I can't remember the exact date or time, the place I was in, or what I was doing when I decided I would be a traveler. What I do remember is reading certain books and putting them down for a brief moment to picture myself traveling like a certain character, or starting my story in a new place surrounded by strangers. It seemed like a far-fetched dream, but not for long.
I'm not sure it's something that just comes to you, or if it's something you're born with. Either way, when my birthday requests were things like road-trips and adventures to another state or country, and when college applications became a path to adventure rather than a successful future, there was no denying my wanderlust.
After graduating high school from a somewhat small Minnesotan town, I moved myself to the thriving city of Chicago. From there I traveled to and lived for weeks at a time in Czech Republic, Poland, France, and multiple states across the US. Traveling has become second nature, and I wouldn't want it any other way.
If you're a fellow traveling book nerd, then you probably have a few favorite travel-themed books yourself. If you're just starting your journey and need a few books for inspiration, I hope these help 12 books that gave me the courage to follow my dreams help you with yours, too:
1. 68 Knots by Michael Robert Evans
I casually picked up this book at a Barnes and Noble when I was 15, and it became one of my favorites. The story is about eight teenagers who set out on a sailboat for a "Leadership Cruise" to learn about independence before they go off to college. But when their captain commits suicide a few days into the trip, they have to figure out what to do next. This book was obviously interesting to read, but it also showed me that leaving the world I knew behind wouldn't be as scary as I'd built it up to be.
2. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
As most kids who grew up in the 90s, Harry Potter had a definite impact and still does on our everyday lives. When I was little and first read this, it not only made me want to run off and find a magical boarding school of my own, but it also taught me that the world is a much bigger place than my tiny Midwestern town.
3. Looking for Alaska by John Green
As someone who went through an experience fairly similar to Pudge (if you leave the boarding school and romance story out), this book means so much to me. Pudge leaves his family and regular life in his search of "a great perhaps," and that's just what he finds when he meets Alaska Young. I read this soon after I moved away for college, and it made me break down in heavy sobs I was not entirely prepared for. But it also reminded me that I was on the right track.
4. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle
Before leave on my study abroad adventure, one of my best friends gave me this book. It became one of my greatest inspirations as a writer and as a traveler. Granted, the characters in this book travel through space and time and encounter some odd life forms, but if geeky and anxiety-ridden Meg could do it, then I could do it, too.
5. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
I knew when I read the tale of Jacob Jankowski and his journey to the circus, it would be one of those books I'd keep close to my heart forever. When he loses everything, another door — or train car — opens for him and brings him enough adventure and horror to fill a lifetime. I never really saw myself running away with the circus, but I did always see myself running away eventually, and this just happened to show me that while it won't be easy, it'll be worth it in the end.
6. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
OK, before you judge me too hard, think back to when you were a 16-year-old high schooler and try to tell me Twilight didn't have some sort of impact on you. I'm fairly certain it was everyone's dream to move schools and become the "new girl" with loads of new friends and romances — aka Bella's life. Granted, I knew no matter where I traveled or went to school, vampires would not be involved, but it was still a reminder that moving far away was indeed the path I intended to take.
7. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
I first read this memoir when I was 17 years old, and it easily changed my perspective on every financial hardship, relationship issue, and school problem I was facing at the time. Jeannette Walls' story of growing up — sometimes in a car, sometimes without a parent, sometimes dumpster diving — helped me grow as a person. She didn't have it easy, yet she made a life for herself and was able to forgive her parents in the long run. To me, that's an important lesson to keep in mind.
8. This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen
Before Remy goes off to college, she hopes to enjoy a summer full of flings. But she breaks her own rules when the spontaneous and attractive Dexter enters the picture. The most important takeaway from this story? Just because you're physically leaving people behind, doesn't mean those relationships have to end.
9. Thirst by Christopher Pike
Alisa, the main character of this series, is a total badass. She traveled; she went back in time; she explored a world and religion I'd never been introduced to. These books, while they're simply just fun to read (and yes, also about vampires), gave me more courage than I had before when it came to having confidence in myself and my choices to leave home behind.
10. Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar
My guilty pleasure is Gossip Girl. When I was younger, I loved it for more than the drama and schemes. I loved the setting: New York City. The adoration for the hustle and bustle lifestyle only grew as I read books like these.
11. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
When Anna reluctantly leaves her life in Atlanta behind for a boarding school in Paris, part of me didn't understand how she wasn't completely stoked about it. That's when I first knew the travel bug in me was alive and well. It only got worse as I experienced a foreign city like Paris — brimming with attractive Europeans and delectable treats — through the eyes of Anna.
12. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The Little Prince is a story that I reread again a few times a year. The Little Prince is a brave soul, one who travels far, far away from home and is introduced to many different ways of life. It will always be an extraordinarily important book to me — and to many other travelers, too.
Images: Warner Bros. Television