Epic trips are made not only of towering mountains or grueling treks. You can have an epic trip in your home country, by making an unexpected move to a new one, or on a quest to recapture your sense of wonder about the world. At least, that’s what these adventurous souls show in the following collection of true stories. These memoirs, autobiographies, and historical accounts are sure to enthrall anyone seeking insight into a different place or time—and maybe provide the nudge needed to set out on an adventure of your own.
All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes
By Maya Angelou
(Random House, 1986)
In 1962, Maya Angelou traveled to Accra with her son to help him get settled at the University of Ghana. But when he was seriously injured in a car accident, her two-week stopover became a three-year stay. In the resulting autobiography, she notes that Ghana was a place where “for the first time in our lives the color of our skin was accepted as correct and normal.” All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes is the fifth in Angelou’s seven-book series of autobiographies. Her poetic prose touches on themes of motherhood, race, and identity, and with her characteristic grace, Angelou introduces her audience to the characters she meets and the customs she learns as she navigates local culture and becomes involved with the expat community of black Americans.
Braving It: A Father, a Daughter, and an Unforgettable Journey Into the Alaskan Wilderness
By James Campbell
The idea of spending a vacation doing grueling outdoor work with a teenager is scary enough for most parents without adding the threat of grizzly bears. But Aidan Campbell is not every teenager, and her father James Campbell isn’t every parent. In Braving It, Campbell chronicles their three trips to Alaska, including a summer spent helping family members build a log cabin in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and a fall visit to set trap lines for hunting. Their adventure culminates in a final backpacking and canoeing trip that takes them through the Brooks Range and along the Hulahula River all the way to the Arctic Ocean. If the descriptions of rugged living in the Alaskan landscape don’t keep you reading (or at least inspire you to do some image searches of the National Wildlife Refuge), the tender evolution of the relationship between a father and his teenage daughter will. And it may even offer some ideas for your next family vacation.
Patagonian Road: A Year Alone Through Latin America
By Kate McCahill
(Santa Fe Writers Project, 2017)
Like many travelers, writer Kate McCahill found inspiration for her journey through Latin America from a book. In her case, it was Paul Theroux’s 1979 travelogue, The Old Patagonian Express. Unlike Theroux’s narrative, which relies on observations about train travel, McCahill veers thematically (if not geographically) from his itinerary. She travels from Guatemala to Argentina as Theroux did, but spends more time on buses than locomotives. Along the way, she takes on a few teaching jobs and tries to get a sense of local life. The account is introspective and personal, and the vivid descriptions transport readers to pockets of the 10 countries she visits. The work is a sound example of literature’s power to move people outside their comfort zones.
Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback
By Robyn Davidson
In 1977, at age 27, Robyn Davidson decided to make the long journey on foot from the central Australian town of Alice Springs west to the Indian Ocean. Her companions for the journey? Four camels and a dog. As Davidson’s adventure progressed, she was forced to confront the obstacles solo travel presents in the Outback—a harsh landscape, feelings of loneliness, the realities of the Australian codes (both social and legal) that discriminate against its Aboriginal people, and the challenges of keeping herself and her traveling unit safe. Davidson’s deeply personal narrative shows how, when someone moves from idea to action, the resulting journey can be truly transformative. Tracks went on to win the 1980 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award; a film adaptation starring Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver was released in 2013.
Here Is Real Magic: A Magician’s Search for Wonder in the Modern World
By Nate Staniforth
After years as a professional magician, Nate Staniforth was very tired. He was tired of homesickness, of cynical hecklers, of long hours of travel, and of even longer working days. Worse, he had lost the sense of wonder that drove him to magic in the first place. So Staniforth embarked on a quest to recapture it in India, a land where ancient magic inspires its modern counterpart. At turns funny and heartfelt, his memoir Here Is Real Magic reminds readers why a childlike sense of awe is an important asset that helps us appreciate our great, big world, and how the pursuit of a long-held passion can lead to the best sorts of travel. Read a teaser.
Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage
By Alfred Lansing
(Hodder & Stoughton, 1959)
More than 100 years ago, polar explorer Ernest Shackleton and his crew set sail to Antarctica. Their goal was a daring one: to walk across the continent. But before they reached their destination, their ship the Endurance became trapped in the ice and sank. What followed was the men’s harrowing attempt to survive on the ice floes and, thanks to a risky open-boat expedition to South Georgia, a return to land. We don’t recommend replicating the events of this book, but the true story of their will to live—and Shackleton’s leadership—is as inspiring as it is thrilling. (And if you want to see the continent for yourself, it’s considerably easier and less dangerous to travel to Antarctica these days.)
All Over the Place: Adventures in Travel, True Love, and Petty Theft
By Geraldine DeRuiter
Anyone who has spent time in the travel blogosphere has likely heard of The Everywhereist, a website run by the hilarious and incisive Geraldine DeRuiter. After she was laid off from her copywriting job, DeRuiter began traveling with her husband on his work trips and writing about them on her blog. Her first book, released in May of 2017, is less a single narrative of a specific, transformative trip (she says as much in a disclaimer) than a collection of stories about getting lost, having motion sickness, and gaining a better sense of the world and her relationship as she travels with her husband over the course of more than five years. DeRuiter’s writing is laugh-out-loud funny, even when she’s tackling the tough stuff (brain tumors included), and her anecdotes will encourage you to find humor in the process of travel.
The Hundred-Year Walk: An Armenian Odyssey
By Dawn Anahid MacKeen
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016)
Every family has legends, but Dawn Anahid MacKeen’s was exceptional. Many times while growing up, she’d heard the story of how her grandfather, Stepan Miskjian, escaped the genocide in Armenia by crossing the Syrian desert on foot with only two cups of water. It never captured her interest until her mother discovered Miskjian’s long-lost journals. Unable to ignore her family’s remarkable history, MacKeen embarks on a singular expedition: to retrace his route to modern-day Syria and Turkey (two countries that continue to deny the Armenian genocide). Part history, part memoir, MacKeen’s story speaks to the power of family, the horrors of war, and the resilience of the human spirit.
Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam
By Alexander X. Pham
In 1977, soon after the Vietnam War ended, Alexander Pham arrived in the United States from Vietnam with his family. He was 10 years old. The rest of his childhood was spent in California, and he eventually graduated from UCLA. But 17 years after his family’s relocation to the States, his sibling’s suicide prompts Pham to quit his engineering job and begin a 4,000-mile bicycle journey. Over the course of a year, he goes up the Pacific Coast from Mexico to California, then cycles Japan and, ultimately, Vietnam, his country of birth. Moving deftly between Pham’s past (his father’s imprisonment in Vietnam during the war, his own childhood memories) and present, Catfish and Mandala is not a travel narrative with a glossy sheen. Rather, it’s an honest account of an experience written by a young man grappling with what it means to be Vietnamese American in a postwar world.
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