46 Of The Best Adventure Travel Memoirs Of All Time That Will Have You Planning Your Own Adventure

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Now that I covered women’s adventure books, I want to do a giant post of some of the best adventure travel memoirs. There are some modern classic adventure books in here as well as some lesser-known adventure books.

There isn’t much for like, really classic adventure books but there are plenty to choose from in this list whether you want a hiking book, a biking book, a swimming book, or just travel to far-flung places.

Not everything is about a wild adrenaline-pumping adventure because I think adventure can mean a lot of different things, so I tried to keep a variety of activities and subjects in here.

I tried not to put some of the most common books on here (think Into Thin Air, Wild, Travels with Charley, etc.) to highlight more less-popular books because I know that’s what I like to read and look for, in addition to the popular ones, of course.

So here we have a collection of some of the best adventure travel books that will definitely make you feel like you’re out there, too. Read with caution because you’ll be planning your own adventure in no time.

  • If you want to listen to some of these, consider trying Audible! You can get your first month free (one free book) plus tons of others they have for free.  Get that Audible deal here.
  • If you’re on more of a budget, try Scribd!  You can get your first month free there. You can read books and listen to audiobooks. It is unlimited (especially the reading) but if you listen to tons of new audiobooks you may be restricted after a few. I don’t listen to enough to confirm this, but I do use Scribd myself and like it a lot. Sign up for Scribd here!
  • Shop my collection of bookish goodies on Etsy! These aren’t my shop items, but other shops I’ve curated into a book-themed collection. Shop my Etsy bookish goodies here!
  • If you want to read more on your Kindle but don’t want to buy books, Kindle Unlimited is a wonderful option. It’s $9.99 a month but if you read a lot and like to read more than just new releases, it could be worth it. Get Kindle Unlimited here!
  • Get $5 off of $25 from BookOutlet! This is a great place to find new books for pretty cheap. They also have sales quite a bit, so keep an eye out for those. I tend to check here for books I want if they’re more expensive other places. They don’t have everything but they do have a lot. Shop BookOutlet here!
  • Thrift Books has become my go-to when I’m looking for a book and want it cheap. It’s great if you like buying used books. With this you can get a free book after spending $30!
  • Shop my book lists here! You can find every book list I have on Bookshop.org (except my monthly round-ups) and I add everything I can but they occasionally won’t have some. I do occasionally add extras though. If any lists are empty, they’ll be filled in shortly! Shop my bookshop.org book lists here.
  • Shopping internationally? Check out Book Depository!

Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer

At nine years old, Lynne began training with an Olympic swimming coach. Before finishing high school, she broke the men’s and women’s records for the Channel Swim.

These are the stories of how she prepared for her swims, the swims themselves, and her most recent accomplishment: a one-mile swim to Antarctica in 32-degree water with no wet suit.

Savage Summit: The True Stories of the First Five Women Who Climbed K2, the World’s Most Feared Mountain

While K2 isn’t as tall as Mount Everest, it is more deadly.  It’s on the border of China and Pakistan and is home to some of the harshes mountain climbing conditions in the world.

Only six women have reached the summit of K2, versus the 90 on Everest, three died on their descent, and two have died on other climbs.  Savage Summit shares the tragic, compelling, and inspiring stories of these courageous women.

Hudson Bay Bound: Two Women, One Dog, Two Thousand Miles to the Arctic

I want to read this one so bad! Part because it sounds incredibly impressive, part because the cover is so good, and part because this sounds SO good!

Wind, snakes, and polar bears are just some of the obstacles Natalie and Ann face as they paddle the 2,000-mile route made famous by Eric Sevareid from Minneapolis to the Hudson Bay.

They are the first women to make this expedition and Hudson Bay Bound gives a look at the pitfalls they face and the planning it takes to make this three-month adventure of a lifetime a reality.

