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Blogs may inspire me and Instagram fuels my wanderlust, but there’s nothing quite like getting lost in an adventure book.
With my phone turned off and my laptop put away I can actually quiet my mind and sink deep into someone else’s epic tale. If you’re in the mood to do the same, you’ve come to the right place.
I’ve read a lot of adventure books in my time, but these eight stand out as some of the best of the best and I know you will enjoy them!
1. The Geography of Bliss
Eric Weiner is a journalist and NPR correspondent.
He traveled around the world in search of happiness and each chapter shares his findings in a variety of countries that define happiness in different ways.
It’s quite easy for travel writing to devolve into condescension or self-absorption, but Eric balances occasional insights with a light and often hilarious tone throughout.
Honestly, this is one of my favorite adventure books of all time – if you’re only going to read one this year, The Geography of Bliss should be it.
2. No Way Down
If you liked Into Thin Air then you need to read No Way Down, the true story of one of the deadliest days in climbing history.
K2 in Pakistan is the second highest mountain in the world and stakes her claim by killing almost one out of every four climbers who attempt to reach her peak.
In 2008, 11 climbers died during a disastrous summit attempt. New York Times reporter Graham Bowley pieces together the story and uncovers the fatal mistakes that led to its tragic end.
3. Grandma Gatewood’s Walk
If you liked Wild by Cheryl Strayed, you’ll definitely enjoy Grandma Gatewood’s Walk.
First, she’s from my home state of Ohio, so you already know she’s a bad bitch. Second, this is a 100% true story. After enduring years of abuse from her husband and raising 11 kids, Emma Gatewood set off in 1955 to hike the Appalachian trail alone.
Although I’m not a huge fan of her (sometimes over) reliance on the generosity of others, it’s still a fascinating tale and a seriously impressive accomplishment at the age of 67.
It’s also sprinkled with interesting facts the history and development of the trail over time. All in all, Grandma Gatewood’s Walk is a fun read and one of the best adventure books out there for hikers today.
4. The Lost City of the Monkey God
National Geographic writer Douglas Preston joined a precarious expedition into the never-before-explored jungles of Honduras.
This alone was enough to make me buy the book, but add in a lost city, an ancient curse, a vicious debate in the archaeological community, and an incurable disease, and you’ll quickly find it’s impossible to put this classic adventure book down.
Whether you believe Douglas and the team really discovered the fabled lost city or not, this fascinating glimpse into history in The Lost City of the Monkey God really cannot be missed.
5. Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery
I like to think of myself as pretty adventurous, but there’s one place I’ll never travel: outer space. I’m both intrigued and terrified of the idea so Endurance caught my immediate attention.
Astronaut Scott Kelley spent an entire freaking year living on the International Space Station.
His tales of near disaster, personal sacrifices, and scientific discovery weave together a great read including both the history of space flight and his hopes for future exploration.
This is one of those adventure books I regularly had to put down to tell Daniel the crazy new fact or anecdote I just read. Space really is the final frontier, and Scott Kelley is the undisputed expert in his field (and a surprisingly good writer as well).
6. Marching Powder
If you haven’t read Marching Powder yet, stop what you’re doing and download the ebook now. Seriously, this is widely renowned as one of the best adventure books for travelers.
Like all the others in this list, Marching Powder is a true story, this time following a British drug smuggler. Caught with cocaine in his luggage at the airport, Thomas McFadden was sent to prison in La Paz, Bolivia.
Once there, he found San Pedro prison is anything but ordinary. Families of the prisoners live inside and it has its own real estate system, restaurants, and shops along with an entire cocaine factory.
Unbelievably, McFadden made money by inviting tourists to come to see the prison and even spend the night inside. If you’re planning to backpack the Gringo Trail in South America, Marching Powder is sure to come up in conversation so make sure you read it before you go.
7. Alone on the Wall
Alone on the Wall is the only book on the list that I haven’t read yet, but I’m going to as soon as my new library card comes in.
Alex Honnold is a free climber, which means he rock climbs without any ropes or safety equipment. He’s traveled all around the world scaling mountains that should honestly be impossible. Alone on the Wall was released in 2016 and details his seven greatest achievements up to that date.
I’m super excited to read it because I just saw Free Solo, the new National Geographic movie that chronicles Alex’s quest to solo climb El Capitan in Yosemite, and it was amazing. It even won the 2019 Oscar for Best Documentary Feature!
Alex is one of the most interesting people alive today and I already know Alone on the Wall will make my list of best adventure books – as soon as I can get my hands on it, that is.
8. Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders
The Atlas Obscura website is an awesome resource for every traveler.
It details strange and unique places to see in every country around the world and I love to check it before heading anywhere new. In the past, Atlas Obscura has helped me visit both the futuristic Biblioteca Vasconcelos and the Tepoztlan Ruins in Mexico.
Now, they have a coffee table compilation of the best of the best.
While this isn’t necessarily an adventure book to sit down with and read straight through, I like to pick it up every now and then and I’m slowly working my way through the whole thing. It’s a great gift for any travel lover in your life and a practical guide to the strangest wonders of the world as well.
Read These Adventure Books in 2020!
I’ve read seven of the eight adventure books on this list and can safely say I recommend them to daydreamers and travelers alike.
These true stories inspired and amazed me, and I know they’ll do the same for you. Check them out, and if you have any more recommendations leave them for me and future readers in the comments below!
This article is part of the Timeless Travel Gifts series. Read the rest below:
Then, explore the complete Gifts and Gear series for more reviews and roundups of the travel products I can’t live without.
I’ve been traveling full-time for three years, these are the resources that make it happen:
➤ I exclusively use Airbnb for savings and security on long-term stays in furnished apartments.
➤ I use Booking.com for short-term stays in hostels and hotels on weekend trips.
➤ Upwork allowed me to take the leap to travel full-time because they make it so easy to find freelance clients in any field.
➤ The Superstar Blogging Travel Writing Course launched my travel writing career and helped me become a contributor at sites like Cincinnati Refined and International Living, and even get published in the Boston Globe.