7 Really Good Travel Books...by girls
Updated: Oct 24, 2019
So, funny thing: I finished the first draft of my favorite travel books list, and Brain whispers to me there’s something wrong with this list. They’re almost all written by men.
Which would have made no sense at all, since Hurry Up, Girl is for girls.
No offense, men; you rock. But a woman’s perspectives on journeys tends to be much different than a man’s, and particularly if the woman is traveling solo.
So now I’m curious. I consult Google for other “top travel books” lists, and what I find is lots and lots of no women.
For example, this list of 20 best travel books from the UK’s The Telegraph includes one – that’s 5% – written by a woman.
This one, featuring 86 travel books chosen by a Conde Nast VIP jury of experts on travel literature, includes eleven women writers (15%). At least CN did better picking the jury: 24% of them were women.
There are plenty of good, and not so good, reasons for this. But today’s a new day, and a woman’s voice often brings a more personal, wondrous perspective. So Brain and I reworked the list a bit.
Soon I'll do a "written by men" list - I mean, Bill Bryson, amIright? - but for now I'm sharing a few of my favorite girls. Hope you like it.
And…what about you? What travel books can’t you do without?
Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World, Rita Goldman Gelman
This one tops my list, forever and always. On Rita’s first foray into her new life as a 48-year-old newly-separated solo traveler (though she didn’t know that was her new life at the time), she found herself renting a one-room shed in a dusty village in Mexico with a massive daddy long-leg nest in the corner of the ceiling. She stayed there for a month. I have often thought, when finding myself in a dodgy situation, Meh, this isn’t as bad as that – just do it.
That’s inspiration in a nutshell: stories that stay with you, encourage you to face your fears, and model a different way of being. Rita sold off everything she owned and continued the journey, connecting with people around the world in a rare and enviable way. Check out Rita’s blog for tips and guidance – she rarely posts, but the background pieces are beautiful.
Eat, Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert
I apologize for being so predictable, but I freaking loved Eat, Pray, Love. Some parts were overwrought (IMHO), some were draggy, but the ability to create a nonfiction book that hung together as beautifully as this one is just genius. The difficulty with non-fiction is, of course, the people you hurt in the telling. There’s real selfishness in the genre. But I have to wonder if maybe the people you help can balance that scale? That would make for a good debate. In the meantime, with over 12 million copies of EPL sold, I’m guessing Liz Gilbert helped a lot of people.
Under the Tuscan Sun, Frances Mayes
If you are reading this post, there is zero chance you’ve not read this book. Frances Mayes, a poet and university professor from San Francisco, created a genre and a movement with this book, as Americans flocked to Tuscany to do what she did: buy and restore - with much local help - an abandoned villa. (Or at least plunk themselves down in front of her house and dream of it.) Her lyrical passages about the sunlight on her stone terrace and buying ripe tomatoes at the farmer’s market made me desperate to do the same.
My Life in France, Julia Child
I didn't really get Julia Child when I was younger. To me, she was just warbling background noise on TV, or a character on Saturday Night Live. Fortunately, the Julie & Julia blog/book/movie phenomenon brought her into clearer focus.
After a trip to the southern Rhone where I met French "mother" sauces, crispy duck confit, and so so many lovely pommes, Mister gifted me a copy of Julia Child’s endearing autobiography about her quirky marriage, her time as a spy, and her many life victories following her education at the Cordon Bleu cooking school. My Life in France is a humorous, tender telling of the life of a very real, remarkable woman.
(If you haven't seen the Julie & Julia movie, do - even if any screen moments not peopled by Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci are wasted. Sorry Amy Adams, but you really didn’t stand a chance.)
BTW, you can read all about what happens after you write a mega best selling book that gets turned into a movie here. Julie Powell's original blog, The Julie/Julia Project, is no longer online.
Married to a Bedouin, Marguerite van Geldermalsen
Kiwi traveler meets Bedouin trinket seller at the entrance to Jordan's ancient city of Petra, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Girl and boy fall in love, marry, and move into boy’s cave, where they raise children and live happily. The description reads like fiction but the story is fabulously true.
An Embarrassment of Mangoes: A Caribbean Interlude, Ann Vanderhoof
One of the many "future lives" I've researched for me and Mister is life on a sailboat. Cruising the Caribbean, sipping Myer's rum with lime at sunset, baking bread in tiny ovens. Ann Vanderhoof does a lovely job breaking out of this oddly crowded niche genre. In their forties, she and he husband quit their jobs, rented out their house, moved onto a 42-foot sailboat called Receta (“recipe,” in Spanish) for two years. That adventure is captured here. You might also like Ann's follow-up book, which continues the travelogue but also focuses more on Caribbean cooking. (I haven't read it yet.)
BTW, there are plenty of fun, free sail-away sites written by adventurers living the life, like this one, and the Cruiser's Forum is packed with wannabes asking all the same questions you're probably asking now.
Last but certainly not least is the annual anthology of short travel tales from some of the most intrepid women travelers around the world.