Armchair Journey: 9 Travel Memoirs for a Mental Escape

  • By Jennifer Mulder
  • 23 November 2020
  • 3 minute read
Armchair Journey: 9 Travel Memoirs for a Mental Escape | The Health Sessions

“Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.” – Mason Cooley

Great stories transport you to a different world. They can take you back in time, through different regions or even to a fictional universe. Especially travel memoirs will introduce you to exotic cultures and customs. 

But a good travel memoir doesn’t just bring you on an imaginative trip around the world – it also reflects on how those experiences took the writer on transformative journey inwards. You won’t just get insights about tourist landmarks, foreign traditions and cuisines, but also about who you are and your place in this ever-changing world. 

If you loved reading Eat Pray Love or Into The Wild, which other books could offer a mental escape? Take a look at this mix of classic and recent travel memoirs to take you on an armchair journey. 

If you feel inspired to buy any of these travel memoirs through the link below, not only will you support The Health Sessions through your purchase, but Better World Books also donates a book to someone in need for every book you buy. All at no extra cost to you! Pretty cool, right? 

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1. The Limey Project by Adam Stones (2020) 

In The Limey Project, two comically underprepared young Brits set off on a cycling odyssey into the heart of the USA – and into themselves. During their 4,500 mile pedal-powered road trip, they travel through deserts, mountains and forests with nothing but paper maps and overloaded bikes. The two friends encounter Hollywood millionaires and homeless dreamers, get pursued by gun-loving rednecks and their food is stolen by wild animals.

This witty coming of age adventure offers an intimate portrait of a country at an incredible time of its history. But more than anything, The Limey Project is an ode to the extraordinary power of the humble bicycle.

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2. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (1998)

Armchair Journey Reads: A Walk in the Woods | The Health Sessions

Longing to explore the great outdoors? Then go on a vicarious adventure with A Walk in the Woods – from the comfort of your couch. 

In this humorous travelogue, Bill Bryson and his friend Stephen Katz set out to hike the longest foot path in the world: the Appalachian Trail. Over 2000 grueling miles long, the trail winds through 14 states, across majestical mountains, dense forests and poverty-stricken backlands.

A Walk in the Woods is not just a tale of two not-so adventurous, forty-something men who face hunger, tiredness and the dangers of the wild. Packed with historical trivia, environmental lessons and cultural insights, this New York Times bestseller opens a window to “an America that millions of people scarcely know exists.” 

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3. All the Way to the Tigers by Mary Morris (2020) 

Armchair Journey: All the Way to the Tigers by Mary Morris | The Health Sessions

This moving memoir weaves two journeys into one: Morris’s recovery from a severe injury and her following trip to India in search of tigers. 

On the eve of a long-awaited sabbatical, Mary shatters her leg in an iceskating accident. Doctors wonder if she will ever walk again. During this time, Mary’s mind keeps going over the words of the classic novel ‘Death in Venice’: “He would go on a journey. Not far. Not all the way to the tigers.” 

That’s the start of a three-year odyssey, filled with surgeries and extensive rehabilitation as Mary is determined to see the elusive tiger in the wild. As a woman traveling the world solo, Morris connects deeply with the solitary big cat.  

In short chapters going back and forth in time, All The Way to the Tigers reflects on wanderlust, solitude and how the broken pieces inside shape who you become. 

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4. The Year of Living Danishly – Helen Russell (2015)

Armchair Journey: The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell | The Health Sessions

Would you love to get more hygge at home? Then this is the book for you. 

When her husband is offered a dream job at Lego, burnt-out magazine writer Helen Russell packs up her London life and emigrates to Denmark. Investigative by trade, Helen decides to find out what makes Denmark – despite its cold, dark winters – one of the happiest countries in the world. 

Through a combination of interviews, research and reflections, Russell tries to uncover the secret formula of happiness. Each chapter takes place during a different month of the year, focusing on a different aspect of Danish living. 

The Year of Living Danishly is a light-hearted, humorous record of Helen’s expat journey, that shows how you could benefit too from living a bit more Danishly yourself. 

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5. Dark Star Safari – Paul Theroux (2003)

Armchair Journey: Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux | The Health Sessions

In Dark Star Safari, world-renowned travel writer Paul Theroux takes you across the vast, magical and complex content of Africa. Traveling overland from Cairo to Cape Town by train, chicken bus, canoe and cattle truck, Theroux paints an intimate portrait of the social and political landscape of Africa. He unravels the downsides of the aide system and the dependency it’s created. 

As part of the trip, Paul revisits the Peace Corps school he helped establish almost forty years earlier and is shocked to see its current state. This sentimental journey ties into his musings of his looming 60th birthday, and the confrontation of losing his youth. 

Dark Star Safari offers a sharp observation of humanity, which lets you ride along the spine of Africa from the comfort of your own home. 

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6. The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost – Rachel Friedman (2011)

Armchair Journey: The Good Girl's Guide to GettinG lost by Rachel Friedman | The Health Sessions

In an attempt to escape making life decisions, Rachel Friedman surprises everyone – including herself – when in a spur of the moment she books a trip to Ireland. Traveling alone for the first time in her life, Rachel has to step outside her comfort zone. She meets Carly, a travel addict who invites Rachel back to her home country Australia. And that turns out to be the start of their journey across three continents. 

This coming-of age memoir portrays how sometimes you have to wander off the beaten path to find yourself. The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost is a celebration of friendship, (inner) exploration and living in the moment. 

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7. The Sweet Life in Paris – David Lebovitz (2011)

Armchair Journey: The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz | The Health Sessions

Warning: This memoir will have you craving croissants, chocolate and cheese!

After twelve years of working as a pastry chef at the famous Chez Panisse, David Lebovitz decides to move Paris, without knowing the language or culture. Like a true cook, he explores his new city through food. Through colorful descriptions, David depicts his culinary adventures in boulangeries and cafes. But becoming “un vrai parisien” turns out to be more challenging than he’d anticipated… 

Alternating amusing anecdotes with mouth-watering recipes, The Sweet Life in Paris reads like a start-over story and an insider’s guide to Paris wrapped up into one. 

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8. All Roads Lead to Austen – Amy Smith (2012)

Armchair Journey: All Roads Lead to Austen by Amy Smith | The Health Sessions

In All Roads Lead to Austen, professor of literature Amy Smith combines her love for Jane Austen with her passion for Latin America. With a suitcase packed with novels, she sets off on a year-long quest to discuss Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice in a traveling book club. 
Starting at a Spanish language school in Guatemala, Amy visits six countries to find out if readers everywhere can connect to Austen’s famous characters across space and time. Besides the literary sessions, Smith chronicles the friends she makes along the way, cultural misunderstandings and battling a tropical disease. And the question is, will she meet her own Mr. Darcy during this adventure?
All Roads Lead to Austen is a breezy travelogue that celebrates the simple joy of sharing a good book with good friends.
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9. What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding – Kristin Newman (2014)

Armchair Journey: What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman | The Health Sessions

Although she’s attended plenty of weddings and baby showers, sitcom writer Kristin Newman doesn’t feel like settling down herself. Instead, she got bit by the travel bug, exploring the world through weeks-long “vacationships” each year. 

In What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding, Newman takes you on an armchair journey to Iceland, Australia, Israel and beyond, falling for a Finnish power players, a Russian bartender and sexy Bedouin along the way. Her memoir does not contain any philosophical breakthroughs, but rather reads like an entertaining chronicle of her worldwide adventures.

What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding serves as a refreshing reminder that ‘happily ever after’ looks different for everyone. 
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Which travel memoir offered you a welcome mental escape?

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