As all travelers know, having something stimulating to pass the time when in transit is imperative. My favorite way to enjoy the journey is to listen to an audiobook while looking out the window on a train or bus, or on a long road trip, my mind engaged while I enjoy the scenery.
Or perhaps I’m on a long flight, flipping through pages or tapping on my Kindle – a traveler’s best friend – engrossed in a story about far-off places or maybe even the very place I’m traveling in. It’s all the better when it’s a book that leaves me feeling empowered and inspired.
It got me wondering, what do other women listen to when they travel? The following are 27 of the most empowering books as recommended by female travelers from around the world:
1. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
Though Cheryl Strayed’s most popular book might be Wild, it’s Tiny Beautiful Things that made me laugh, cry, commiserate, and nod my head in agreement over and over.
Before reaching fame as a writer, Cheryl Strayed had an advice column, that she did for free I might add, called Dear Sugar. The life advice and lessons she gives are so vulnerable and spot on, she inspires me with her objectivity, tough love, and relatability.
2. Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
In Year of Yes Shonda Rhimes, creator, head writer, and executive producer of Grey’s Anatomy, regales readers with her journey from shy introvert to the powerhouse woman that she is today, all because she simply decided to say YES to everything that scared her. “Dreams are lovely. But they are just dreams. Fleeting, ephemeral. Pretty. But dreams do not come true just because you dream them. It’s hard work that makes things happen.”
The nuggets of encouragement found in “Year of Yes” will give women the strength they need to say yes to adventures and work hard to live the life they dreamed about! – Rachelle of Adventure is Never Far Away
3. Becoming by Michelle Obama
Becoming follows the life of Michelle Obama and her upbringing on the south side of Chicago, to her time at Harvard University, and through her time as the First Lady of the United States of America. She speaks openly and honestly about the struggles and triumphs of her life not only as a woman but as a black woman doing things that have never been done before all the while facing adversity head-on and challenging the odds.
I recommend this book to every woman I meet because it truly shows that no matter what your beginnings are; hard work, determination and… well… just life can take you almost anywhere. She speaks about how she had to learn to ‘swerve’ in her life when she was so set on things going a certain way. Life can throw so many curveballs at us and we all have to be prepared and be flexible enough to ‘swerve’ when it does. As someone who has traveled most of my life, there can be no better advice I can give to fellow travelers, but to allow yourself to swerve and go with the flow when new opportunities present themselves. Sometimes those can be the greatest adventures. – Courtney of Coco Betty
4. In Search of Mary by Bee Rowlatt
Five years ago, I became a mother. In the midst of tantrums and spilt milk, I discovered In Search of Mary by Bee Rowlatt. It reopened the world of travel to me.
Author and journalist Bee Rowlatt declares herself obsessed with the famous 18th-century British writer, Mary Wollstonecraft (the mother of Frankenstein’s author Mary Shelley). Back in the 18th century, Wollstonecraft travelled alone through a turbulent and changing Europe with her baby daughter pursuing a doomed love affair. This gripping book recounts Rowlatt’s travels as she follows in Mary’s footsteps with her own toddler through Scandinavia and France learning more about her heroine and herself.
As Rowlatt explores womanhood over the last 300 years, she dives into what inspired Wollstonecraft to travel alone at a time when women were still deemed the property of men. Later, she explores how Wollstonecraft’s travel musings developed into the world’s first feminist manifesto Wollstonecraft’s The Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792.
Rowlatt’s reflections on the guilt and restrictions that come with motherhood really resonated with me. Ultimately, both these women inspired me to travel independently with my children. It’s a book all mothers, feminists and travelers should read. – Kirsty of World for A Girl
5. I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
Malala Yousafzai is the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Price for her activism in promoting girls’ rights to education in Pakistan. Her book recounts how her happy life in the beautiful Swat Valley, and how everything in Pakistan, changed as the Taliban came into power.
Malala writes about how her carefree days at school were cut short as the Taliban started to condemn girls’ education.
In 2009, she began blogging under a pseudonym for BBC, reporting on the events taking place around Pakistan. “We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced,” she writes.