Amazon Hitchhiker: A Woman’s Adventure from Canada to Brazil

This is the story of Alycin who followed her dreams and hitchhiked alone from Canada to Colombia, through Mexico and Central America, in the 1970s. Once she made it to Colombia, she bought an old dugout canoe thinking she could paddle the Amazon River to Brazil.

The Amazon Rainforest isn’t the paradise she imagines, especially with little food and no map. Along the way she faces life-threatening obstacles, mystical adventures, and even falls in love.

The Adventurer’s Son

I wanted to read this as soon as I saw it then managed to get it on a Kindle deal and can’t wait to read it.

On July 10, 2014, Cody Roman Dial went hiking alone in Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park, an untracked rainforest home to miners, poachers, and smugglers.

He emailed his father: “I am not sure how long it will take me, but I’m planning on doing 4 days in the jungle and a day to walk out. I’ll be bounded by a trail to the west and the coast everywhere else, so it should be difficult to get lost forever.”

These were the last words his father received from his son. As soon as his return date passed with no word, Roman set off for Costa Rica.

He trekked through the jungle, interviewed locals, and searched for clues -the authorities suspected murder- and faced the deepest questions about himself and his role in the events.

On Roads That Echo: A bicycle journey through Asia and Africa

Charlie’s 2.5-year journey had him pedaling 18,000 miles from Britain to Beijing and 26,000 more through Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

He made it through mountains and deserts, through remote jungles, and down rapids in a dugout canoe. We get insight into the past, present, and future of often-overlooked places during periods of great change.

This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland

In This Cold Heaven, Gretel Ehrlich unlocks the secrets of the land and the people that inhabit this island she has been obsessed with. This is part travel book, part cultural anthropology book about Greenland and the hardy people she encounters.

She finds out the 23 words Inuit have for ice, that they prefer the harsh four months of endless darkness over the gentler summers without night, befriends a polar bear hunter and more.

Mother of God: An Extraordinary Journey into the Uncharted Tributaries of the Western Amazon

This is part adventure, part education as Paul Rosolie, a naturalist, conservationist, and explorer, takes us into the most remote sections of the Madre de Dios.

His love for the Amazon started in 2006 on his first trip there and over the coming years would return as often as possible. 

He ventured into some of the most inaccessible areas of jungle alone, seeing floating forests, jaguars, poachers, and more.  He raises an orphaned anteater and helps fight to protect the Madre de Dios from developers, oil giants, and gold miners.

This is one of my favorite books ever, I have two copies of it. And someday I’d love to go on one of the Tamandu Expeditions trips.

Taking the Long Road to Cairo

This is Ann’s two-year journey sailing a 17-meter yacht from Auckland, New Zealand to Durban, South Africa. After five months living mainly under house arrest during the dark years of apartheid, she and a friend set off to walk and hitch-hike the 10,000 kilometers from Cape Town to Cairo to settle a bet that it could not be done without resorting to flying at some point.

I just got this one for my Kindle and can’t wait to read it!

Beyond the Trees: A Journey Alone Across Canada’s Arctic

In the spring of 2017, Adam Shoalts left Eagle Plains in the Yukon Territory of Canada for Bear Lake, Nunavut. Along the way, he faces a maze of obstacles like shifting ice floes, swollen rivers, gale-force winds, and more.

He travels up raging rivers that even the most expert white-water canoeists travel downstream, portages over fields of jagged rocks, and navigates swamps with clouds of mosquitos everywhere he goes. His race against the seasons means he can’t afford luxuries like rest or making mistakes. But all the effort rewards him with the adventure of a lifetime.

Abyssinian Nomad: An African woman’s journey of love, loss, and adventure from Cape to Cairo

I don’t think I could make this description any better, so here it is the official description: “What does it take to know oneself? To fully realize one’s life dream? For some it may take a lifetime, and for others, the chance may never come. There are those who dream and have the courage to take the first steps past the threshold of familiarity. Their stories, like mine, are etched on the avenues we dare to traverse. The Cape to Cairo road is where I, a black female soul-searcher, faced my greatest trial in confronting my fear of losing my mother to cancer, trying to keep old love alive, and make my childhood dream come true.”

