We don’t regret moving to a new country, but it wasn’t rainbows and butterflies every day. We struggled with the language, setting up internet and cable, getting lost with Google maps and even writing a claim for a car accident. 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.
And while I appreciate you all checking out our EXPAT LIFE section to learn more about setting up a new life elsewhere, our ability to adapt to all these scenarios is because we read about other people’s perspectives and fiascos in travel books on expat life.
Travel Books 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 movied and books. They show a woman who seems lost, but finds an inner strength as she navigates a new world in front of her. 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. And with countries opening up for travel again, the desire to travel and/or move for many is stronger than ever after being restricted for weeks or months.
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 the normal every day 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 between cultural differences, bureaucracy and a history time forgot. You might also enjoy the sequel: Getting Stoned With Savages: A Trip Through the Islands
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 own 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 fun (Caribbean beer is much better). Their two-year adventure through the Caribbean dropping anchor in 47 islands include 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: A New Life in San Miguel de Allende– 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. IIt’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 every-day 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.
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 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 nationalities or color. I feel that this book can teach us more compassion and acceptance to 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 lived 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.
Books For Wildlife Travelers
How to Walk a Puma: And Other Things I Learned While Stumbling Through South America
Whatever You Do, Don’t Run: True Tales of A Botswana Safari Guide
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 really 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.
I hope you find these as enjoyable as I did. If you have any recommendations, please leave them in the comments below and I’ll check them out.