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The Best Books on Travel and Living Abroad

We don’t regret moving to a new country, but living abroad isn’t all rainbows and butterflies every day. In the beginning, we struggled with the language, setting up internet and cable, getting lost countless times with Google Maps, and experiencing a car accident three days after buying a car. Most of the stories you hear from expats are all the wonderful “better quality of life” stuff, but I’m sure they had obstacles to reach that point.

Our research on finding the best place to live started with a subscription to International Living. This magazine and website prints real stories from real people living in other countries around the world. From big cities to small villages, it’s been a wonderful resource for us in evaluating the cost of living, finding the ideal weather, and being centrally located in several towns and countries for travel. Writers for International Living go more in-depth on topics such as taxes, banking overseas, health insurance, and real estate. If you don’t know where you should start, check out International Living for their subscription and bonus offers.

Our ability to adapt to any new culture can make or break a new adventure in another country. For shorter stories about specific scenarios in Mexico, you can check out our section on EXPATS. But sometimes we need a chuckle, and sometimes it’s nice to know that someone else experienced the same disaster half a world away. That’s why we’ve put together this list of books on travel and living abroad. Every person has a different experience, and it’s interesting to see the similarities and differences of various countries.

Books on Travel Made Into Movies

Movies have been made of some of the best travel books out there:
Under the Tuscan Sun (one of my favorites), Eat, Pray, Love and Wild are all popular movies and books. They show women who seem lost but find an inner strength as they navigate new worlds in front of them. They are wonderful books, but there are plenty of other entertaining travel books and memoirs that just haven’t made it to the big screen yet. After the COVID pandemic, the desire to travel and/or move for many is stronger than ever after being restricted for up to two years.

Below are some of my favorite travel books that show the struggle and humor of living in an unfamiliar place and learning about different cultures. Living on a boat or an island, renovating a home in a foreign land, and not quite fitting in anywhere are just a few of the foundations of these memoirs.

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Travel Book on Living the Island Life

The Sex Lives of Cannibals– by J. Maarten Troost

If you think moving to a small Pacific island sounds heavenly, this book will make you rethink that dream. The author and his girlfriend moved to Kiribati, a small island in the Pacific where normal life presents more tidal waves than coconuts. Modern conveniences like working internet, unlimited hot water, and a plethora of shopping and restaurants are non-existent. It’s an interesting compilation of cultural differences, bureaucracy, and a history time forgotten. You might also enjoy the sequel: Getting Stoned With Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu.

Travel Book on Living on a Boat

An Embarrassment of Mangoes– by Ann Vanderhoof

Tired of the corporate lifestyle, Ann and her husband made strategic plans to leave it all behind and sail from Canada to the Caribbean in a 42-foot yacht. Living on a boat comes with its unique challenges, but to be able to move your home wherever the tide takes you is a unique experience. Fishing for dinner, boat maintenance, and trying to give crappy Canadian beer to locals in exchange for services are all part of the fun (Caribbean beer is much better). Their two-year adventure through the Caribbean dropping anchor in 47 islands includes festivals, Caribbean recipes, and how to survive when it’s just the two of you for days on end.

Travel Books on Living in Mexico

On Mexican Time– by Tony Cohan

When a writer and artist couple first visited the colonial town of San Miguel de Allende, it was love at first sight. They went back to California, sold everything, and moved to this colorful town in Central Mexico. They renovated an old hacienda and learned the cultural ways of Mexican life including siesta. It’s a romantic vision of what Mexican life can be and the endless possibilities of starting a new life.

This Is Mexico: Tales of Culture and Other Complications– By Carol Merchasin

This is Mexico dives a bit deeper into the complications of living in Mexico with a good dose of humor. You have to have humor when navigating everyday life in a foreign country because there will be times when you just shake your head or scream silently at the inefficiencies. San Miguel is a favorite among expats and this will keep you entertained and better prepared if you decide to make Mexico your home.

Moving to Merida: How to Successfully Move to Mexico as a Family

Many of the books listed here are by young couples, solo travelers, or retirees, but Moving to Merida is about a family with kids. Cassie and her family weighed the pros and cons of leaving Great Britain and decided to settle in Merida, one of the safest cities in Mexico. She shows you her experience starting a new life, getting the kids set in a school and many other useful everyday things that you wouldn’t think would be a challenge.

Travel Books on Living in Europe

Driving over Lemons: An Optimist in Andalucia– by Chris Stewart

The original drummer of Genesis, Chris Stewart left the rock’n’roll lifestyle to try other interesting professions and buy a farm in Andalucia, Spain. His descriptive writing and humor make you feel as if you are there, watching and drinking alongside him. If leaving city life behind and moving to a farm with lemon, olive, and almond trees in the mountains is your dream, you’ll love this book and all the joys and bumps on the dirt road.

Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris– by Sarah Turnbull

Australian journalist Sarah Turnbull moves to Paris after meeting a Frenchman and tells us personally about the struggles of learning the language, cultural differences in dress and socializing, and dealing with homesickness. What also makes this book interesting is that she returns to Australia and discusses the joy and heartbreak of loving two countries she now calls home. Anyone who has felt lonely while traveling or moving to a new country will easily relate to this book.

A Year in Provence– by Peter Mayle

This English author moved with his wife to the south of France, bought a home, and documented their first year of contractors, goat races, meals, and unusual customs of living abroad. Learning a new language and dealing with the French bureaucracy are just a few of the headaches he has to endure, but when it comes to the food, you can tell this is his passion with the detailed way he describes the ingredients and the way the meals are prepared. A fun book full of humor, it’s followed by Toujours Provence, Encore Provence, and French Lessons: Adventures with a Knife, Fork, and Corkscrew.

Travel Books on How Life Doesn’t Meet Our Expectations

The Thing About Prague– by Rachael Weiss

Here’s a different twist on expat life- what if it doesn’t work out? Rachael Weiss left Sydney for Prague intending to make it her new home, but things didn’t work out as planned. While Prague is a favorite city of many travelers, living there is a whole different story and this book offers up the nitty-gritty of dealing with bureaucracy and being disappointed that your 40s are not what you envisioned.

Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam– by Andrew X. Pham

This book explores a different side: one of being a stranger in your homeland. Andrew Pham and his family left Vietnam after the war and grew up in California. Not fully accepted in America, and not fully welcomed back in his homeland, he explored his feelings of bitterness and confusion along his bike journey through Mexico, California, and Vietnam. Childhood memories and conversations with distant family members and war veterans (on both sides) bring a whole new perspective on how people endured and survived.

Most of the books I’ve recommended are focused on British, Australian, or American expats in a foreign country dominated by European heritage. It was extremely difficult to find any travel memoirs written by other writers from different nationalities or colors. I feel that this book can teach us more compassion and acceptance of world cultures and individuals.

Books on Solo Female Travel

Due North– by Lola Akinmade Åkerström

Born in Nigeria and fascinated by maps, Lola’s book is a compilation of two decades of travel observations around the world through a solo female of color. You can feel her pain and amusement through her words as she navigates cultures and customs across the different continents. Today, Lola lives in Sweden and is a well-established travel writer and photographer.

Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World– by Rita Golden Gelman

If you need inspiration to travel solo, check out this book. In her late 40s, Rita struck out to explore the world, from small villages to cityscapes and everything in between. Her adventures are what many of us dream of like exploring the Galapagos and cooking ancient meals with locals on rustic fires. She reminds us that the world is a grand place, and when we open our minds to the possibilities, we can do anything our hearts desire.

A to Z of a Solo Travel Girl- by Jennifer A. Huber

I have to give a shoutout to my friend, Jennifer Huber, who just wrote an e-book on solo travel. Jennifer was one of the first bloggers I met in Florida a decade ago and helped me tremendously as I started blogging. Her motto is you may travel alone, but you are never lonely. Travel opens up a whole new world of people who have experienced the thrills and weirdness just like you. Whether you are fresh out of college or just retired, all of us should try solo travel at some point. You’ll learn more about yourself on a solo trip than any other trip or classroom experience.

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Books For Wildlife Travelers

1. How to Walk a Puma: And Other Things I Learned While Stumbling Through South America
2. Whatever You Do, Don’t Run: True Tales of A Botswana Safari Guide
3. Don’t Look Behind You! A Safari Guide’s Encounters With Ravenous Lions, Stampeding Elephants, and Lovesick Rhinos
By Peter Allison

These books are on the unconventional side. For those of us who love wildlife, what is it like to be a safari guide in Africa? Peter writes about this world where baboons are frequent visitors, and every day is a new adventure with awkward tourists and graceful gazelles. The first 2 books are about his time as a safari guide, and How to Walk a Puma is about his time traveling through South America and working with a rescue puma who wasn’t able to return to the wild, but didn’t fit in the human world either.

Many of us feel this way where we are between worlds, not quite fitting in with the one we are familiar with and running into obstacles acclimating to a new one. Travel is exciting, but the more knowledgeable about the unexpected we can be, the easier it will be to adapt.

We hope you find these as enjoyable as I did. If you have any recommendations, please leave them in the comments below and we will check them out.


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One Comment

  1. These books all look pretty interesting. I’ll bookmark this to come back to in the future when I need something to read. The island ones remind me of my sister and brother-in-law who lived on the Virgin Islands for about a year and some of the wild stories they’d tell!

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