Neon Pilgrim

When she needs a little shakeup in her life, she does the only thing you do in the situation: she sets out on the 1,200 kilometer henro michi Buddhist pilgrimage through the mountains of Japan.

I cannot wait to read this one! I am so excited because it combines two things I love: Japan and long walks.

Honouring High Places 

Junko Tabei is the first woman to climb Mount Everest and the seven summits, the highest summit on each continent, and this is a collection of stories from her life that are important to mountaineering culture.

It chronicles her childhood with little promise of athleticism, the disastrous first all-women’s Everest expedition, the early days of women on Everest, a cancer diagnosis, the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami in 2011, and more. This sounds like a really incredible woman’s adventure book.

Walking the Nile

Levison Wood walks the length of the Nile from Rwanda to Egypt,  4,000 miles across six countries, over nine months. 

He faces sandstorms, flash floods, and minefields all while camping in the wild, foraging for food, and trudging through the rainforest, swamp, savannah, and desert.

Along the way, he has a rap song written about him, he is detained by the secret police, and he escapes a charging hippo and wild crocodiles.  He also has to face the death of journalist Matthew Power along the way. 

My African Conquest: Cape to Cairo at 80

‘Next year I’m going to be 80 years old. My car will be 20 years old. Together we’ll be 100. We’re going to drive to London.’

When 80-year-old Julia called into a radio station with her zany idea, she had no idea it would lead to the adventure of a lifetime. With Tracy, her trusty Toyota Conquest, a giant map, and plenty of enthusiasm, she sets off on the long drive through Africa to the UK accompanied by family and friends, hoping to meet the Queen of England at the end.

No Horizon Is So Far: Two Women and Their Historic Journey across Antarctica

Liv and Ann are the first women to cross Antarctica and this is the story of their experience. It follows their planning and their trek from the Norwegian sector to McMurdo Station. To get there, they walked, skied, and ice sailed across 1,700 miles of ice for almost three months, pulling their 250-pound supply sledges in temperatures as low as -35°F.

I would love to read this one because it’s two things I love: Antarctica and a human-powered journey.

Walking the Amazon: 860 Days. The Impossible Task. The Incredible Journey

In April 2008, Ed Stafford decided he wanted to be the first man to ever walk the entire length of the Amazon River.  He started on the Peruvian coast and crossed the Andes to find the official source of the Amazon. 

He passes through Colombia and Brazil, facing logistical issues, wildlife, indigenous people, and more all while facing his own personal struggles, fears, and doubts.

His journey lasts 860 days and over 4,000 miles as he witnesses deforestation, pressure on tribes due to loss of habitats, and nature in its raw form.  I love books about walking long distances and this was a great one for that.

If I Live Until Morning: A True Story of Adventure, Tragedy, and Transformation

After skiing more than 200 miles on the John Muir Trail, she’s facing death after a mountaineering accident on Mount Whitney. Broken and bleeding, she vows to realize her greatest dreams if she lives until morning. Her escape turns into a five-day survival story with an equally daunting recovery.

With Mount Whitney looming over her in the next three decades, she goes from depths of despair to the heights of the Himalayas and continues traveling around the world.

The Girl Who Climbed Everest: Lessons Learned Facing Up to the World’s Toughest Mountains

This is Bonita Norris’ story of undertaking the world’s toughest and most dangerous expeditions. As a teenager with an eating disorder, a newfound passion for climbing inspired her to change her life. These are the lessons she learned while facing the world’s highest mountains.

The Girl Who Climbed Everest: The inspirational story of Alyssa Azar, Australia’s Youngest Adventurer

When Alyssa was just eight years old, she was the youngest person to walk the grueling Kokoda Track. At twelve, she climbed the ten highest peaks in Australia. At fourteen, she summited Mount Kilimanjaro, now at nineteen, she reached the summit of Mount Everest. This is the story of how she became the youngest Australian to climb the world’s highest peak after turning back twice.

