Books that will delight, make you think, and yearn to travel.
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to solo travel, to travel while Black, or to live in Sweden as a person of color? Those are just a few of the topics explored in the fascinating titles below. Also delved into are the many joys of Italy, life lessons after the pandemic, and how to take a point-to-point civil rights history tour of our southern United States.
As you will see, few authors have approached these subjects from quite the same angles or with the matching accuracy and delight as these marvelous writers. The books are bound to augment your end-of-the-year reading lists. They will also work as gift ideas for friends or even yourself. So, enjoy, and happy traveling.
Top Picks for You
'Catch Me if You Can' by Jessica Nabongo
In October 2019, Nabongo, a travel writer and photographer, completed a journey as the first Black woman on record to travel to 195 countries around the world. In this lively and captivating memoir, she reveals her top 100 global experiences from that tremendous undertaking, which begins in Detroit, Michigan, where Nabongo was born.
From Motor City, the author takes us everywhere, from dog sledding in Norway and swimming with humpback whales in Tonga to sunbathing in Venezuela and hanging out in Cuba’s Old Havana. One of the key insights Nabongo gathered from her excursions was that “neither race, gender, social class, religion, sexual orientation…nor nationality makes you better than the next person.”
'In Every Mirror She's Black' by Lọlá Ákínmádé Åkerström
In this nuanced and often funny novel, Åkerström delves into the lives of three Black women in America and Sweden: Muna is a Somali immigrant who dreams of becoming an accountant, despite the loss of her entire family and her being a janitor in an office building; Kemi, whose dating life “reads like a dossier of shame,” is a Nigerian-American who works in a marketing firm; and Brittany-Rae is a beautiful ex-model and Black American flight attendant who catches the eye of a Swedish multi-millionaire.
The author laudably explores the challenges that this trio of smart and resolute women sometimes have to face in Swedish society. Åkerström also expertly brings food into her pages, such as those succulent-sounding “freshly baked brioche buns” at a Washington, D.C., restaurant or a woman enjoying “pan-fried root vegetables and broccoli rabe” in the first-class section of a plane.
'Be the One You Need: 21 Life Lessons I Learned While Taking Care of Everyone but Me' by Sophia A. Nelson
Nelson, an award-winning writer and leadership trainer, offers nearly two-dozen “life lessons” that she has learned in these often perplexing, post-pandemic times. In her splendid introduction, Nelson speaks about the importance of self-care and how it makes us happier and better spouses, employers, lovers, and neighbors.
Some of her advice is run-of-the-mill (“Control Your Anger Before It Controls You”), but others, such as “Trust Your Intuition—It is Rarely Wrong” and “Protect Your Peace—It is the Passport to Your Soul” are practical and insightful. Nelson reads the audio version of this book herself, and it is especially engaging. The Virginia local writes for The Huffington Post and Newsweek and appears regularly on MSNBC.
'Traveling Black: A Story of Race and Resistance' by Mia Bay
Bay gives us an insightful history of travel segregation for Black people from the late 19th century to the 1960s. Segregation was a shameful aspect of American history and Bay’s research shows how there were those rare individuals and businesses (whether in Vermont, South Carolina, or Alabama) who treated Black travelers with normalcy and even compassion.
You’ll come away from Bay’s book with the realization that for every Rosa Parks, who courageously refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama bus in 1955, there were countless and unknown Black men and women in segregated America who lived and traveled with determination, resistance, and dignity. The author is the Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Professor of American History at the University of Pennsylvania.
'Traveling Freedom's Road: A Guide to Exploring Our Civil Rights History' by John J Hanrahan
In this 500-plus page work, Hanrahan delivers a superb guide to visiting numerous historic Civil Rights sites throughout the southern United States. Though massive and multi-layered, the book reads conversationally, as Hanrahm gives us encyclopedic, five-state loop tours from Atlanta, Georgia (the birthplace and burial place to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) to Selma, Alabama, with its “Bloody Sunday” church bombing on March 7, 1965.
Additionally covered are less-known but no less important places such as Daytona Beach, Florida, which was the home of philosopher Howard Thurman, educator McLeod Mcthune, and baseball legend Jackie Robinson. Parents will undoubtedly want to check out the section near the beginning of the book on “Preparing Children and Teens” for the journey. Hanrahan and his wife, Lisa, are retired and live in Charlottesville, Virginia.
'I'm a Pretty Little Black Girl Traveling 'Round the World' by Azalea Jordan
Jordan is a young entrepreneur and traveler. She wrote this book because she “wanted to show people how fun traveling can be.” Indeed, she is simply amazed that some people “never leave their city.” It is little wonder that Jordan has travel fever—her parents got her her first passport when she was eight weeks old!
The book’s 70-pages have easy-to-read laid outs, with plenty of pictures and informative captions of each locale (“the grapefruit originated on Barbados” and Cattewatch Beach, which is also on the island, is “known for its healing properties”). Some of the other places that the intrepid young Jordan has journeyed to include South Africa; Amsterdam, Netherlands; Okinawa, Japan; Dubai; and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Here are Jordan’s two favorite things about airplanes: “personal television screens and the food.”
'Traveling While Black' by Roobens Fils
This is an intriguing book on traveling as a person of color. Fils (who lives in France) points to the possible hidden messages behind such questions as “What country are you really from?” or “How long will you be staying?” Are concerns always warranted in those situations? As a frequent Black traveler, I can attest that such questions from the locals are—more often than not—for information, not menace.
Still, it pays to be alert to your intuition and surroundings, whatever your train ticket or passport takes you. Fortunately, the book is a mostly positive one, with plenty of anecdotes and humor. Regarding the latter, a Black acquaintance once told Fils that he would never go to China because “they are all racists over there.” Fils quickly and marvelously replied, “Are you serious!? We are talking about a country of 1.5 billion inhabitants, 15 times bigger than France!”
'Solo Travel: Try It at Least Once' by Marilene Shane
This is an excellent, step-by-step guide to solo traveling, especially if you are not white, a woman, and heading to an international location. Shane covers everything from selecting a destination and the financial aspects of your trip to what to look for when you arrive and (yes!) how to address those inevitable moments of loneliness.
The author has traveled to over 25 countries over the past four years, with 11 being solo trips—which Shane prefers because “I am completely in control of what I do.” She provides awesome tips for ensuring your safety, which should always be a concern when doing any global explorations. Shane is an international school leader, author, and speaker based in Dubai, United Emirates.
'The Black Girl's Guide to Living, Loving & Traveling Abroad' by Candice Adewole
While sitting at a cafe in Paris and drinking wine at 3 p.m. in the afternoon, Adewole, who’s from California, felt that she had “found her place in the world.” She also journeyed to, among other places, Madrid and Barcelona, Spain. She felt the same kind of peace in both locales. She then knew that “living in America just wasn’t cutting for me anymore.” With the help of an immigration attorney, Adewole promptly arranged for extended stays in Barcelona and Rome, Italy.
In this delightfully informative book, the author tells you how to do many of the very same things that she accomplished. Adewole provides cool travel hacks, shows you how to travel with children, clues you in on “where the fellas” are, and gives you practical information on what to do “when life happens abroad.”