Last updated on March 8th, 2023
Featured image: Woman relaxing and reading a book on couch by @5m3photos on twenty20
Travel the world through the eyes of these women
The allure of travel for self-discovery, for adventure, for work and for pleasure grants us the privileged opportunity to expand our understanding of the world we share. Travel feeds our imagination, enriches our vocabulary, validates our values and enlists our contribution to protect the physical and emotional benefits that discovery yields.
It’s no surprise that there is an overabundance of travel memoirs. The question is: how do you choose? We asked our readers to share their best selections, and while some, like Dervla Murphy, Mary Morris, Dame Freya Stark and Cheryl Strayed might already be on your list, I made some new discoveries courtesy of our JourneyWoman book club members that might pique your interest and stimulate new adventures.
1. Dervla Murphy
Born in Ireland in 1931, Murphy is an Irish touring cyclist and author of adventure travel books for over 40 years. She is best known for her 1965 book Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle, about an overland cycling trip through Europe, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.
The Island that Dared: Journeys in Cuba (2009)
“The Island That Dared” is a passionate book from the pen of Dervla Murphy, which begins with a three-generational family holiday in Cuba. Led by their redoubtable hard-walking grandmother, the trio of young girls and their mother soon find themselves camping out on empty beaches beneath the stars with only crabs and mosquitoes for company. This pure Swallows and Amazons experience confirms Dervla in her quest to understand the unique society that has been created by the Cuban Revolution.
Purchase “The Island that Dared” on bookshop.org, amazon.ca or amazon.com.
Eight Feet in the Andes: Travels with a Mule from Ecuador to Cuzco (1983)
Ecuador to Peru
The eight feet belong to Dervla Murphy, her nine-year-old daughter Rachel and Juana, an elegant mule, who together clambered the length of Peru, from Cajamarca on the border with Ecuador, to Cuzco, the ancient Inca capital, over 1300 miles to the south. With only the most basic necessities to sustain them and spending most of their time above 10,000 feet, their journey was marked by extreme discomfort, occasional danger and even the temporary loss of Juana over a precipice. Yet mother and daughter, a formidable duo, were unflagging in their sympathetic response to the perilous beauty and impoverished people of the Andes.
Purchase “Eight Feet in the Andes” on Indigo, amazon.ca or amazon.com.
2. Freya Stark
Freya Stark, in full Dame Freya Madeline Stark (1893 – 1993) was a British travel writer who is noted for two dozen highly personal books in which she describes local history and culture as well as everyday life. Many of her trips were to remote areas in Turkey and the Middle East where few Europeans, particularly women, had traveled before.
3. Mary Morris
Mary Morris (born May 14, 1947 in Chicago) is an American author and a professor at Sarah Lawrence College. Morris published her first book, a collection of short stories, entitled Vanishing Animals & Other Stories, in 1979 at the age of thirty-two and was awarded the Rome Prize in Literature by the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.
Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of A Woman Traveling Alone (1998)
Guatemala, Honduras and Northern Mexico
I picked this book up some 20yrs ago and it’s been my “Bible”. I still carry a copy when I travel and read it for inspiration. I doubt the author knows the effect this little paperback had on my life. It tells the story of a woman traveling alone in Guatemala, Honduras and Northern Mexico – from Mexico City to San Miguel De Allende (where I now live) and the things she goes though throughout her travels – her words inspired me to take more risks and new adventures. I loaned my copy to a friend and never got it back, as the book is no longer in print, it took me years of hunting through used bookstores to find a new copy – actually became an adventure to find the book again. Today it’s the first thing I pack and when I am having a bad day I take it out and read it again.
Purchase “Nothing to Declare” on amazon.ca or amazon.com.
All the Way to the Tigers (2020)
Published 2020, this covers two journeys in one: Morris’ recovery from a devastating injury and her subsequent trip to India in search of tigers. Morris offers both inspiration and insight in this beautifully written book.
Purchase “All the Way to the Tigers” on bookshop.org, Booksamillion, Indigo, amazon.ca or amazon.com.
4. Lynsey Addario
Lynsey Addario (born November 13, 1973) is an American photojournalist. Her work often focuses on conflicts and human rights issues, especially the role of women in traditional societies.
It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War (2008)
Afghanistan, Congo and Libya
“An unflinching memoir . . . [that] offers insight into international events and the challenges faced by the journalists who capture them.” —The Washington Post
War photographer Lynsey Addario’s memoir is the story of how the relentless pursuit of truth, in virtually every major theater of war in the twenty-first century, has shaped her life. What she does, with clarity, beauty, and candor, is to document, often in their most extreme moments, the complex lives of others. It’s her work, but it’s much more than that: it’s her singular calling.