I think I would like to read this one, too, because I read No Summit Out of Sight and really enjoyed that and this sounds similar.

No Summit Out of Sight: The True Story of the Youngest Person to Climb the Seven Summits

Jordan Romero is actually the youngest person to summit Mount Everest at just 13 years, 10 months, and 10 days old.  And that was just the beginning.  By 15, he was the youngest person to reach the highest summits of all seven continents.

This memoir is the story of his journey, the idea of which was sparked at just nine years old, where we see all the hard work and training result in a dream come true.  I read this and really enjoyed it!

The Lost City of the Monkey God

Rumors have gone around since the days of Hernán Cortez of a lost city of immense wealth called wither the White City or the Lost City of the Monkey God. 

Indigenous tribes speak of relatives that fled here from the conquistadors and warn that anyone who enters the sacred city will fall ill and die.

In 1940, Theodore Morde emerged from the rainforest with hundreds of artifacts and a wild story of having found the Lost City but then he commits suicide without revealing the location. 

In 2012 Doug Preston joined a team of scientists on a groundbreaking quest.  They face jaguars, torrential rain, quickmud and more, but tragedy only strikes once they leave the jungle.

Mountain to Mountain: A Journey of Adventure and Activism for the Women of Afghanistan

Activism looks different for everyone. For Shannon, it included leaving her career and her home, launching a non-profit, and committing her life to advancing education and opportunity for women and girls, particularly focusing on Afghanistan. Mountain2Mountain has now touched the lives of hundreds.

In 2009, she became the first woman to ride a mountain bike in Afghanistan, which she now uses to gain awareness around the country. She narrates harrowing encounters, exhilarating bike rides, and heartbreak in a country still recovering from decades of war and occupation.

Terra Incognita

It’s cold, windy, dry, and unbelievably beautiful. It’s captured the hearts and minds of scientists and explorers for centuries.

This is about the call of the wild and Sara spending seven months in Antarctica living with scientists. It captures the spirit of the continent beyond the furthest reaches of our imaginations.

I honestly don’t know what this is about, but I really want to read it.

A Beautiful Work in Progress

When Mirna approached the starting line, she needed an acronym that wasn’t used in the running world: DNQ, “Did Not Quit.”

From dusty backroads in New Jersey to the Route 222 in Pennsylvania and the sweltering Arizona desert. She is not skinny or white and doesn’t fit the typical look of a runner and she’s here to show how misguided these stereotypes can be.

Always a Detour: Cairo to Cape Town in the Wrong Direction

Cape Town to Cairo is a popular theme in this list of adventure travel books and I want to read all of them.

What was supposed to take nine months after months of agonizing over every detail turned into a four-year journey, sometimes traveling in circles and even backward, with no itinerary at all.

Always a Detour recounts experiences from Kim’s time in 17 different countries and how her discarded plans brought on encounters with people as inspiring and diverse as the continent

Buried in the Sky

On K2, the deadliest peak in the world, in August 2008, eleven climbers lost their lives.  But two sherpas made it out alive.  Coming from extreme poverty, they became two of the most skilled mountain climbers in the world and Buried in the Sky is the first time their story is being told. 

From K2 to the slums in Kathmandu, we hear their perspective on one of the most dramatic disasters in alpine history. This is one I would really love to read. It’s a great book about climbing in the Himalayas from the perspective of Sherpas which you don’t hear much.

Endangered Edens: Exploring the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Costa Rica, the Everglades, and Puerto Rico

I think I would like to read this one, too. This adventure memoir includes stories from Marty and his wife Deb as they explore the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Costa Rica, the Everglades, and Puerto Rico. It is accompanied by 180 beautiful photos to transport you right there with them.

