Shades of Grey (sorry, Liz Gilbert). Isn’t Eat, Pray, Love just a self-help book for middle aged women going through divorce? But once I started reading I couldn’t put it down.
Admittedly, some parts of the book don’t resonate with me. I’m not a particularly spiritual person, so Gilbert’s decision to remain in the Ashram rather than continuing her journey through India baffled me. Why would one choose to do hours of silent meditation, rather than getting out and exploring India? Not for me.
But a lot of the novel had me experiencing some serious wanderlust. The way Gilbert describes her time in Rome almost had me booking a plane ticket to begin my own Italian sabbatical. The pleasure she takes in learning the Italian language and the joy she finds in Italian food had me examining my own life to see what would bring me pleasure.
Ultimately, Eat, Pray, Love is a deeply personal novel of self-discovery with a heavy dose of wanderlust thrown in. It makes for a satisfying read.
“This is a good sign, having a broken heart. It means we have tried for something.”
3. Revolutionary Ride: On the Road in Search of the Real Iran
By Lois Pryce
Iran is such an intriguing country. My dad visited back in the 70’s when Iran was the place to be and he loved it. Today, however, Iran is vilified by the media. It definitely wouldn’t be safe for a solo female traveller, would it?
Enter Lois Pryce. In 2011 during a period of extreme tension between the British and Iranian governments, Pryce found a note left on her motorcycle outside the Iranian Embassy in London:
… I wish that you will visit Iran so you will see for yourself about my country. WE ARE NOT TERRORISTS!!! Please come to my city, Shiraz. It is very famous as the friendliest city in Iran, it is the city of poetry and gardens and wine!!!
Your Persian friend,
Sensing a story, travel writer Pryce ignored the official warnings and the advice of family and friends and set off on an epic adventure to Iran.
Along her solo 3000 mile ride from Tabriz to Shiraz Pryce discovers a complex country filled with warm hospitality and incredible history. Revolutionary Ride will leave you feeling like you finally have a sense of what contemporary Iran is really like. Dammit, that’s another place I now have to add to my growing bucket list.
4. Love With a Chance of Drowning
By Torre DeRoche
Love with a Chance of Drowning is the chick-lit of travel books, but also hugely heart-warming, entertaining and well written.
In her mid-twenties Torre quits her job in Melbourne and moves to San Francisco. As she says “I felt that if I didn’t face my fears and go, I’d be sentencing myself to a predictable, boring life.” On a night out she meets Ivan, a clumsy but loveable Argentinian man who she quickly falls for.
The only problem? Ivan is about to set sail to the South Pacific in his small sailboat, and Torre is deeply afraid of the ocean. She determines that to keep her new relationship afloat she must embark on what is, for her, a terrifying journey.
The book is not only a love story, although it definitely is that. It’s also a fast-paced travel memoir set against the beautiful backdrop of the remote South Pacific Islands. More than that, it’s a story about facing your biggest fears and taking risks.
“If you have the courage to step outside your comfort zone with an open mind and an open heart, the world and its possibilities becomes infinitely larger. Big risks yield big rewards.”
5. How Not to Travel the World: Adventures of a Disaster-Prone Backpacker
By Lauren Juliff
Lauren Juliff is one of the original female travel bloggers, creator of the hugely popular blog Never Ending Footsteps. When I first started getting into travel blogs, Never Ending Footsteps was one I quickly fell in love with. Lauren’s a great writer, and her posts are funny, informative and honest. In an industry where travel is hugely glamourized and wanderlust-style posts infiltrate Instagram feeds, Never Ending Footsteps is refreshingly real.
Lauren continues this on into her novel How Not to Travel the World. As the title would suggest the book is filled with stories of Lauren’s (mis)adventures. From sitting beside a dead woman for 6 hours to experiencing a very unhappy ending during a Thai massage, Lauren sure has stories to tell.
Honestly, at the start it’s hard to identify with Lauren – she’s never even tried eggs or rice. But I found her openness about her struggles with anxiety inspiring. She completely owns everything about herself; her hypochondria, her anxiety, and the fact that she felt like she didn’t know what she was doing. Lauren is a magnet for disaster, partly through bad luck and partly due to her own naivety, but she never lets that deter her from travel. I think that makes her pretty damn brave.
6. The Year of Living Danishly
By Helen Russell
Are you happy with your life? A lot of us are so busy with the day-to-day aspects of our lives, from doing the laundry, to deciding what to make for dinner, that we often avoid asking ourselves an important question. Am I happy?
For Helen Russell her exploration of happiness came from moving from London to rural Jutland, Denmark after her husband got a job at Lego headquarters. Helen is determined to find out what makes Denmark the happiest country in the world and that journey takes her to some interesting places.
From education and childcare, Danish pastries and ‘hygge’, to taxes and sexism, The Year of Living Danishly is a witty and poignant exploration of the formula to Danish happiness. It shows us what the Danes are doing right, what they’re doing wrong, and that we should all try harder to find a little happiness in our lives.
“I am not important. If I take a break, no one dies. And this is A Good Thing.”
7. Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback
By Robyn Davidson
Dammit, even the title of this novel sounds inspiring, doesn’t it? If you’ve heard of any solo female travel books, it’s likely to be this one.
A cult classic, Tracks takes place in the Australian outback in 1977. Robyn, then aged 27, set off from Alice Springs on a journey across the outback with four camels and her dog. As you can imagine, it’s an arduous journey. Along the way Robyn endures dangerously hot temperatures, poisonous snakes (and men) and her stubborn, willful camels. She emerges as an extraordinary woman, a woman with a deep passion and love for the Australian landscape and it’s indigenous people.
It would be easy, I think, to romanticise her journey but Davidson never does. Instead, her novel is raw and real, filled with disappointment, struggle and an attempt to find purpose. And that makes her deeply relatable. Travel is raw and real, and not always the photos we post to Instagram, and Tracks helps you to remember that.
“I experienced that sinking feeling you get when you know you have conned yourself into doing something difficult and there’s no going back.”
8. Four Corners: A Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea
By Kira Salak
It’s set in a different country and a different decade, but Four Corners reminded me a lot of Tracks. Both are novels about remarkable women who set out to explore a part of the world most don’t see. They each undertake their journey’s with a fearlessness I can only aspire to.
Salak’s journey takes place in Papua New Guinea, where at the age of 24, she becomes the first woman to traverse the whole country. I mean, I consider a solo trip to Paris brave, so I can hardly imagine setting off to explore one of the world’s least known countries.
And yet Salak does it. She throws herself into dangerous situations with abandon, and frequently questions why she is still alive. Though I found myself frustrated at her for taking such risks, her bravery is inspiring.
Through her solo 3-month trip Salak makes her way across the country by dugout canoe and on foot. Along the way she meets the leader of the OPM, a guerilla movement opposing Indonesian occupancy in Western New Guinea. She stays in a village where people still practice cannibalism, and she undertakes a gruelling trek through the jungle. Her journey across Papua New Guinea is set against a breathtaking landscape, but it’s Salak’s transformational journey that is at the true heart of the novel.
“To Whom It May Concern– Only four words of advice: It can be done.”
There you have it. 8 novels by 8 remarkable women. Travel books that will paint vivid pictures in your mind, inspire you, and encourage you to explore a little more of the world. If you’re a solo female traveller, or just someone dreaming of adventure, these novels are for you.