Purchase “It’s What I Do” (book or audiobook) on bookshop.org, Booksamillion, Indigo, Audiobooks.com, amazon.ca or amazon.com.
5. Sylvia Fraser
Sylvia Fraser is a Canadian novelist, journalist and travel writer. Her first novel, Pandora, appeared in 1972. In The Rope in the Water: A Pilgrimmage to India (2001), she documents her quest for enlightenment in a continent teeming with humanity; and in The Green Labyrinth: Exploring the Mysteries of the Amazon (2003), she investigates the Peruvian rainforest and the hallucinatory properties of ayahuasca.
The Rope in the Water: A Pilgrimage to India (2001)
At Kovalam beach on India’s southwestern shore I plunge into the Arabian Sea, the same soft temperature as the air…Looking shoreward, I see lifeguards gesturing. Since I’m much further than I imagined, I begin a determined swim toward them…The lifeguards continue to blast and gesture, but I’m powerless against the riptide irresistibly sweeping me out to sea. Though my situation appears hopeless, I’m about to undergo the most remarkable and mysterious event of my life….” So begins The Rope in the Water, the story of Sylvia Fraser’s three-month pilgrimage to India in search of “something larger than myself, something deeper, something more.”
Travelling 12,000 kilometers across deserts and through jungles, Fraser visits sacred sites such as the twilight city of Varanasi on the Ganges, dense with the smoke of hundreds of funeral pyres; north to the glittering Golden Temple of the Sikhs; up Mount Abu where she stays with a Hindu sect called the Brahma Kumaris; south to a Buddhist retreat where she meditates eleven hours a day for ten days while observing a vow of silence; and to the Kovalam beach where her life is saved by a miracle.
Purchase “A Rope in the Water” on amazon.ca or amazon.com.
6. Samantha Wood
Samantha began her writing career with a travel piece for the Qantas In-Flight magazine. From then on, she travelled extensively between Mexico and Australia before writing the memoir, Culua: My Other Life in Mexico.
Culua: My Other Life in Mexico (2017)
One of Samantha Wood’s earliest childhood memories is of her grandfather giving her a wobbly rubber map of Mexico that pulled apart like a jigsaw puzzle. He told her of the nomadic Culua-Mexica, who built a great empire in the valley of Mexico and became known as the Aztecs. Suddenly, the wanderers were a people with a new identity, a home…
Like her ancestors, Samantha yearns to find a place she can call home. Raised on the enticing glimpses of a dark and magical land conjured up by her Mexican mother’s bedtime stories – a land oozing Latin rhythms, full of passion and fire, from bullfights to family feuds and bloody revolutions, roasted iguana and beans, to sugar skeletons – what begins as a visit to her enigmatic grandmother becomes a quest to find out what it means to be Mexican.
But as she learns to embrace Mexico verdadero – the real Mexico – she discovers a people who give a new meaning to larger than life, the fabulous strong women who rule the roost, the colourful macho men who think they do, and the invincible bonds between family, food, and the spirit world.
Purchase “Culua: My Other Life in Mexico” on amazon.ca or amazon.com.
7. Hadani Ditmars
Author, journalist, and photographer Hadani Ditmars has reported from Lebanon, Israel/Palestine, and Iraq, often examining the human costs of sectarian strife as well as cultural resistance to war, occupation and embargo.
Dancing in the No-Fly Zone: A Journey in Iraq (2005)
When Hadani Ditmars first went to Iraq in 1997 for the New York Times, she was shocked at what she saw. Six years of the worst sanctions ever inflicted on a modern nation had brought the people to their knees. Yet there was so much more to the “cradle of civilization” than misery and suffering. In the midst of despair she found art, beauty, architecture, music. She discovered orchestras who played impassioned symphonies on wrecked instruments, playwrights who pushed the limits of censorship, artists who spent their last dinars on paint and canvas, families who still celebrated weddings by dancing to maqam-traditional love songs.
Ditmars travelled to Iraq again and again, reporting on every aspect of life. In September 2003, she returned to Baghdad to find the people she had met over the years and see what had become of them since the U.S. “liberation.” Dancing In The No-Fly Zone is the story of that trip, interwoven with tales from her earlier visits and of the people she met along the way: actors and artists, mercenaries and businessmen, street kids and sufis, even the “king in waiting.” It includes a visit to Abu Ghraib prison, in which Ditmars is given a tour of the Saddam-era execution chamber by the U.S. general who was later dismissed after the abuse scandal broke.
