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5 Books Worth Taking Up Space On Your Packing List

5 books worth packing

The following post on inspiring travel books is brought to you by Gillian Duffy.

I know how tight a packing list can be. In fact I just got back from the mall where I bought a t-shirt and a new dress but not without first negotiating with myself as to what would have to leave my current pack in order to make room (and so I say good-bye to an old, stretched out t-shirt and a worn out, pilled, dress to make room). It’s always one in, one out so you have to be judicious and ruthless sometimes, right?

What about books? Do they make the cut? I have a Kindle now so I can virtually drag any books around that I like, but that wasn’t always the case. During our 2009/2010 RTW trip we carried books. Real, actual, physical, books. Usually at least two at a time (one I was reading and one my partner, Jason, was reading, and then we’d switch) but often three (in case we didn’t read at the same speed) and sometimes as many as five (when you hit a good hostel book exchange you can’t pass it up!).

Usually I like to read books about the places that I’m visiting. History books, books that teach me about the culture of the area, novels set in the country, even cook books so I can get a sense of the food I’ll be encountering. I also like to read books about people doing inspiring things; things that might seem just out of reach for me but that push me to think that maybe, just maybe, I could do it.

The books on my list today are of that inspiring type; two that have inspired me, and three that push the boundaries just a little for me.

Vagabonding by Rolf Potts. This is the book that changed my life and it’s a story I love to tell. I was ordering some books on Amazon has this great deal whereby if you spend just a wee bit more you can get free shipping. I was tempted, and so looked for another book to add to my order. Vagabonding was the book I added. When the order arrived, the books I had originally ordered were cast aside as I devoured this slim volume outlining how people were traveling the world. People just like me. Only not me. It showed me that traveling long term is not just for crazy people and provided resources to help me figure out how to do it. There was no looking back; 4 months later our house was on the market and we had plans to travel the world. Talk about inspired! Grab on Amazon*.

gillian and jason duffey
Gillian and Jason Duffey traveling.

Love With A Chance Of Drowning by Torre DeRoche. I’m not a sailor, nor do I particularly want to be a sailor. I’ve only been on a sailboat a few times and have been either a) bored out of my skull or b) terrified I was going to die. But Torre’s story of meeting Ivan and taking off to sail the South Pacific is so compelling that it just might make me change my mind. This is, truly, one of the best travel books I have ever read. Torre’s account of the crossing, her fears, and her amazement are all perfectly described with self-depreciating humor and emotion. It is a must read in my mind.

Pretty Woman Spitting by Leanne Adams. I have long been fascinated by China, but have not made it there yet. It looms so large and daunting in my mind. Even having spent plenty of time in the rest of Asia, it still scares me a bit. That’s why this book is on my reading list. I like reading about people who have been somewhere I am longing to go. I want to hear how it was for them; did they like it, was it as difficult as I imagine, how did they manage? Grab on Amazon.

Wild: From Lost To Found On The Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed. I had long wanted to do a back country, high alpine, backpacking trip but had never gotten around to making it happen. I read Wild with the interest of reading what it’s like to do a long distance hike and came away inspired to make it happen for myself. I love what Cheryl learned about herself as she pushed beyond her physical limits and how she managed to come to terms with her past and be resolved in her future. Not long after I had the opportunity to make my backpacking dream come true; I said yes and made it happen. We spent four days in the Grand Teton mountains of Wyoming last summer and it was everything I wanted it to be. It wasn’t as hard as I thought, it was more beautiful than I had ever imagined, and we didn’t see a single grizzly bear (a great fear of mine!). Grab on Amazon.

gillian and jason in the grand tetons
Gillian and Jason in the Grand Tetons

Where The Pavement Ends: One Woman’s Bicycle Trip Through Mongolia, China, and Vietnam by Erika Warmbrunn. This one appeals to me on a few different fronts. Ever since meeting a long distance, bicycling, couple in Thailand a few years ago I have wondered what it would be like to travel through a country this slowly and powered entirely by myself. Could I do it? Would I ever want to do it again? I’ve been to Vietnam and loved it. We would often rent a moto-scooter and head off into the countryside; I wonder if being on a bike would be even better? I’ve already professed my desire to see China but lately Mongolia has been even more on my radar. I love the geography there. The long, flat, steppes. The seemingly empty landscape. The beauty of the barrenness. Riding a bike through there would surely be a test of will. And so this is on my list to inspire me to say yes again and see where I end up. Grab on Amazon.

What books make the cut onto your packing list?

About the Author: Gillian is a traveller and serial expat who believes books should be on your packing list. She is currently based in Canada but with Mexico on the horizon. You can read more about her at

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Reader Interactions


  1. Brenna says

    Great list – I am always looking for more inspiring books about travel. I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t read any of these yet! Love With A Chance Of Drowning has been on my radar for a while, but I’ll have to add the rest to my shelf.

    By the way, even with a Kindle, I always have a few books floating around in my backpack, too!

  2. OCDemon says

    Everyone should travel with books so they can give me some. Try to carry a wide selection, preferably of high quality material, so I can be satisfied with the options available. Thank you.

  3. Natalie Purbrick says

    Great list Gillian. I’ll add Love With a Chance of Drowning to my books/kindle list (I use both apps on my iPad).

    My ultimate travel anthem is Shantaram. A dog-eared copy he’d lugged across South America was the first book my fiancé ever gave me. Gregory David Roberts’ account of life in Mumbai’s underworld was the inspiration for us to start planning a trip to India, which was the catalyst of our RWT.

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