Real-Life Adventures for the Armchair Explorer in America

In a previous blog post, I suggested some fictional titles that featured adventures. In this post, however, I wanted to talk about some real-life adventures. Real people who did amazing things. So, the five titles below are about travel, exploration, and real-life journeys. There are so many fascinating travel memoirs we could look at, but for the sake of simplicity, this post will focus specifically on the United States. I’m hoping to add an additional post soon(ish) about travel memoirs that explore other countries, too.

At the age of 58, esteemed writer John Steinbeck decides to set out to rediscover the country he has been writing about for years. With his French poodle, Charley in tow, he travels interstates and country roads, meets new people, encounters dangerous animals, and reflects on the character of America, the beauty and the ugliness, and the sort of melancholy loneliness that he finds almost everywhere. Travels with Charley in Search of America is a beautiful story and one of Steinbeck’s more popular non-fiction pieces.

(If you’d rather read a fictional account of travel by Steinbeck, then might I also suggest The Grapes of Wrath?)

Grandma Gatewood’s Walk tells the story of Emma Gatewood, who told her family she was going on a walk, and disappeared. The 67-year-old brought along just a change of clothes and less than $200. She wasn’t heard from again until she had walked 800 miles along the Appalachian Trail. Having survived a whole host of misadventures, including rattlesnakes, hurricanes, and gangsters, Emma became known as the first woman to hike the entire Appalachian Trail alone, as well as the first person (of either sex) to walk it two or three times! This fascinating biography looks at an even more fascinating woman, and asks the big questions: how did she do it? And why?

Let’s continue our list with another story of the Appalachian Trail: A Walk in the Woods. Bill Bryson takes readers on a dazzling, educational adventure through the Appalachian Trail, sharing its history and a variety of facts. Bryson travels with his friend Katz, who is alternately obnoxious and hilarious, making for a story that is funny and full of heart. Bryson is known for his witty travelogues, but this is the one title I keep hearing about again and again. And even better, if you enjoy reading the book, there’s a movie, too!

Leave Only Footprints was an idea born of heartbreak. Author Conor Knighton was struggling with a broken engagement and a broken heart, and desperately in need of a change. So, he decided to visit all of America’s national parks, one after the other, and document his travels. What follows is a book that is smart, informative, hilarious, and full of heart. The experience, which covered the course of a year, was one which changed and affected him quite deeply, and Knighton shares how the person he was when he finished his travels was so different from who he was when he started.

A man and his dog go on a road trip together. Sounds familiar? It should! Inspired by Travels with Charley, Peter Zheutlin decides to take his own trip with his dog, Albie, and thus The Dog Went Over the Mountain was born! Zheutlin’s memoir covers the pair’s 9,000-mile trip across country, the people they met, places the visited, and of course, the lessons learned from this fascinating experience. If you enjoyed reading Travels with Charley (see top of this list) then you should definitely give this one a try!

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Erin

I'm the Reader's Advisory Librarian at WPPL. My interests include old horror films, classic novels, manga and anime, paper-crafting, and plants. If you like my suggestions, you can request personalized recommendations from me on My Librarian page.