On October 9th, 2012, Malala was shot in the face by a Taliban gunman who boarded her school bus in retaliation for her activism. She luckily recovered from her wounds, and wrote I Am Malala about her life story to raise even more awareness for girls’ right to education.
This is an empowering book for female travelers because it shows how one woman, and one voice, can change the world. Malala was fearless in the face of the Taliban, even as a young teenager, and readers are sure to gain strength and hope from reading her powerful words. – Erika of Erika’s Travelventures
6. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Published in 2013, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah is a powerful story that is sure to open your mind about what it means to be black in America, and the immigrant experience.
The novel is told mostly from the perspective of Ifemelu, a young Nigerian woman growing up in Lagos. When Ifemelu leaves Nigeria to go study in the United States, she is forced to confront for the first time what it means to be a black woman in America, the institutionalised racism that is steeped in American culture, and how to stay true to her Nigerian identity while also assimilating to the imposing culture and customs of the USA.
The novel touches upon some of the more difficult aspects of immigrating to America and the dehumanising procedures that people must go through. Told through the eyes of a strong and resilient protagonist, it is an important novel to read if you want to gain a more broad understanding of what it is like to be a woman of colour in America. Americanah also paints a brilliant picture of what life is like in Nigeria and it is sure to call to question any preconceived notions of the West African nation the reader may have had. – Maggie Turansky of The World Was Here First
7. Feminist Fight Club by Jessica Bennett
Females face a complicated internal battle before setting off on an adventure. While it may sometimes stem from inexperience or fear of the unknown, sometimes these voices come from the people in our lives. A lot of times, these voices are male.
Feminist Fight Club by Jessica Bennett addresses the subtle ways men behave to make women feel small. She also addresses classy and constructive ways to respond, while reassuring that you are not
alone in these experiences.
Although Bennett’s book comes from a workplace perspective, many of these concepts can be applied to female travelers as well. For example, when a male in your life wants to “mansplain” to you the dangers of traveling alone to your planned destination, you’ll feel comfortable in the fact that you’ve done your homework and are actually better informed on the facts than he is. This is a concept I’ve had to apply when talking to my own family members, which keeps me self-assured and level headed, instead of wasting my time on arguments that will go nowhere.
Feminist Fight Club will teach you to hold your ground, so no one can get in your head and prevent you from chasing your biggest dreams. – Theresa of Fueled by Wanderlust
8. Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton
Chanel Cleeton is a Cuban-American bestselling author of Next Year in Havana and When We Left Cuba. She grew up hearing stories of her family’s exodus from Cuba in the 1960s after the Cuban Revolution. Next year in Havana was inspired by these stories. It alternates between Cuba in the late 1950s and 1960s to present-day Cuba and America.
It centers on a family with very strong, rich, educated and daring women. A granddaughter returns to Cuba to bring her grandmother’s ashes back to her beloved country. During this time she encounters family secrets. She also learns much more about the risks her family took to keep safe and everything and everyone they left behind. It also sheds light on the people of Cuba then and now.
I visited Cuba in 2016 prior to reading this novel, therefore, it resonated with me. It gave me a better understanding of the pain and heartbreak of Cubans and Cuban-Americans. Having strong female lead characters telling the stories also made it more interesting and inspiring.” – Nadeen White of The Sophisticated Life
9. Unbeaten Tracks in Japan by Isabella Lucy Bird
Victorian adventurer and bestselling writer Isabella Bird was a pioneer of solo female travel. Despite chronic health issues, this remarkable woman traveled widely to remote locations such as Australia, Hawaii, the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, India, the Middle East, and Japan. Bird was the first woman who was elected fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.
Bird traveled with a teenage translator by horse, rickshaw, and on foot from Yokohama through the remote interior of Japan to Hokkaido, where she stayed among the indigenous Ainu tribe. Bird climbed mountains; forded rivers; and stoically endured constant rain, washed-out roads, flea-infested lodgings, and being stared at endlessly by curious locals.
As a product of the Victorian era, Bird’s writing can be politically incorrect by modern standards, but her observations also reveal her kind heart and genuine humanitarian concern for the people she met.
