Emily's Top 10 Books by Amazing Solo Female Travellers

Emily's Top 10 Books by Amazing Solo Female Travellers

When I was sixteen years old, I checked a book out of the library that genuinely changed my life. The book was Kira Salak's The Cruellest Journey - the story of a woman who kayaked the length of the Niger river solo - and it was the book that first made me want to become a travel writer. 

A few weeks before, my grandad had given me a book by a male journalist about his travels in Africa. It was my first discovery of the travel writing genre and I was spellbound. I headed to the library in search of more, and checked out the only one I could see that had been written by a woman. Salak's story was a huge inspiration to me, and it set me on the road to where I am today, a full-time travel writer and blogger! 

Since that day, I've always tried to seek out travel books written by women, especially women who travel solo. From Victorian adventurers to contemporary women taking on the most unimaginably difficult long-distance journeys, this list contains a few of my favourites.

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Emily Luxton
Travel Blogger
  • Kira Salak
    The Cruellest Journey: 600 Miles By Canoe To The Legendary City Of Timbuktu

    Emily Luxton

    Kira Salak is always the first solo female travel writer I recommend. She was the first one I discovered, and it was her books that made me want to become a travel writer myself. 

    Salak is a genuine, real-life adventurer. She's a National Geographic Emerging Explorer and contributing editor for National Geographic Adventure magazine. She was the first woman to traverse Papua New Guinea - a journey which she recounted in her first travel book, Four Corners. 

    Some years later, she became not only the first woman but also the first person to kayak the Niger River solo. The Cruellest Journey is a beautiful, philosophical book telling the story of this incredible 600-mile journey to Timbuktu. 

    Salak's trip was fraught with dangers and hardships - from tropical storms and the heat of the Sahara to dangerous wildlife and intimidating strangers - but also filled with small kindnesses, remarkable encounters, and magical landscapes.
  • Cheryl Strayed
    Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found

    Emily Luxton

    Now a major motion picture starring Reese Witherspoon, Wild tells the story of how Cheryl Strayed hiked over a thousand miles along the Pacific Crest Trail. 

    Like so many great journeys, this was as much a spiritual one as it was physical, and the resulting book is an incredibly moving story told with a great deal of warmth and humour. After losing her mother at the young age of 22, and going through a divorce soon after, Strayed felt she had nothing more to lose, and made the impulsive decision to hike the PCT from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State. 

    She was inexperienced, untrained, unfit, and with all the wrong equipment. She overpacked and she wore the wrong shoes. Yet somehow she overcame all these odds and completed the trip solo, overcoming some of her demons along the way as well. This was another book that inspired me on a personal level. I lost my own mother at 18, and I could heavily relate to Strayed's story of running away, of turning to travel and the trail in search of both escapism and healing.

    Strayed brilliantly captures how a journey can strengthen and heal you, while at the same time capturing the rare magic of the wild and the simple pleasures of being on a trail purely for the trail's sake.
  • Dervla Murphy
    Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle

    Emily Luxton

    Take a ride along the 'Hippy Trail' of the 1960s with Dervla Murphy and her bicycle Roz. Travelled as cheaply as possible, the overland route between Europe and South Asia became a popular form of alternative travel with the hippie subculture in the Sixties and Seventies. 

    And in 1963, Murphy set off alone on her bike into one of the worst winters in memory to tackle the mammoth journey. Starting from her home in Ireland, Murphy rode across a frozen Europe, through Iran and Afghanistan, over the Himalayas to Pakistan, and finally into India. 

    The resulting book of the trip is a captivating and enchanting account of an incredible journey. Nothing seems to faze Murphy, who reports the various challenges of the trip with almost unbelievable nonchalance. She's tough, determined, and seriously inspiring!
  • Freya Stark
    The Valleys of the Assassins and Other Persian Travels

    Emily Luxton

    Solo female travel is not as new a concept as you might think: in fact, women have been travelling solo for generations. Often listed as one of the earliest travel writers, Freya Stark explored destinations that few Westerners - let alone women - would dare to venture in the 1930s, places like Syria, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, and Yemen. 

    One of the first Western women to travel through the Arabian deserts, Stark wrote several books capturing her travels in the Middle East - often visiting places where Europeans had never been. Her training as a geographer and cartographer makes her works particularly descriptive, vividly bringing to life the landscapes, people, and ancient history of the Middle East. 

