Whether you’re content with armchair travel or prefer a rugged real-life expedition of your own, these accounts of epic journeys by intrepid travelers will give you plenty of room to roam.
If you’re the type who takes a large, packed-to-the-brim suitcase on every trip, you’ll be amazed and enlightened by Clara Bensen’s account of traveling with, literally, No Baggage. Bensen considers herself a quiet introvert, so it’s a surprise when she clicks with her polar opposite, Jeff, a free spirit she meets through an online dating site. Soon after, Jeff invites her on a three-week trip to Europe, with one caveat: She must adopt his unorthodox travel style, which means no hotels, no itineraries and no luggage. Taking flight for Istanbul with only the clothes on her back (and a change of underwear in her purse), Bensen cautiously adjusts to the freedom of wandering unencumbered. “It’s a rare thing to be lost, isn’t it?” she asks Jeff, jolted by the transition from a world in which we always know exactly where we stand. Bensen’s honest and engaging narrative offers fresh insights about why we travel and what we gain when we step outside our comfort zones.
UP THE RIVER
A British veteran who served in Afghanistan, Levison Wood was inspired by 19th-century explorers who sought to locate the source of the fabled Nile River. In 2013, he set out to recreate their journey in reverse, a 4,000-mile trek chronicled in Walking the Nile. This gripping travelogue is no “walk in the woods,” however, and you won’t find amusing Bill Bryson-style asides about bad weather and annoying companions. Starting at a tiny spring in Rwanda and walking through six countries, Wood encounters armed gangs, civil war, secret police and even endures the death (from heat stroke) of a journalist who joined him. Informative and immediate, Walking the Nile is an unvarnished portrait of modern Africa.
Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (as Cheryl Strayed does in Wild), was only a warmup for Swiss explorer Sarah Marquis, who had bigger challenges in mind. Starting in 2010, she traveled 10,000 miles alone, on foot, through Mongolia, including the Gobi Desert (which took three tries), China, Siberia, Laos, Thailand and finally (after hitching a ride on a cargo ship) across the Australian continent—twice. In Wild by Nature, a National Geographic Explorer of the Year in 2014 recounts her journey with the clear-eyed resolve and keen observational skills that make her a successful solo trekker. An abscessed tooth in the wilds of Mongolia? Marquis follows a preset evacuation plan and heads to Tokyo for treatment, resuming her walk a few weeks later. Throughout her adventure, she relishes the freedom of being a woman alone in the wild.