Bird’s book left me awed and inspired by her courage and fortitude — and grateful travel is not as arduous today! Ingrid of Second-Half Travels
10. A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout
This book follows a true story about a young Canadian woman who took her wanderlust too far and traveled to war-torn Somalia. On her fourth day in Somalia, she and her friend Nigel Brennan were kidnapped by a group of masked men and taken hostage for 460 days. The things she experiences during her days of captivity are horrific and brutal. But Amanda, alone with her thoughts, pushes through the nightmare by convincing herself she can make it one day at a time.
I recommend this book to all female travelers who have a never-ending urge to discover new places and want to travel to developing countries. It is essential to see how adventure and curiosity can get the best of you. This book shows how a tragic situation can be turned into a lesson for other female travelers. – Samantha of Sam Sees World
11. What I Know for Sure by Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey’s story is inspiring and the book What I know for sure is about helping you create the life you want. Through Oprah’s life experiences and challenges, she speaks beautifully about how to live your best life, which we as travelers aspire to do as we explore new countries and travel new roads.
It’s known that Oprah had a horrific childhood but she went on to become the only African-American multi-billionaire in America and one of the most powerful women in the world. This book, which was previously in segments in her O magazine, is a brilliant read. Some of my favorite quotes are ‘Let passion drive your profession’, ‘Trust your instincts. Intuition doesn’t lie’ and ‘Find a way to get paid for doing what you love. Then every paycheck will be a bonus’. The advice we have all needed in our careers, I’m sure! – Nicola of FunkyEllas Travel
12. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is considered something of a bible among many writers, especially female writers, but I think it has some valuable messages for all women – especially female travelers. I read the book during my two years of nomadic travel, so I associate it with seeing the world and exploring.
Lamott has experienced many inner journeys if not literal ones and her struggles with confidence (to write as well as other things) really spoke to me. The title comes from a story she tells early on in the book about her brother feeling overwhelmed with a school project in which he must write about a certain number of birds. Lamott’s father told him to take it “bird by bird” and really there is no better advice in life when faced with a seemingly insurmountable challenge or task.
As a traveler I took away just as many lessons, not least that writing about and sharing our experiences as travelers opens doors and minds in the world, and also about living our truth being the most important thing we can do in life. – Frankie Thompson of As the Bird Flies
13. Thousand-Miler by Melanie Radzicki McManus
I first read Thousand-Miler by Melanie Radzicki McManus after a trip to Patagonia where, due to a lack of preparation on my part and overloading of gear, I failed to complete a hike I thought was so epic I needed to bring along most of my camera equipment with me. The story of McManus’ 1100 mile thru-trek along Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail came at the perfect time as I was feeling a bit sorry for myself. The concept of thru-trekking was new to me, so her story was riveting from that perspective alone. However the way in which she approached the arduous challenge of setting the Fastest Known Time — with a firm grasp on reality and a genuine appreciation of the natural beauty along every step— was truly incredible. Throughout the trek and even in the face of injury and the inevitable failure to reach her goal, she rarely loses sight of her sense of humor and the gift of nature that surrounds her.
Her story is smart, funny, and inspiring. While it hasn’t made me want to trek the Ice Age Trail per se, Thousand-Miler empowered me with a new way of looking at the places I travel, with a new perspective about the meaning of success and failure, and the personal growth and compassion that lies between. – Lori of Travelinmad
14. Out of Africa by Karen Blixen (Pen name Isak Dinesen)
I was inspired to visit Kenya and Africa after reading Karen Blixen’s book, Out of Africa.
The story is a memoir published under the author’s pen name, Isak Dinesen, about an aristocratic Karen Blixen who travels to Africa to join her husband in Kenya. The young Baron and Baroness run a coffee plantation below the Ngong Hills, ten miles southwest of Nairobi. They have trouble making the marriage work after she discovers that the Baron is unfaithful. Karen develops feelings for a hunter named Denys. She tries to the very end to make her coffee plantation work and helps empower the local community, especially the children.