Purchase “Dancing in the No-Fly Zone” on bookshop.org, amazon.ca or amazon.com.
Travelling the World Through Dance: How Aliénor Salmon Found Happiness by Taking the First Step
In Finding Rhythm: An International Dance Journey, Aliénor Salmon embarks on a dance journey around the world, discovering how beautiful life can be when you take the first step.
8. Mary Settle
Mary Lee Settle (July 29, 1918 – September 27, 2005) was an American writer. She won the 1978 National Book Award for her novel Blood Tie. She was a founder of the annual PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.
Turkish Reflections: A Biography of a Place (1991)
Mary Settle offers us an intimate portrait of a Turkey rarely seen-a land where the cutting of a tree is a crime, where goats are sacrificed to launch state-of-the-art ships, and where whole towns emerge at dusk to stroll in the streets. She finds ancient monasteries converted into discos, underground cities carved out of rock, and sleek jet-set yachts alongside camels piled high with copper pots. She follows in the footsteps of emperors and nomads, sultans and shepherds; explores the trails blazed by Alexander the Great, Tamerlane, Genghis Khan, and Ataturk. “Turkish Reflections” is a cross-country odyssey into history, legend, mystery, and myth.
Purchase “Turkish Reflections” on bookshop.org, Booksamillion, Indigo, amazon.ca or amazon.com.
9. Kathryn Harrison
Kathryn Harrison is the author of the novels ‘The Binding Chair’, ‘Exposure’, ‘A Thousand Orange Trees’ and ‘Envy’, as well as two volumes of memoirs, ‘The Kiss’ and ‘Seeking Rapture’, all available from Fourth Estate. She lives in New York with her husband, the novelist Colin Harrison, and their children.
The Road to Santiago (2003)
Santiago de Camino
Displaying her “real talent for conjuring far-flung times and places,” Kathryn Harrison tells the mesmerizing story of her 200-mile pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. In the spring of 1999, Kathryn Harrison set out to walk the centuries-old pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela.
“Not a vacation, ” she calls it, “but a time out of time.” With a heavy pack, no hotel reservations, and little Spanish, she wanted an experience that would be both physically and psychically demanding. No pain, no gain, she thought, and she had some important things to contemplate. But the pilgrim road was spattered with violets and punctuated by medieval churches and alpine views, and, despite the exhaustion, aching knees, and brutal sun, she was unexpectedly flooded with joy and gratitude for life’s gifts. “Why do I like this road?” she writes. “Why do I love it? What can be the comfort of understanding my footprint as just one among the millions? … While I’m walking I feel myself alive, feel my small life burning brightly.”
Throughout this deeply personal and revealing memoir of her journey, first made alone and later in the company of her daughter, Harrison blends striking images of the route and her fellow pilgrims with reflections on the redemptive power of pilgrimages, mortality, family, the nature of endurance, the past and future, the mystery of friendship. The Road to Santiago is an exquisitely written, courageous, and irresistible portrait of a personal pilgrimage in search of a broader understanding of life and self.
Purchase “The Road to Santiago” on amazon.ca or amazon.com.
10. Dina Bennett
Dina Bennett was born in Manhattan. In 1998 she abandoned corporate life for a hay and cattle ranch. Since then she has untangled herself from barbed wire just long enough to get into even worse trouble in old cars on over 100,000 miles of far-off roads. She resides in France.
Peking to Paris (2013)
Chine to Paris
In May 2007, leaving China’s Great Wall is Car 84, one of 128 antique autos racing in the Peking to Paris Motor Challenge. It’s guided by one Dina Bennett, the world’s least likely navigator: a daydreamer prone to carsickness, riddled with self-doubt, and married to a thrill-seeking perfectionist who is half-human, half – racecar. What could possibly go wrong?
Funny, self-deprecating, and marred by only a few acts of great fortitude, Peking to Paris is first and foremost a voyage of transformation. The reader is swept on a wild, emotional ride, with romance and adversity, torment and triumph. Starting in Beijing, Dina and her husband, Bernard, limp across the Gobi, Siberia, Baltic States, and south to Paris in a 1940 Cadillac LaSalle, while Dina nurses the absurd hope that she can turn herself into a person of courage and patience.