    Her most famous work is The Valleys of the Assassins, an account of her travels in the mountainous region between Iraq and Iran, which is as fascinating today as it must have been when it was first written in 1934.
  • Nellie Bly
    Around the World in Seventy-Two Days: And Other Writings

    Emily Luxton

    On 14th November 1889, Nellie Bly set off alone on an incredible journey around the world. Reporting for the New York World, the aim was to attempt to beat the 80 day record set by Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne's novel Around the World in Eighty Days. 

    She didn't know it at the time, but Bly was also racing against another journalist. The Cosmopolitan had sent their own reporter in the other direction on the same day, but the first Bly heard of the race was when she arrived in Hong Kong. In the end, she won, and smashed even her own 75 day goal, completing the trip in just 72 days. 

    Both reporters sent updates from their trips for their respective publications to print, thanks to the new technology of submarine cable networks making electric telegraph possible around the world. The trip was cutting edge for its time, and the whole of the USA followed the race 'live'. Perhaps Nellie Bly and her companion were the original solo female travel influencers.
  • Noo Saro-Wiwa
    Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria

    Emily Luxton

    Nigerian-born Noo Sara-Wiwa was brought up in England, but every summer she was dragged back to what she describes as her 'unglamorous, godforsaken motherland with its penchant for noise and disorder'. Then, her father, the political activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, was executed by the Nigerian government in the 1990s and she didn't go back for a decade. 

    Deciding to rediscover and reappraise the land that her father loved and fought for, Saro-Wiwa travelled across Nigeria from Lagos to the eastern mountains. Looking for Transwonderland is a memoir that delves into the complexity of Nigeria, the beauty of its landscapes and the unique character of its people, as well as tackling the trickier subjects like the history of slavery and the corrupting influence of the oil industry.

    More importantly, this is one of few published travel books by a woman of colour. In an industry still largely dominated by white writers, historically those who have benefitted from colonialism, Saro-Wiwa's book turns the genre on its head and offers a unique perspective on the history and current situation of Nigeria.
  • Karen Blixen
    Out of Africa

    Emily Luxton

    Published under the author's pen name Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa is a memoir of Karen Blixen's years spent living in Africa. Blixen moved to Kenya from Denmark with her husband and lived on a coffee plantation 'at the foot of the Ngong hills' near Nairobi from 1914 to 1931.

    When she and her husband separated, Blixen stayed on to manage the farm by herself. Written after she lost the farm and returned to Denmark, Out of Africa is a true love letter to the continent. I first discovered the book after watching the movie adaptation, which is equally beautiful, capturing the stunning landscapes of Kenya and the fascinating wildness of the country.
  • Robyn Davidson

    Emily Luxton

    In the late 1970s, Robyn Davidson trekked 1700 miles across the hostile deserts of Australia's Red Centre with just a small group of camels and a dog for company. Tracks is a powerfully candid account of her journey, a testament to one woman's determination, perseverance, and inner strength. 

    Taking on the sweltering heat of the desert, deadly animals, unruly camels, and dangerous men, Davidson displays an almost unbelievable fearlessness. Her memoir has become an inspiration to solo female travellers everywhere. 

    While the landscape challenges her mind and body more than anything she'd ever experienced before, Davidson discovers just what she's capable of. It's a story of true adventure, and a testament to just how much a journey can change a person.
  • Isabella Lucy Bird
    Unbeaten Tracks in Japan

    Emily Luxton

    Victorian adventurer Isabella Lucy Bird is often described as the original solo female travel writer. While not really the first, Bird was definitely a pioneer. In fact, she was the first woman to be elected fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, so she's definitely someone aspiring solo female travellers should check out. 

    Bird published several travel books, and perhaps the best known is A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains, an eloquent account of her travels in the USA's 'Wild West'. But for a more exotic adventure, try Unbeaten Tracks in Japan. This is a memoir of Bird's 1878 trip through the centre of Japan, travelling by horse, rickshaw, and on foot to some of the most remote parts of the country. 

    The book was remarkable not just because Bird was a woman, but also because the interior of Japan was virtually unknown to Westerners at the time. See? A true pioneer!
  • Kristin Newman
    What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding: A Memoir

    Emily Luxton

    Written by sitcom-writer Kristin Newman, What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding is a fun, witty take on the travel memoir. It's also the ultimate single girls' manifesto - and highly relatable to anyone who is sick of being asked when they're going to settle down and start a family.

    While all her friends are busy getting married and making babies, Newman feels completely unready for the settled life. Instead, she travels solo, as much as she can, all over the globe. This book brilliantly captures her travels, and how she falls in love with the world around her along the way. It's such a relatable book, often laugh-out-loud funny, and a must-read for any solo female traveller.

Emily Luxton's favlist