Short Stories About Journeys or Quests: Travel by Train, Bus, Car & More

A character can have a psychological journey—and many of these stories contain one—but generally the selections here will also contain some sort of physical trip.

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The Outcasts of Poker Flat | Bret Harte

In an effort to improve their town, the citizens of Poker Flat expel a group of undesirables from their midst. They set out for the next settlement, making a difficult mountain journey. On the way, they meet up with a couple headed for Poker Flat, who share some provisions and direct them to a cabin to rest.

This is the first story in the preview of Big Book of Best Short Stories: Western.

“At the Fall” by Alec Nevala-Lee

Eunice, a robotic hexapod, is deep under water along with her toroid companion, Wagner. They discover a fallen gray whale. They use it to recharge. Eunice was part of a five member crew that were mapping, analyzing and observing the underwater ecosystem and bringing their data to the surface. Now they’re on a dangerous journey.

This story can be read in the preview of The Year’s Top Hard Science Fiction Stories 4(46% into preview)

“Precious Cargo” by C. H. Hung

The USS Marilyn Barton is a bioship, carrying a large human delegation. One of Marilyn’s rooms is sagging and has turned a sickly yellow. Doctor Thrasher is working to fix the problem. The life of the ship and the passengers are at risk. Normally, a bioship knows what is wrong with it, but the deterioration happened too quickly in this case. Marilyn needs to be healthy enough to get everyone to Aurigae Prime.

This story can be read in the preview of Beyond the Stars: Infinite Expanse. (23% into preview)

A Forward Movement | Louisa May Alcott

Miss Tribulation’s quest to become an army nurse continues as she boards a night-train in New York. Afterward, she reaches a boat in New London. She relates her interactions with other passengers and the difficulties of the trip.

This story can be read in the preview of 100 Great American Short Stories(25% into preview)

Paul’s Case | Willa Cather

Paul gets suspended from his Pittsburgh High School. His father wants him to be a responsible wage-earning family man when he grows up, but Paul is drawn to a life of wealth and glamour, so he decides to go to New York.

Read “Paul’s Case”

Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry | Elizabeth McCracken

Aunt Helen Beck, a woman in her eighties, outspoken and eccentric, travels around to all her relative’s homes to stay for a while.

The Train | Flannery O’Connor

Haze, nineteen, is travelling by train to Taulkinham. The porter reminds him strongly of a man he used to know; he might even be the man’s son. He tries to find a way to talk to him.

Read “The Train”

Falling in Love | Sandra Birdsell

Lureen’s boyfriend leaves her as he’s done several times before. She tries to go back to her family by bus, but misses her connection, and has to walk thirty miles in the heat.

A Worn Path | Eudora Welty

An elderly African-American woman, Phoenix Jackson, walks through the Mississippi forest to get into town. She encounters many obstacles along the way.

Read “A Worn Path” (The Atlantic)

Blue Winds Dancing | Tom Whitecloud

A young Indian-American man, lonely and disillusioned with school, leaves for home to be with his own people again.

Read “Blue Winds Dancing”

The Swimmer | John Cheever

While relaxing at a friend’s pool, an affluent man decides to make his way home by swimming the length of the pools in his neighborhood.

Read here

The Furnished Room | O. Henry

A young man searches boarding houses looking for the woman he loves, a small-town girl trying to break in to show business.

Read “The Furnished Room”

Greyhound People | Alice Adams

The narrator boards a greyhound express bus to San Francisco with the feeling that she’s in the wrong place. On the way, a man angrily demands her seat, a woman tells a boy to be quiet and the boy’s mother confronts her, she listens to conversations, and has other interactions.

The Ultimate Safari | Nadine Gordimer

The narrator, a young girl, tells us that her mother and father left one day and never came back. Her village has been targeted by bandits who have taken everything. Fearing for their lives, the girl and her extended family set out on a long and difficult trek through South Africa to a refugee camp.

What I Have Been Doing Lately | Jamaica Kincaid

An unidentified and unnamed narrator answers the door but doesn’t find anyone there. After having a look around, the narrator goes on a dreamlike walk.

Read “What I Have Been Doing Lately”

The Artificial Nigger | Flannery O’Connor

Mr. Head takes his ten-year-old grandson, Nelson, on a train trip into the city. He wants to teach Nelson that the city isn’t a great place, so he will be content to live his life in the country.

Read here (PDF Pg. 129)

Stalking | Joyce Carol Oates

A thirteen-year-old girl, Gretchen, is pursuing her Invisible Adversary through the suburbs. She follows it through fields and across roads, and eventually into a shopping center.

Tears of Autumn | Yoshiko Uchida

Hana Omiya is on a ship going from Japan to the United States. She is seasick and nervous; she has some regret about the trip. She’s going to America to marry a man she has never met.

The Ugliest Pilgrim | Doris Betts

Violet Karl is traveling to Tulsa, Oklahoma to get healed by a televangelist—she was struck by an axe head as a child which disfigured her face. As she travels by bus, she meets several people who react to her in different ways.

