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10 Travel Books To Inspire Wanderlust and Adventure Within You

It’s January and there’s a foot of snow outside my Canadian home. In recent weeks I’ve experienced temperatures of anything from -40c to 2c.

Yes, there is adventure to be had out there in the form of snowshoeing, ice fishing, cross-country skiing and more, but let me be honest.

Sometimes the idea of reading a book (or rather, my Kindle) is far more appealing than digging out our van from the snowpile where it currently resides.

I read a lot of travel non-fiction, moving my preference in recent years away from standard travelogues to books focusing on incredible journeys or achievements. 

Here are my most memorable reads from the last year that are sure to inspire wanderlust within you. 

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Gemma reading by wood stove in cabin
Reading in a free cabin we discovered on the West Coast of Vancouver Island

Inspiring journeys

Beyond the Horizon: The Great Race to Finish the First Human-Powered Circumnavigation of the Planet Colin Angus

A captivating book following Colin’s two-year journey across the world using only human power. Full of drama and near-death moments, it almost reads as fiction as Colin (and latterly, his incredible wife) attempts to overcome seemingly endless physical, emotional and economic barriers on his quest.

Imagine my surprise to find out Colin was from the Comox Valley, our Vancouver Island home from 2011-2014!

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail – Cheryl Strayed

Yes, I know, recommendations for this book are probably a bit overdone. But it was such a good read. After experiencing family tragedy, Cheryl sets out to hike 1000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from California to Washington on her own.

With little experience and one very heavy backpack (sounds familiar), Cheryl struggles from day one. I could relate to a lot of her experiences travelling solo, both good and bad. Filled with vivid imagery of her journey through the desert, mountains and forests, I absolutely flew through it. And now I really want to go hiking.

Alaska Traveler: Dispatches from America’s Last Frontier – Dana Stabenow (Completely free kindle book on Amazon)

A little different to my other favourites, Alaska Traveler is a collection of Dana’s articles written for Alaska Magazine. Most of them focus on easy travel activities (whale-watching, seafood festivities et al) but the highlight is a two parter titled ‘A Time Machine Called the Chilkoot Trail.’ 

Dana isn’t much of a hiker (and especially not one that sleeps in a tent); the phrase ‘what the hell was I thinking’ comes up a lot. Extremely relatable and inspiring for the casual hiker.

cape chignecto gemma by the beach
Hiking the Cape Chignecto Trail, Nova Scotia

All Time Favourites

Into the Wild / Into Thin Air – Jon Krakauer

A bit cliché, but what can I say; Into the Wild will always be one of my perennial favourites. Into Thin Air is a fairly recent addition after reading it in one day on a paddling trip.

I re-read (and re-watched) Into the Wild while in Alaska last summer, my surroundings making Chris McCandless’ journey across North America as ‘Alexander Supertramp’ even more vivid.

The personal motivation and experience Krakauer brings to each and every subject he addresses are inspiring as well as intensely interesting.

White Fang / Call of the Wild – Jack London

Set mainly in the Yukon, both books hold so much more meaning to me after spending the summer in the Far North and learning so much about the Klondike Gold Rush.

We paddled very close to where Jack London’s cabin was on the Yukon River, later visiting the reconstruction in Dawson City. I’m thinking that a trip to the Yukon in winter may be essential to get the full picture…

Small wooden cabin with elevated food cache to the right
Reconstruction of Jack London’s cabin, Dawson City, Yukon

Light hearted travel tales

The Long and Whining Road – Simeon Courtie

Appealing to my love of road trips, this fun and easy read follows the Courtie family’s year-long trip around the world in Penny, their VW van. The family busk as the ‘Beatnik Beatles,’ raising money for charity along the way.

Like us, they travel on a miniscule budget and I felt their pain every time they broke down or struggled to find somewhere free to camp. I was thankful to be an armchair tourist as they travelled through India and (pre-war) Syria, two countries I’m not sure I would choose to drive through myself!

One Day Ahead: A Tour de France Misadventure – Richard Grady

Four amateur cyclists decide to attempt the 2012 Tour de France, a day ahead of the professional riders. The author, Richard, is not one of these cyclists. He is part of the support team, something that turns out to be just as hard as the actual cycling challenge.

Witty and self-deprecating, Richard hides none of the daily trials and tribulations involved in ferrying and assisting four people to cycle 160km every day. If you love the Tour De France (like me) and don’t mind a bit of good old British moaning and groaning, then check it out.

Grape Expectations: A Family’s Vineyard Adventure in France – Caro Feely

While I have listed this book under ‘light-hearted,’ it has surprisingly intense moments. Apparently making wine isn’t as simple (or as fun) as it sounds. Caro and her husband move their young family from the UK to southern France to open an organic winery, with absolutely no experience or knowledge aside from knowing they like to drink wine.

Yep, it’s one of those ‘what were they thinking’ kinda books, but it was good. It left me dreaming of a summer of wine touring.

KVR Trail gravel pathway running alongside vineyards with deep blue lake in background
Vineyards as seen from the KVR Trail, Penticton

On my to-read list

I’m Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago – Hape Kerkeling

The Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James) is a hike I would like to do, despite the popularity. I think it would be an interesting contrast to backcountry trails in Canada. I keep meaning to check out The Way movie too.

Just a Little Run Around the World: 5 Years, 3 Packs of Wolves and 53 Pairs of Shoes – Rosie Swale Pope

After recently meeting Kevin Carr, a Brit attempting the fastest round the world run, this book holds more interest than ever.

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Sue Taylor

Wednesday 21st of January 2015

Brilliant summaries of tempting books Gemma!

Have you seen any of Ben Fogle's New Lives in the Wild on Channel 5 here in the UK? Interesting lives some people lead.....



Wednesday 21st of January 2015

I think I remember you mentioning the show before, it's on my to-watch list! Especially the Alaska episode. Thanks for the reminder :)

Stephanie Mayo

Tuesday 20th of January 2015

You've got some great picks there! Right now I'm reading The Voluntourist as well as Night Train to Lisbon - and loving both!


Wednesday 21st of January 2015

Thanks for the recommendations Stephanie! Maybe I'll do a February update ;)


Tuesday 20th of January 2015

Some great recommendations, that I'll be sure to check out the ones I haven't read. I love Rosie Swale Pope's book, such an inspiring woman and what an awesome challenge she set herself.


Tuesday 20th of January 2015

Thanks for the push to buy Rosie's book ASAP! I wonder what Rosie is doing now, I mean, how do you top that?!