8 Best Travel Books Your Carryon Desperately Needs

December 28, 2019   No Comments »

In an effort to bring you some new voices on Ottsworld, here is a guest post from writer Maria Martinico. I met Maria at a women’s networking and travel event in Denver.  I rarely have time to read these days, so I asked Maria to write about her best travel books she’s read since she’s an author herself.  She has some great suggestions, I want to read them all! All opinions and experiences expressed here are hers. –Sherry

After roaming 30 countries, five continents and most of the United States, I have a short list of things I would never, ever travel without. Earplugs, flip flops, Pepto, a light scarf to also serve as towel/picnic blanket/maybe a dress in a pinch, and carefully selected reading material. I can’t think of a situation more uncomfortable than an international flight without a book (and I’ve gotten a sunburn on the underside of my breasts).

Whether you’re hitting the road solo or with someone you love deeply and know you will need a break from, these books are begging to come with you. There’s a range of fiction and non-fiction, deep ethnographic studies and steamy beach reads. Check out the list and find your next best travel books!

1. Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

Every person walking the planet today should read this book. Especially women who want to know the answers to important questions such as; “Why do I want to wander when my life is so comfortable here?” and “Why don’t I listen to my instincts?” and “What’s up with my relationship with my mom?” Dr. Estes uses intercultural folk tales and her psychological expertise to help women reconnect with their fierce, instinctual nature. Bring it on any trip to encourage a deeper understanding of what drove you to travel, and help you find more than souvenirs along the road. Also bring a really trashy magazine because it’s not exactly light reading.

”If you have never been called a defiant, incorrigible, impossible woman… have faith… there is yet time.” Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes

2. A Walk in the Woods

Bill Bryson is my favorite travel writer for many reasons, the first being his inability to take himself seriously. Whether he’s explaining the history of stairs or ordering a pint, he’s consistently informative and side-splitting. His long stroll down the Appalachian Trail provides ecology lessons, historical tidbits and a distilled monologue of what goes through every solo trekkers mind on a loop:

“Is that a bear? I’m hungry. Where’s camp? Nature is divine and I shall never sit at a desk again. Man I could kill a taco. For real though, is that a bear?”

Bring A Walk in the Woods along for your next solo trip to feel like you have a rumpled, slightly British, hilarious friend with you when you need a little companionship.

“What on earth would I do if four bears came into my camp? Why, I would die, of course. Literally s*&^ myself lifeless. I would blow my sphincter out my backside like one of those unrolling paper streamers you get at children’s parties–I daresay it would even give a merry toot–and bleed to a messy death in my sleeping bag.” – Bill Bryson

3. What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding

Nine months of the year writer Kristin Newman spent her waking hours in small conference rooms pitching jokes and eating takeout. The other three months she hit the road and slipped into her “Kristin-Adjacent” persona, a lighter/softer/(self-described) sluttier version of herself. At first these were trips with friends, but then as her 20’s slipped into her 30’s she found herself alone more often than not.

As a seasoned sitcom writer, her travel tales are sharp, funny and well-observed. But the magic here is the reassurance that not every choice a woman makes has to be a means to an end; and especially not a step toward getting married and having children. Newman’s confidence in the importance of her trips, and her documentation of how they changed her for the better, are a rallying cry for the benefits of living whatever lifestyle feels right for you.

“I wanted love, but I also wanted freedom and adventure, and those two desires fought like angry obese sumo wrestlers in the dojo of my soul. That wrestling match threatened to body-slam me into a veritable Bridget-Jonesian-sad-girl singlehood, which I was resolutely against, both personally and as an archetype. And so to ward that off, I kept moving.” – Kristin Newman

4. Venice is a Fish

I have a theory that people take so many pictures of Venice because it feels impossible to capture. I remember walking out of the train station (hungover) and seeing the Grand Canal for the first time.

“The roads are all water!” I gasped.

“Yeah, that’s kind of Venice’s deal,” my (also hungover) travel companion said, rolling his eyes.

But that feeling of awe, of really understanding the singular uniqueness of a place, is what most of us are chasing on the road. Venice-native Scarpa takes us into the marrow of the city, from the oak pillars buried deep in the lagoon bed up to the flocks of pigeons circling above. This guide features zero restaurant recommendations, but hundreds of small observations that add up to an understanding of why the city takes our breath away. Of course it’s a must-read for those going to Italy, but it’s also a beautiful study of how to observe and absorb the specific singularity of any destination.