The Facts of Life | Somerset Maugham

Nicky Garnet is a well liked young man who’s never given his parents any trouble. An opportunity arises for him to play in a tennis tournament in Monte Carlo. Nicky’s father doesn’t want him to go unsupervised.

Read “The Facts of Life”

The Hiltons’ Holiday | Sarah Orne Jewett

After a long day of hard work, John Hilton talks to his wife about their lives and daughters. He has the idea of taking his daughters on a small trip so they can see the world off the farm.

Read here

The Blue Jar | Isak Dinesen

A rich Englishman who only cares about collecting rare China is sailing with his daughter when the ship catches fire. His daughter is left behind in the confusion. She is rescued by a young sailor, and they float in the lifeboat for nine days before being picked up.

“The Blue Jar”

By the Waters of Babylon | Stephen Vincent Benet

The narrator, a young man, is the son of a priest, and will one day be a priest himself. The people are forbidden to go east to the Dead Places, or to cross the river to the Place of the Gods, except for a priest. There is another more primitive group called the Forest People. He sets out to the east on a journey.

Read “By the Waters of Babylon”

The Sun-Dog Trail | Jack London

Sitka Charley is relaxing after a day on the Alaskan trail. He and the narrator start talking about a painting, which reminds Sitka of an arduous journey he once made. When he was a letter carrier on Lake Linderman, a young woman hired him to take her to Dawson. Then she hires him to travel with her. She is desperately looking for something but doesn’t tell him what.

Read “The Sun-Dog Trail”

The Other Side of the Hedge | E. M. Forster

A man stops to rest on the side of the road. He is passed by some people, and also thinks of his brother whom he left behind. He notices a small opening in the hedge that lines the road. He pushes his way through it.

Read “The Other Side of the Hedge”

Wild Honey | Horacio Quiroga

Gabriel Benincasa, an accountant, feels a need to leave city life for a while to test himself in the jungle. His godfather warns him that he won’t last in the jungle and tries to look out for him.

Read “Wild Honey”

The Town of Cats | Hagiwara Sakutaro

The narrator used to take many drug-induced voyages. They had a bad effect on his health. He starts taking long walks, ending up in an unfamiliar, charming town. He relates one such walk he took while staying at a resort.

Identities | W. D. Valgardson

Moved by childhood memories, a man leaves his own affluent neighborhood and goes exploring. He ends up in a seedy area. He can’t blend in because he’s driving a Mercedes.

Read “Identities”

The Greatest Thing in the World | Norman Mailer

Al Groot, a young adult, enters a lunch wagon and tries to get a deal on a doughnut and coffee. He has been walking and hitch-hiking, trying to get to Chicago. When three men come in for a meal, Al tries to get a ride with them.

Read “The Greatest Thing in the World”

The Wisdom of the Trail | Jack London

Sitka Charley is an Indian who has left his own people to learn the white man’s sense of honor and the law. He’s a member of a traveling party led by Captain Effingwell. Only Sitka and the Captain are armed. Sitka warns two other Indians with their crew to carry out their duties properly.

Read “The Wisdom of the Trail”

Bitter Grounds | Neil Gaiman

The narrator is dead in every way that counts. He starts driving. He throws away his cell phone and withdraws all the money he can. After staying over at a motel, he meets a man in the lobby who’s waiting for a cab. He offers the man a ride.

Read “Bitter Grounds”

The White Silence | Jack London

Mason, Ruth (his wife), and the Malamute Kid are on the Yukon trail, low on food, with a long trip in front of them. They know they will have to eat some of the dogs. They reach a high bank that proves difficult for the weakened dogs to climb.

Read “The White Silence”

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains | Neil Gaiman

The narrator, an unusually small man, is looking for a cave on the Misty Isle. He wants to hire Calum MacInnes as a guide. MacInnes is reluctant to go because of the legends about those who take gold from the cave. It is a long journey.

Read “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains”

Passage | Kevin Jared Hosein

The narrator was drinking at a pub, The Tricky Jester. One of the regulars, Stew, told a story of when he hiked El Tucuche. He claims to have come across a house in the middle of the mountain, and to have seen a young woman there. The narrator works for the Forestry Division, and knows the wilderness well. He has doubts about Stew’s story. He decides to check for himself.

Read “Passage”

The Road from Colonus | E. M. Forster

Mr. Lucas is getting old—slowing down and losing interest in things. A forty year dream of his has been to go to Greece, and now he’s there. While traveling with his party on muleback, he pulls ahead of them and arrives at a small inn. It’s surrounded by plane trees, including one that is hollowed out and hanging over it, with water flowing from it. Mr. Lucas is struck by the scene.

Read “The Road from Colonus”

Rock Springs | Richard Ford

Earl is getting out of Montana—he’s had trouble with the law and with women. He leaves in a stolen car with his girlfriend, Edna, and his daughter, Cheryl. He hopes for a new start, but he seems to attract trouble.

Read “Rock Springs” (Pg. 48)