In this post, I’ll be listing the best, must-read travel books that showcase diversity. This list includes both fictional stories and memoirs you’ll be wanting to add to your TBR (‘to be read’) list to inspire your next adventure or learn about other cultures and their histories.
I’ve been on the hunt for diverse travel media for some time now, as I explained in my ‘Travel TV shows ft. diverse hosts and inclusive topics‘ post. In that post, I explain my difficulties and frustration in finding travel TV shows, books and movies which truly represent diverse walks of life – and NOT just through the eyes of a white male viewpoint or director. This has been harder than you may imagine!
While looking for ‘inclusive’ travel books, I’ve stumbled across or been recommended books and media which have been criticized for their use of cultural appropriation, racism, and ableism. These criticisms have well-documented by the very communities they’re meant to represent.
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I was keen to put together a list that showcases inclusive topics through the eyes of a diverse range of people, rather than the typical ‘white man or woman partakes in activities, becomes ‘enlightened’ about how to take away parts of their culture to fit into their rich, Western lifestyle… and leaves. And possible falls in love on the way.’
Of course, there are many fantastic stories not included in this list, written by talented authors from all walks of life. That goes without saying! But fingers crossed this will inspire you to read a more diverse range of travel books and celebrate talented authors from all over the globe.
PS… if you’re a backpacker or long-term traveller who hasn’t already invested in a Kindle or eBook, I highly recommended it! I like downloading samples of the first few pages before investing in a new book. This saves me money in the long run as I can’t finish books I don’t love! My ADHD brain is finally reading again (from time to time, at least) and it means a lot to me. Even if Amazon is an evil corporation and all… This is the fancy paperweight version I have (and my friends can testify to the fact I’ve been raving about it).
Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica – by Zora Neale Hurston
Recommended by Vicki from thesevagabondshoes.org
Influential Black American writer and anthropologist Hurston travelled through the Caribbean in the 1930s, undertaking fieldwork and documenting folklore and cultural practices. Though an ethnographic text, Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica is also a memoir of her participation in rites and ceremonies in Haiti and Jamaica and draws parallels to the lived experiences of Black Americans through their shared African heritage.
Latin America Diaries – by Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara
Recommended by Carley from hometohavana.com
While overshadowed by the first book in the series, The Motorcycle Diaries, Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s second journal, Latin America Diaries, chronicles the traveller and revolutionary’s second journey across Central and South America and the diverse communities her encounters across the way. Known as Otra Vez in its original Spanish, Guevara recounts revisiting favourite communities and indigenous leaders working for change, including visiting communities in Bolivia and working with local resistance leaders after the 1954 military coup in Guatemala.
While not based in Cuba, Latin America Diaries is a particularly fascinating book for travel to Cuba, as it helps readers peek into the mind of Che and understand more about the events that led to Che Guevara’s political activism, and how they impact Cuba and Latin America even today.
The Caliph’s House – by Tahir Shah
Recommended by Emma from foreverlostintravel.com
The Caliph’s House is a true story of Tahir Shah, a British writer whose family is of Afghan-Indian descent, who decided to whisk his family off to Morocco to live. He reflects on childhood holidays there, and his father’s stories about the similarities of Morocco with his native Afghanistan. Shah buys a house in Casablanca and after convincing his reluctant wife that his idea was not completely insane they were told their house was haunted by Jinn (genies).
He hilariously covers the frantic story of that first year living abroad: navigating cultural differences, local superstitions, and exasperatingly battling the red tape of Northern Africa. Simultaneously searching for more information on his grandfather who lived the last years of his life in Morocco, it’s easy to feel like you’re on this journey with him.
Honouring High Places: The Mountain Life of Junko Tabei
Wow – this travel memoir shows just how inspiring travelling women can be. Tabei was the first woman to climb Everest back in 1975, but the memoir Honouring High Places covers more details (and daring exploits) from her adventurous life. A must-read travel memoir for solo travellers or anyone in need of some motivation and courage.
Dare to Do: Taking on the planet by bike and boat – by Sarah Outen
Recommended by Bea from bea-adventurous.com/
Often round the world adventures are told by men. It is therefore refreshing to read Sarah Outen’s story as she tackles circumnavigating the world under her own steam by bike and boat. In Dare to Do: Taking on the planet by bike and boat, Sarah is incredibly candid about both the highs and lows and will make you feel as if you are on the journey with her. Be prepared to join her on a personal journey of self-discovery, love, friendship and loss. A truly inspiring read that reminds us that all we need to do to have a great adventure is to take the first step.
To Shake the Sleeping Self – by Jedidiah Jenkins
Recommended by my friend Erika
At age 30, Jedidiah quits his job to spend sixteen months cycling from Oregon to Patagonia. To Shake the Sleeping Self chronicles not only the incredible journey, but his questions and introspective discoveries, as he searches for a sense of identity and the idea of what makes life living. He grew up as a gay man in a Christian household, and sought to overcome some of the trauma he experienced in favour of living a bold and thriving life.
From Heaven Lake: Travels Through Sinkiang and Tibet – by Vikram Seth
Vikram’s memoir follows the time he hitchhiked from China to New Delhi via Tibet, as he remembers his encounters with a wide range of religious peoples, ethnicities, and the stories they told. Vikram Seth has written some fantastic poetry collections – including some in Indian English language – alongside other non-fiction and fiction novels – and remains a renowned author. From Heaven Lake is a fantastic introduction to his work and a must-read for travel lovers everywhere.
Ladies Coupé – by Anita Nair
Anita’s novel Ladies Coupé follows the journey of a 45-year-old Indian woman as she travels to the seaside town of Kanyakumari, hoping for a new life away from the conservative constraints of her current society. On the way – while journeying on the ladies carriage in the train – she discovers the stories of 5 different women as she searches for freedom and independence. The story considers whether a woman needs a relationship to be happy, or whether she can still find a happy life as an independent woman.
The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches – by Matsuo Basho
You might have read one of Basho’s poems and not realised it – this 17th-century poet was recognised and renowned as an early haiku master). He also travelled around Japan and his writings truly capture how it feels to be a wanderer in the wilderness. Definitely read The Narrow Road to the Deep North if you’re a poetry lover and intrigued by Japan too!
In an Antique Land – by Amitav Ghosh
Indian writer Amitav Ghosh is a unique travel book which unfolds over the course of two, contrasting but related narratives. The first is an ‘anthropological’ styled story, recounting Ghosh’s visits to two villages in the Nile Delta. In the second part of In An Antique Land, he reconstructs the history of a famous 12th-century Jewish merchant and his two slaves. This makes it part memoir, part historical fiction, part travel book – and overall, incredible intriguing.
Honourable Mentions: More Travel Books to add to our To Be Read lists!
The Motorcycle Diaries – the original masterpiece was also written by Che Guevara
Pachinko – by Min Jin Lee (I adore this book, but was hesitant to call it a ‘travel book’ due to the sufferings of the characters within this fantastic story. Pachinko follows four generations of a family who move from South Korea to Japan.)
Journey to Portugal – by José Saramago
Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found – by Suketu Mehta
The People in the Trees – by Hanya Yanagihara (I have this Micronesia-set book downloaded on my Kindle but have yet to read it!)
Hi, I’m Cassie, and I’ve been solo travelling the globe since May 2018. In this time, I’ve backpacked around Southeast Asia, Japan and The Balkans, alongside spending a year living in Australia. Currently isolating in New Zealand.