The Grand Tour: A Travel Reading List

Image of the Pacific Ocean from a plane

The Pacific from High Above

I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America after Twenty Years Away – Bill Bryson
After living abroad for many years, Bill Bryson returned to make his home in the United States.  I often read travel memoirs of American expats living in other countries.  This book is basically a humorous travel memoir of an American living as an expat in the United States.

Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe – Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson traveled around Europe as a young man in the 1970s.  Luckily for the rest of us, he decided to write about it 20 years later in this book published in 1993.

What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding – Kristin Newman
This is a travel memoir that spans several years of Ms. Newman’s trips to multiple countries.  She is a fantastic travel writer, and she destroys any stereotype of how a woman should conduct herself at home or abroad.  I found her writing to be vivid, relatable, funny, and a little shocking (in a good way).

The Geography of Bliss and The Geography of Genius – Eric Weiner
In these delightful books, Eric Weiner analyzes the history and sociology of various countries around the world to prove that place matters.  Mr. Weiner travels to Bhutan, India, Thailand, Switzerland, Iceland and Moldova in the Geography of Bliss to determine what makes people in those counties happier (or unhappier in the case of Moldova) than people who live elsewhere.   The Geography of Genius covers periods of intellectual and artistic genius in Renaissance Florence, ancient Athens, Song Dynasty Hangzhou, Silicon Valley, Edinburgh, and Calcutta.

Schadenfreude, A Love Story: Me, the Germans, and 20 Years of Attempted Transformations, Unfortunate Miscommunications, and Humiliating Situations That Only They Have Words For – Rebecca Schuman.
I studied abroad in Germany for a semester, and found this book laugh-at-loud funny.  Rebecca Schuman captures the essence of being a foreigner living in Germany.

Innocents Abroad – Mark Twain
It feels like travel blogging is a product of the modern age.  It’s really just the next step in a long history of travel writing.  Mark Twain took a grand tour through Europe and the Holy Land in the mid-1800s, and sent dispatches back to the United States to be published on a regular basis.  This compendium of  those stories was first published in 1869, and was Twain’s best-selling book in his lifetime.  Learning about travel in the 1800s from the brilliant Mr. Twain was fascinating.  Be forewarned that Mr. Twain’s writing is filled with the offensive prejudices, language, and stereotypes of the 1800s.

A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines – Anthony Bourdain
I was in the middle of reading this book of global adventures when I found out that Anthony Bourdain died. I went to sleep reading his words one night, and then received that terrible update the next morning. Many people loved him as a chef or a tv personality, but I will always think of him as a writer first. He brought the world to us one experience at a time.

Open Mic Night in Moscow: And Other Stories from My Search for Black Markets, Soviet Architecture, and Emotionally Unavailable Russian Men – Audrey Murray
While reading some travel memoirs, I feel a certain kinship with the author.  Their thoughts and actions so closely mirror my own tendencies, that I just know we would be friends in real life.  Not so with Ms. Murray in this journey through the former Soviet republics.  Her decision-making and travel planning methodologies were so shockingly different from my own experiences, that I was truly on the edge of my seat trying to figure out what she would do next.

Lands of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk Road – Kate Harris
Kate Harris embodies an adventurous spirit that most mere mortals admire but could never emulate.  In this memoir, over a period of ten months, she bikes thousands of miles retracing the Silk Road.  She vividly and beautifully captures the landscapes, people, cultures, and hardships she encounters along the way.

We Came, We Saw, We Left: A Family Gap Year – Charles Wheelan
Professor Charles Wheelan and his wife take their three teenage children on a round-the-world trip spanning nine months and six continents.  Dr. Wheelan has a nice writing style in which he humorously details the ups and downs of traveling with a family while not revealing too many emotionally cringe-worthy details.  The family sometimes splurges, but the trip is chock full of interesting budget accommodations, meals, and experiences in developing countries.  

Travels With Myself and Another – Martha Gellhorn
Ms. Gellhorn, who was born in 1908, was a famous war correspondent who published this memoir about her adventures in Soviet Moscow, Africa, China, the Caribbean, and Israel.  Published in 1975, the book recalls travels from earlier years, and it contains not only witty anecdotes and thoughtful observations, but also racist ideas and language that should shock a modern day reader.  As a sociological study of the times in which she lived and wrote, it is fascinating but disturbing at times.  As a bonus, her unnamed travel companion in China was then-husband Ernest Hemingway.

How to Be a Family: The Year I Dragged My Kids Around the World to Find a Way to Be Together – Dan Kois. Dan and his family leave the rat race in Washington, DC, for a year, spending three months each in New Zealand, Amsterdam, Costa Rica, and Kansas (U.S.).  Digging into a location for a few months is different that being a tourist, and Dan details the good and bad of these adventures.  Some reviewers argue that Dan was too harsh in his commentary about raising a teenager on the road.  I am guessing they never raised a teenager…

One Year Off: Leaving It All Behind for a Round-the-World Journey With Our Children – David Elliot Cohen.  David and his wife quite their jobs, sell the house, and take their three kids (including a two-year-old) on a round-the-world journey.  This is the most complicated of the family travel memoirs on this list, particularly because they were insane enough to take a very young child on the trip.  

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