If you loved Out of Africa, either the book or the movie, you’ll want to visit the museum where the author Karen Blixen lived. Set in expansive gardens, the lovely colonial house where she lived has been preserved as a museum. Inside, you can see Blixen’s kitchen, her pots and pans, her cuckoo clock that the Masai children came to see every day, and the place where she sat down to prescribe medicine to the people. We stayed in a Lodge in Masai Mara where some of the scenes from the movie were shot. You could even enact the picnic scene from the movie on the hills! – Priya of Outside Suburbia
15. The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost by Rachel Friedman
I’m a sucker for a story about women traveling as I often feel that traditional travel writing is swamped by men. I was delighted to come across the kick-ass journey of Rachel Friedman as a young solo traveler exploring the world. It isn’t a difficult read, so is really accessible to people of all attention spans and reading abilities but it also doesn’t come across as oversimplified or dumbed down.
I love the fact that this book is the true story of a usually risk-averse college graduate who decides to travel the world – a decision quite out of character for her – and falls in love with the amazing places and people she meets along the way. It is enough to inspire you to book a one-way ticket on a whim. I know it definitely put Ireland on the map for me to visit one day. – Emma of Emma Jane Explores
16. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
The Red Tent speaks to the sacred feminine, the place that knows there’s timeless wisdom. Reading this book is like being given a secret window into a world we all understand deep in our psyche.
The book follows the life of Dinah, daughter of Jacob. While it is a fictionalization of the Biblical story of Dinah from the book of Genesis, no theological knowledge is required.
The book’s title refers to the tent in which women of Jacob’s tribe take refuge while on their moon or giving birth. The tent is a place in which women find support and encouragement from their mothers, sisters and aunts. Through Dinah’s eyes, we see girls come of age, fall in love, give birth, suffer great losses and experience great triumphs.
I read the Red Tent over 10 years ago and have since been to the Sahara and Egypt. When visiting these places, the book jumped to my conscious and its stories allowed me to experience these ancient lands with more insight.
This is a book which pays tribute to the strength of women and female relationships. The Red Tent is empowering and beautiful. It’s a book every woman should read at least once in her life. – Emily of Stories from a Van
17. Conquering Mountains, How to Solo Travel the World Fearlessly, by Kristin Addis
Solo traveling can be overwhelming at first – where do you even start? For those who have made it past the fears and decided to travel alone, we know that the hardest part is deciding to go. The planning from there can all fall into place.
This practical guide takes you through every step of planning for a trip, budgeting, staying safe, packing, handling healthcare on the road, and so much more. The book finishes by case studies of solo female travelers aroudn the world. This is the guidebook thousands of women have relied on to travel solo for the first time.
18. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Part of Wild’s magic is it’s a true story about a 26-year-old woman overcoming earth-shattering loss and life’s cruelest challenges by throwing herself into one of the most challenging long-distance hikes in the world. The Pacific Crest Trail stretches 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada, through California, Oregon, and Washington.
In Wild, we follow an inexperienced solo female hiker on a thru-hike of the PCT. I promise you, this book will make you want to hike. Specifically, it’ll inspire you to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, or anywhere from California’s high desert, to the Sierra Nevadas, to the rainforests of the Pacific northwest.
Strayed is an incredible writer who makes you feel her pain, struggles, joy, and triumph. Her ability to overcome loss and throw herself into her journey is deeply empowering. Every time I read Wild (and it’s been many, many times) I find myself absolutely glowing with that empowerment. – Kaisa of Glam Granola Travel
19. The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman
Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers is a sweeping historical novel, told through the eyes of four strong female characters. Based on an account by the historian Josephus, the story is set against the backdrop of the first Jewish-Roman war in AD70, leading up to the siege of Masada.
Yael, Revka, Shirah and Aziza are amongst the Jewish rebels and families that flee Jerusalem after the destruction of the Second Temple. They seek shelter in the late King Herod’s palace at Masada, a seemingly impregnable fortress on the edge of the Judean Desert overlooking the Dead Sea.
Thrown together in the messy work of dovekeepers – collecting eggs and gathering droppings for fertilizer – the women have an initially uneasy relationship, their conflicting backgrounds causing suspicion and mistrust. Forced to confront a common enemy, they develop a loyalty so fierce they will sacrifice everything for each other.