“Life is a cat asleep on the window sill suddenly waking as it falls from the third floor.” – Tiziano Scarpa

5. State of Wonder

If you loved Heart of Darkness and the Lost City of Z, but don’t believe male genitalia is a requirement for jungle expeditions, this Ann Patchett masterpiece is for you. A quiet medical researcher is sent into the Amazon to track down a doctor gone rogue in pursuit of a drug that keeps women fertile into their 70’s. I don’t know which was scarier; the omnipresent bugs the size of Big Macs, or the concept that you could have a baby while on Social Security. Either way, it’s a gripping story that would make a 12-hour train ride fly by.

“Never be so focused on what you are looking for that you overlook the thing you actually find.” – Ann Patchett

6. The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World

I have written embarrassing fan letters to exactly two authors: Tina Fey and Wade Davis. My adoration of Ms. Fey needs no explanation, but you may not have heard of Dr. Davis. As a National Geographic Explorer in Residence, Harvard-educated ethnobotanist and bestselling author, he is pretty much Indiana Jones with a social conscious.

I first discovered him reading The Serpent and the Rainbow, his book on how Hatian shamans combined puffer fish toxins and hallucinogenic plants to create real-life zombies. The Wayfinders is less sensational, but equally stunning in its exploration of ancient cultures alive today. From experiencing Dreamtime in Australia to meeting the descendants of a lost civilization in the Amazon, Davis illuminates why cultural preservation matters, and the value of cultural diversity for our worldviews. Bring The Wayfinders on your next trip and reframe how you experience diverse cultures. You may even be inspired to write Indiana…er…Wade a letter of your own.

“Culture is not trivial. It is not a decoration or artifice, the songs we sing or even the prayers we chant. It is a blanket of comfort that gives meaning to lives. It is a body of knowledge that allows the individual to make sense out of the infinite sensations of consciousness, to find meaning and order in a universe that ultimately has neither.”

7.  Less

This novel is a Pulitzer Prize-winning ode to the idea that “wherever you go, there you are.” With his 50th birthday looming, Arthur Less accepts invitations for literary events across the world to avoid his former lover’s wedding. The problem is, no matter if he’s performing in a Berlin nightclub, or sliding off a camel in Morocco, he is still an aging writer with a book that’s not working. In a sea of “transformational travel” content, Less is delightfully real about the fact that you can’t outrun the realities of time, gravity and lost chances. It’s the perfect book for a landmark birthday or anniversary trip, as it reminds you that no matter what’s come before, there’s still a lot of exploration to come.

“It is a traveler’s fallacy that one should shop for clothing while abroad. Those white linen tunics, so elegant in Greece, emerge from the suitcase as mere hippie rags; the beautiful striped shirts of Rome are confined to the closet; and the delicate hand batiks of Bali are first cruise wear, then curtains, then signs of impending madness.”- Andrew Sean Greer

8.  The Wanderlust Diaries

This one is pure, page-turning escapism. I should know, I wrote it. For two years I chased a competitive storytelling fellowship that would have funded an epic international adventure. I was named a finalist twice, and was rejected twice. Angry at The Man, and full of unrequited wanderlust, I sat down and wrote the exact novel I would want to read on a long plane ride somewhere spectacular. It wanted to give other hard working women a fun, sexy story that kept them guessing (and sneak-reading in the bathroom at work). It pairs perfectly with a beach trip, but it’s also just the right thing for when you’re home bound and longing for the open road.

“We’re out past the break. It’s a still morning. We go under and you can hear the thousands of broken shells tinkling in the shallows. The current pulls your hair back and forth, rocking you. The ocean floor gives away ahead of us and it’s only blue beyond that. Possibilities for thousands of miles. There’s no walls. No limits. You’re a tiny, fierce speck of life on the edge of infinity. You are free.” – Maria Martinico

So what are you waiting for? Pick up the book that sparks your curiosity and tuck it into your favorite carryon for the next adventure. As wise woman Anna Quindlen once said, “Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.”



8 Travel Books

Meet the Author: Maria Martinico is the author of many epic meal plans that never came to fruition. She lives in the Rocky Mountains with her crested gecko and a number of carefully-tended grudges. Her debut novel, The Wanderlust Diaries, is a love letter to the freedom and idiocy of being 23 years old with a blank passport. You can follow her on Instagram @therealwanderlustdiaries for more travel book reviews and the occasional glamour shot of her lizard.


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