Anything Worth Doing: A True Story of Adventure, Friendship, and Tragedy on the Last of the West’s Great Rivers

These are the stories of rafting guides Clancy Reece and Jon Barker who share a love of wild rivers and living life on their own terms, no matter the cost.

On June 8, 1996, they intended to beat a 24-hour speed record, but things caught up with them when they launched Clancy’s handmade dory, his proudest possession, on Idaho’s Salmon River at the peak flood of an extremely high water year.

With the clarity of Into the Wild, whitewater rafting veteran Jo takes us down the west’s rivers and into the hearts, heads, and homes of those whose security is optional but freedom and passion are not.

Skiing Into the Bright Open: My Solo Journey to the South Pole

After 745 miles in fifty days of skiing solo, Liv finally arrives at the Amundsen-Scott base in the early hours of Christmas morning. For almost 41 years she has been dreaming of the South Pole and in 1994, she reached her goal.

This is the story of her exhausting and exhilarating experience of being the first known woman to ski unsupported to the south pole alone. I would love to read this one, too!

Paddle to the Amazon: The Ultimate 12,000-Mile Canoe Adventure

Don and Dana left Winnipeg in a three-seat canoe with no idea of the dangers that lay ahead. After two years and 12,180 miles, they had slept on beaches and in jungles, ate tapir and roasted ants, and were arrested and shot at but lived through it all to tell the tales here.

I would also really like to read this one because paddling 12,000 miles is mind-blowing!

This Road I Ride: Sometimes It Takes Losing Everything to Find Yourself

Juliana was in a dark hole of depression after a man she loved died. A friend suggested she bike across Canada in his memory and instead, she biked around the world. Alone.

With just eight months of preparation, no serious biking experience, and no sponsorship, she left Naples, Italy in July 2012 with the aim to become the first woman to circumnavigate the globe.

She crossed four continents and 18,060 miles, suffered breakdowns, food poisoning, hostile pursuers, and a longing for Italian espresso. On day 152, she crossed the finish line becoming the fastest woman to cycle the world, even beating prior men’s records.

Alone in Wonderland

Killing time at work, Christine discovered long-distance backpacking and decided right then and there that she would hike the entire Appalachian Trail. One thing led to another and a few years later, she headed out to do the Wonderland Trail in Mt. Rainier National Park.

Her persona of a rugged outdoorswoman started out as a joke but over the years, she grew into it, and more.

Between Each Step: A Married Couple’s Thru-Hike on New Zealand’s Te Araroa

In 2014, Patrice and Justin decided to conquer the almost 2,000-mile Te Araroa route from Cape Regina on New Zealand’s North Island to Bluff at the bottom of the South Island by foot. Their relationship and commitment to a nontraditional life will either be strengthened or broken apart.

Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man’s Miraculous Survival

This is the story of two mountaineers conquering an unclimbed route in the Andes in 1985. They reached the summit, but mid-descent, a horrific accident forces one of the men to leave the other for dead to fight for his own survival.

This one would be interesting to read to see the pictures taken on the climb. I also just am intrigued by mountaineering book/accidents.

Paddle to the Arctic: The Incredible Story of a Kayak Quest Across the Roof of the World

After paddling from Winnipeg to the Amazon, Don decided to paddle the 3,000 miles from the Hudson Bay through the Northwest Passage. This is the diary of his trip from Churchill, Manitoba to Tuktoyaktuk near Alaska which took three arctic summers and almost took his life.

I love the arctic so I would love to read this long-distance kayaking book.

Amazon Woman: Facing Fears, Chasing Dreams, and a Quest to Kayak the World’s Largest River from Source to Sea

On her 35th birthday, Darcy set off on a 148-day journey kayaking the entire length of the Amazon River with her boyfriend of twelve years and a mutual kayaking friend/colleague. The emotional waters encountered on the trip were often more difficult to navigate than the class five rapids on the river itself.

