A little stuck for inspiration for your next adventure? Stuff your rucksack with these wonderful travel and outdoor books, guaranteed to make you laugh, cry and develop an instant case of wanderlust. These are some of the best stories of travel, derring do, exploration and happy times spent outdoors – I’ve included some of my favourites and I’ve also got plenty of recommendations from my amazing readers to share with you.
My favourite travel and outdoor books
My Journey to Llasa by Alexandra David-Neel
This astonishing book will leave you feeling like you can do absolutely anything you set your mind to. In the 1920s French explorer Alexandra Davd-Neel decided to up sticks and trek for 14 years through the Himalayas in order to smuggle herself into Tibet, becoming the first western woman to reach the capital, Llasa. Her fearless can-do attitude and descriptions of an Asia now changed forever are a must-read.
The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara
Warning: this book will make you fall irretrievably in love with South America. In an epic journey from Argentina through the Andes, the Atacama Desert and the Amazon River Basin, the young man who would one day become the revolutionary Che Guevara travels by motorbike with his friend Alberto and paints a beguiling picture of a changing continent and the joys and tribulations of the vagabonding life.
The Outrun by Amy Liptrot
The Outrun is Amy Liptrot’s delicately painted story of her return to her native Orkney and her recovery from addiction. I love the passages that compare her old life in London with her new one on the remote island, her writings on her new-found love for wild swimming and the brutally honest way she confronts her feelings, and herself, in a cathartic and beautifully written outpouring. A reminder that we are all linked to the landscapes we came from.
Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle by Dervla Murphy
The charming first book by much-loved Irish author and cycle tourer Dervla Murphy tells the story of how she set off to cycle to India in the 1960s with a map, a compass and a pistol in her panniers. As she rides through Italy, Turkey, Persia, Afghanistan and Pakistan she describes the diverse communities and landscapes she finds warmly, wittily and memorably.
The Pants of Perspective, by Anna McNuff
In a world of earnest adventure writing, Anna McNuff’s hilarious and friendly story of her 5,000km running journey across New Zealand stands out – this is like diving in to a heart-warming story told by your best mate. McNuff is relentlessly cheerful in the face of solo wild camping, injury and exhaustion, and her anyone-can-do-it attitude makes even the most epic challenge seem achievable.
What I was doing while you were breeding: A memoir by Kristin Newman
The perfect present for anyone who’d rather be roaming the planet than settling down. Kristin Newman’s cult novel is perfect if you too have been bitten by the travel bug – her escapes will make you totally identify with her wandering itch and snort with laughter as she recounts her encounters with amazing places and many handsome locals. Eat Pray Love on steroids.
Wild, by Cheryl Strayed
A ‘journey from lost to found’ along America’s eleven hundred mile-long Pacific Crest Trail, Strayed’s iconic book is really all about how escaping alone into nature gives us the much-needed headspace to reset, grieve and recover from trauma. Raw and intimately written, Wild will make you itch to lace up your hiking boots, face your demons and be alone in the great outdoors.
Coming in the Country by John McPhee
I read this as I journeyed through Alaska, the country that John McPhee explores in the book’s pages, and fell in love with his lyrical but balanced description of the last corner of America where the wilderness is still king. McPhee meets incredible characters including bush pilots, prospectors and forest dwellers on his journey and examines how best we should care for and preserve wild spaces for the future.
Your favourite travel and outdoor books
Arabian Sands, by Wilfred Thesiger
“A truly brilliant story of a world and time gone by from one of the great explorers of yesteryear”, reckons Marcus Leach of Arabian Sands, and Ginny agrees: “the world has indeed changed since Thesiger’s time, but the people… for people to change takes longer.” Thesiger wandered the Arabian deserts for five years, an often dangerous but always fulfilling journey that follows in the spirit of T.E Lawrence.
The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho
A young shepherd leaves the hills of Spain in search of Egyptian treasure in this powerful book about the forces that guide us to search for what we desire most in life. Charmaine Chantler loves The Alchemist because, she says, it ‘teaches you how beneficial travel and adventure can be for the mind when it comes to finding out what you truly want.”