Despite its setting in the masculine domain of war, this is a story about women. A story of love and childbirth, fear and guilt, courage and companionship. A story where women stripped of power are anything but powerless. And in typical Hoffman fashion – she did pen Practical Magic, after all – the book is woven with magic.
I visited Masada before reading the book, so the dramatic hilltop site and harsh surrounding desert were fresh in my mind as I fell into the magical story of mothers, daughters and, above all, the power of sisterhood. Equally, it inspires me to return to Israel, as I’d love to stand atop the site again and imagine these fictional women amongst the ruins of a very real historical event. I recommend The Dovekeepers for female travelers with an interest in history and a love of dynamic female characters. – Joanne of The Wandering Wordsmith
20. Tracks by Robyn Davidson
Tracks is the story of Robyn Davidson who trekked across the Australian outback, 1700 miles, mostly alone except for her dog and four camels and the occasional visitor.
Robyn is interesting, daring and at times infuriating. She is driven and determined and sometimes crazy. Perhaps this is why I ended up loving her and her story. Even when I didn’t agree with Robyn’s choices I found her inspiring. She faced the relentless heat of the desert, lack of water, creepy men, unruly camels, and her own fears and thoughts. She survived. She overcame.
Besides being brave and resilient Robyn is a gifted writer. She delights in the Australian outback and its aboriginal people and it shows. Her descriptions of them are breathtaking. But this is more than a travelogue. It is also the story of a personal journey into the mind. We rarely see a female protagonist writing so rawly about their emotions, from the thrill of the miraculous to the anguish of uncertainty.
My favorite quote from the book is when Robyn tells us, “The two important things that I did learn were that you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be and that the most difficult part of any endeavor is taking the first step, making the first decision.”
This book is encouraging for any woman hoping to live a stronger, more daring life. – Karen of Postcards From Nana
One of my favorite books about Italy (and life in general) is Under the Tuscan Sun. While I initially read the book because of my love of the movie based on it, the memoir and the movie are quite different.
While the movie focuses on the protagonist using Tuscany to escape from the heartbreak of her divorce and reclaim her life, the memoir is a much quieter book about how Frances and her new husband, Ed, renovate the villa in Tuscany as she gets to know the quiet life in the region. I find this memoir empowering because there’s something wonderful about following a woman’s journey to make a new chapter in her life at any age.
Real travel (and life) isn’t just a series of heartbreaks and triumphs, rather there’s joy in figuring out how to enjoy day to day life. While a house renovation isn’t exactly the most exciting topic for a travel memoir, anyone who’s ever gotten hooked on HGTV will understand readers’ fascination with contractors and bureaucracy. – Stephanie of History Fangirl
22. Without Reservations by Alice Steinbach
Without Reservations is a beautiful travel book written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Alice Steinbach.
Alice, who always thought of herself as an “independent woman” realized one day that she always defined herself in terms of who she was to other people and what they expected of her.
Alice decided to travel to Europe in search of self-discovery, trying to answer the question “who am I?”. This is a life journey with beautiful descriptions of the places she visited: Paris – where she falls in love, Oxford, Milan and more.
This book encouraged me to think out of the box and go to see the world, which is much wider than “my world”. I am sure this book will inspire many women to break her social barriers, see different places and people to get the full picture of the world and oneself. – Elisa of World in Paris
23. The Worrier’s Guide to End of the World by Torre DeRoche
I was first introduced to Torre DeRoche through her first book, Love With a Chance of Drowning. Both are exceptional, but I found her second to be the most empowering for me, personally.
As a very anxious person, I found myself relating to so many things she mentions about herself and her own journey across the world. I find myself in a constant existential crisis and I get the vibe that she does too. This is a beautiful story about facing fears and following dreams no matter how scared you are, how worried you are that something bad may happen, or letting what has happened in your life – as she had just faced a huge breakup and her own father’s death.