Along the way they encounter 25 days of whitewater rapids, illegal loggers, narco-traffickers, Shining Path rebels, ruthless poachers, and surprisingly friendly locals before reaching the triumphant end becoming the first to achieve this accomplishment.

Elsewhere: One Woman, One Rucksack, One lifetime of Travel

Her first life-changing trip was solo to Australia as a young graduate. Over the next 30 years, Rosita became enchanted by travel and visited some of the most remote parts of the world where she carried little more than a beat-up backpack and a diary.

Here are nine journeys from nine different moments in her life spent exploring the world, sharing how these experiences and the people met along the way can shape the course of a life dramatically.

A Walk Across America

This is one of those more classic adventure memoirs. Peter Jenkins describes how disillusionment with society in the 70s drove him to hit the road and walk across America. He learned the timeless secrets of life from a mountain hermit, caused a stir staying with a Black family in North Carolina, and learned many lessons about his country and himself.

A Walk in the Woods

A Walk in the Woods has become a classic hiking tale, and an adventure book you should definitely read.  Bill Bryson sets out to hike the Appalachian Trail and this is a fun tale of the trek mixed with some history and ecology of the trail.  Plus we get to meet some colorful characters and bears along the way.

Off the Map: A Journey Through the Amazonian Wild

The is the adventure of John Harrison and with wife Heather as they explore the unexplored region of the Amazon in the Guiana Highlands bordering Brazil.

With just a canoe and a shotgun, they follow the most remote tributary of the Amazon River with no means of contacting the outside world.

This one sounds really interesting, too and just added it to my wishlist! It’s perfect if you want a South America adventure book.

Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam

Andrew always dreamed of being a writer. He was born in Vietnam but raised in California where he always carried a resignation letter to work. This is the memoir of his search for his cultural identity as he cycles around the world from Mexico to Japan and Vietnam to the United States.

The Ukimwi Road: From Kenya to Zimbabwe

Almost thirty years after her expedition from Ireland to India, Dervla sets off on a 3,000-mile ride from Kenya to Zimbabwe. As she travels through Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, and Zambia, she becomes preoccupied with the devastating effects of AIDS, drought, and economic collapse. It is not an area for travelers looking for tranquility but her thirst for adventure keeps her going.

I really need to read her books because they all sound so incredible.

Spirit Run: A 6,000-Mile Marathon Through North America’s Stolen Land

Apparently, I already have this one! I’ll have to move it up my TBR. Noé Álvarez worked alongside his mother at an apple-packing plant. A university scholarship offered escape but he struggled to fit in as a first-generation Latino college student.

At nineteen, he dropped out of school to tell his story alongside a group of Dené, Secwépemc, Gitxsan, Dakelh, Apache, Tohono O’odham, Seri, Purépecha, and Maya runners. This is the story of his four-month run from Canada to Guatemala where he faced fears and dangers while forging a new relationship with the land his parents left behind.

Sovietistan: Travels in Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan

I’ve had this for two years and have almost read it so many times, but I think it may officially be my next read.

Erika is traveling alone and takes us on a journey to explore how Soviet heritage influenced the countries she travels through. She meets victims of the bride snatching tradition in Kyrgyzstan, visits the desolate nuclear testing ground in Kazakhstan, meets German Mennonites, and so much more in this adventurous travel memoir.

The Amur River: Between Russia and China

The Amur River forms the 1,100-mile tense border of China and Russia, is the tenth longest river in the world, and is almost unknown.

At 80 years old, Colin travels 3,000 miles from its secret source to its gaping mouth by Mongolian horse, hitchhiking, sailing on poacher’s sloops, or the Trans-Siberian Express. He talks to everyone he meets and by the end, a whole new world has come alive.

I love reading about this region so I would really like to read this adventure book.

Have you read any of these adventure travel books? Which ones? Are there any other outdoor adventure books I should check out?

Author: Megan Johnson

I'm Megan, a cheesehead at heart currently residing in the Sunshine State. You can probably find me reading, watching Forensic Files, or both.

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