Wasa Wasa, A Tale of Trails and Treasure in the Far North, by Harry McFie
Recommended by Wild Tree Adventures, Wasa Wasa is “an incredible adventure story about the daily life of gold miners in the Arctic, way back. It makes life here seem easy!” McFie’s tales of surviving in the Arctic wilderness and description of the powerful spell that the North casts over travellers is an addictive read. Wasa Wasa is hard to find new – keep an eye out for second-hand copies.
A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, by Eric Newby
Mike O’Dwyer reckons that Newby’s account of his adventures in the mountains of Afghanistan “so brilliantly written you feel you are there, even though it was published over 60 years ago.” It’s also very wry and funny, and Newby’s attempt to summit Mir Samir mountain will resonate with anyone who has ever felt like they’ve bitten off more than they can chew on an expedition.
Castaway, by Lucy Irvine
After answering an advert for a ‘wife to live on a lonely island for a year’, Lucy Irvine found herself cast up on Tuin island off Australia. Her story is bizarre and beautiful in equal parts, covering the tensions of living with just one other human being in the wild as well as painting a picture of her tropical new home. “I love how she describes the adventure and her relationship with the island she lived on for a year.” says Jen Brierley.
A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson
“Great humour, characters and storytelling of being outside and how sometimes things don’t go quite as planned, but the views and connection to nature make up for it all. It makes you want to get outside and go on an adventure.” says Debbie of Bill Bryson’s charming A Walk in the Woods, probably the only book that’s ever made me cry tears of laughter on public transport. Bryson’s anecdotal tales of the tribulations of attempting America’s 2,200 mile-long Appalachian Trail will resonate with any hiker as well, somehow, as making you long to take on a long-distance challenge yourself.
Quest for Adventure, by Chris Bonington
Gareth Ellison‘s recommended read is mountaineer Chris Bonington’s collection of stories of men and women to push the limits of humankind and explore the four corners of the earth, from Hillary and Tenzing on Everest to modern-day explorations. The perfect introduction to adventure writing
A Fortune Teller Told Me, by Tiziano Terzsni
“I found this book a couple of weeks ago in Borneo and it’s incredible. It’s about travelling around Asia in the nineties overland. The author is an Italian journalist who is told not to fly by a fortune teller – so he doesn’t!” Megan Goldie tells me.
The Hobbit, by J.R.R Tolkien
Tolkein’s intricate fantasy world and story of one brave hobbit facing adventure and adversity has become a go-to book for McKenna Wear. “Whenever I felt homesick when I was volunteering in Peru I could pick this up. I know it’s fantasy, but it’s basically one big road trip that makes the protagonist go from an indoorsy, orderly Baggins to the adventure seeker he was always meant to be.”
The Salt Path, by Raynor Winn
“A journey of a woman of strength and courage” says Louise Rickard of this honest and gently written story of a couple who faced homelessness by walking the South West Coast Path, proving that the natural world is a great healer. It’ll open your eyes to homelessness, make you appreciate what you have and make you see walking and camping as a balm for your worries.
In her Element: Women and the Landscape – an Anthology
“This really makes me think about how I spend time outside.” says Gemma of this collection of writing from 20 Welsh women on how the landscape has shaped and changed their lives.
On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
The instant classic that is On the Road is a must-read for anyone with a roving soul. “A wanderlust-inspiring adventure if ever I read one!” says Steph of Kerouac’s story of the eternal itch to escape to something new, via sex, drugs and rock’n’roll in 1950s America.
Shackleton’s Boat Journey, by Frank Worsley
“Shackleton’s boat journey in the James Caird and his crossing of South Georgia is the adventure story of all time”, reckons Alan Parkinson. Captain Frank Worsley’s account of their daring and ultimately doomed expedition to the Antarctic, in which Shackleton managed to sail to South Georgia in a lifeboat in order save his crew.
Loved these travel and outdoor books and looking for more inspiration? Try my favourite travel and outdoor magazines