Her books had already inspired and empowered me, but then I had the chance of meeting Torre not too long ago and you can tell right off the bat that her books are 100% her – she was a wonderfully welcoming person who seemed just like everyone else in the room. – Ashley of Wild Hearted
24. Walking the Gobi by Helen Thayer
Helen Thayer is a New Zealander who has done some remarkable things in her life. She was the first woman to trek to the North Pole solo amongst other great adventures. “Walking the Gobi” is her account of being the first person to walk the 1600 miles across Mongolia’s Gobi desert, possibly the most inhospitable place on earth. She trekked for 80 days with her husband and two camels, dealing with hot temperatures, sand storms, smugglers, and at one point coming close to death when they ran out of water.
This book is an incredible tale of persistence and survival, but the thing that makes it really inspirational was that she undertook this trek when she was 63 years old. Her husband was 74. She had also been in a car accident only months before and was battling painful injuries during the whole trek. Walking the Gobi is a fantastic reminder that we are never too old, and that we can achieve the seemingly impossible if we really put our minds to it. I could not put this book down and recommend it to anyone who needs a little more inspiration for whatever they are doing. – Josie of Josie Wanders
25. A Thousand New Beginnings, Tales of Solo Female Travel Through Southeast Asia by Kristin Addis
This is the story of a 26-year-old girl who left her old life with a steady job and boyfriend behind in order to travel through Southeast Asia completely on her own (the one who writes this blog!).
From an Amazon review: Her travel stories recount the good and the not so good, frustrating and exciting, scary and exhilarating aspects of solo female travel. After reading her stories, I feel more prepared to face similar situations on my own journey.
This book brings you through her first year of travels and goes deeper and into more detail than you will find in her blog. Some of the content from the blog is included, but there is tons of new content. If she hadn’t included previous content, you wouldn’t have the full picture of the year, as she tells it chronologically, in a diary type format.
I feel I got to know her more as a person, as she takes you into her more personal stories and thought processes. I’ve been contemplating my own solo female travel journey, and this book helps to make the thought of taking the leap less scary, and in fact makes me want to push that “buy” button on the plane ticket all the more. – Steph B.
26. What I was Doing while You were Breeding by Kristin Newman
It used to annoy me when people would ask me when I would stop traveling and finally start a family. So it’s no surprise that the book immediately spoke to me.
It’s one of the best travel books I’ve read in a long time and the author, Kristin Newman, writes about her experiences exploring the world on her own, falling in love while traveling and the incredible adventures she had while all of her friends were settling down and having babies.
I’ve never related to a book so much in my entire life! The author used to be a t.v. sitcom writer and this book is truly captivating, hilarious and so easy to read that you’ll probably devour it within a few days.
If you’re looking for a book to inspire your wanderlust and empower you to live your truth without worrying about the restrictions society sets for women, this is the perfect book for you. – Naomi of Eat Love Explore
27. 5 Second Rule by Mel Robbins
I honestly thought this book would be mostly fluff. To my surprise, the book moved me to take action! As the name implies, the book hinges on the 5-second rule and how we can use this rule to make life-changing impacts in our lives. It has helped me get “boring” household tasks done and re-enrolled in a gym membership that I now faithfully use.
And most importantly, I shared the rule with my twin sister, and it also moved her to action. She has always wanted to visit South Africa, but when she realized that I would be unable to join her, she wrote it off. Thanks in part to the rule, my twin sister will be traveling to South Africa in November. – Louisa of Africa Wanderlust
28.The Muse by Jessie Burton
This is a dramatic (in all the best ways) tale of love, art, and war intertwining two very different lives. Both Olive and Odelle, the protagonists, are going after what they want the only way they know how: with a lot of determination. While I may not have bought a ticket to Spain, I was temporarily transported to Olive’s family’s farm and the Skelton. It was a great way to experience a new place and a new way of life from two very different perspectives.
The Muse is empowering for female travelers because it shows that women have always been fighting the patriarchy and assumptions that women can’t be as successful as men, but Olive and Odelle show us otherwise. While they may always be told their painting and writing isn’t as good, they both continue to do what they love. Women are always told “oh, you can’t travel alone,” but this shows that you can as long as you set your mind to it. – Megan of Red Around the World
We hope you found something here that inspires you today.
What are some of your favorite empowering reads by women?