Writing for every woman who’s ever doubted herself and any man who’s wondered what the woman traveling with him is thinking, Dina brings the reader with her as she deftly sidesteps rock-throwing Mongolians and locks horns with Russians left over from the Interpol era—not to mention getting a sandstorm facial and racing rabbits on a curvy country road. Come along for the ride with a dashboard diva!
Purchase “Peking to Paris” on bookshop.org, Indigo, amazon.ca or amazon.com.
11. Barbara Grizzuti Harrison
Barbara Grizzuti Harrison (1934 – 2002) was an American journalist, essayist and memoirist. She is best known for her autobiographical work, particularly her account of growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness, and for her travel writing.
Italian Days (1998)
Italian Days is one of the richest and most absorbing travel books ever written a journey down the Italian peninsula that immerses us in the inexhaustible plenty of that culture and the equally bountiful intelligence and sensibility of its author.
Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, noted essayist, journalist, and fiction writer, brings us a fascinating mixture of history, politics, folklore, food, architecture, arts, and literature, studded with local anecdotes and personal reflections. From modern, fashionable Milan; to beautiful, historic Rome with its modern traffic and, even today, its sudden displays of faith; to primitive, brooding Calabria, Barbara Grizzuti Harrison reveals in all its glory and confusion her Italy, the country of her origins, where the keys to her past are held by those who never left.
Beautifully and eloquently rendered, Italian Days is a deeply engaging travelogue, but it is much more as well. It is the story of a return home” of friends, family, and faith” and of the search for the good life that propels all of us on our journeys wherever we are.
Purchase “Italian Days” on bookshop.org, Indigo, amazon.ca or amazon.com.
12. Sally Gable
Sally Gable, author of Palladian Days and a church music director by training, has served on the boards of Radcliffe College, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and other educational and musical organizations. She divides her time between Atlanta and Villa Cornaro in Italy.
Palladian Days: Finding New Life in a Venetian Country House (2006)
“Palladian Days is nothing short of wonderful–part adventure, mystery, history, diary, and even cookbook. The Gables’ lively account captures the excitement of their acquisition and restoration of one of the greatest houses in Italy. Beguiled by Palladio and the town of Piombino Dese, they trace the history of the Villa Cornaro and their absorption of Italian life. Bravo!” –Susan R. Stein, Gilder Curator and Vice President of Museum Programs, Monticello
In 1552, in the countryside outside Venice, the great Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio built Villa Cornaro. In 1989, Sally and Carl Gable became its bemused new owners. Called by Town & Country one of the ten most influential buildings in the world, the villa is the centerpiece of the Gables’ enchanting journey into the life of a place that transformed their own. From the villa’s history and its architectural pleasures, to the lives of its former inhabitants, to the charms of the little town that surrounds it, this loving account brings generosity, humor, and a sense of discovery to the story of small-town Italy and its larger national history.
Purchase “Palladian Days” is (book or audiobook) on bookshop.org, audiobooks.com, Indigo, amazon.ca or amazon.com.
13. Georgeanne Brennan
Georgeanne Brennan is an award-winning author, journalist and entrepreneur who is nationally recognized for her work. Her expertise ranges from gastronomy, history, travel and food lore to gardening and farming. In 2014 she launched her online store, La Vie Rustic – Sustainable Living in the French Style, www.lavierustic.com which reflects her long-time love affair with France and especially Provence, where she has a home.
A Pig in Provence: Good Food and Simple Pleasures in the South of France (2008)
From the publisher of Under the Tuscan Sun comes another extraordinary memoir of a woman embarking on a new life this time in the South of France. Thirty years ago, James Beard Award-winning author Georgeanne Brennan set out to realize the dream of a peaceful, rural existence en Provence. She and her husband, with their young daughter in tow, bought a small farmhouse with a little land, and a few goats and pigs and so began a life-affirming journey. Filled with delicious recipes and local colour, this evocative and passionate memoir describes her life cooking and living in the Provenal tradition. An entrancing tale that will whet the appetite and the spirit. Perfect for foodies, Francophiles, or anyone who’s dreamed of packing their bags and buying a ticket to the good life.
Purchase “A Pig in Provence” on bookshop.org, Booksamillion, amazon.ca or amazon.com.
14. Tembi Locke
Tembekile “Tembi” Locke is an American actress who has appeared in television shows and film. She is best known as Dr. Grace Monroe on Syfy’s series Eureka and as Dr. Diana Davis in Sliders and has appeared in such shows as The Mentalist, Castle and Bones. Locke’s memoir, From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily and Finding Home is about her transracial romance with her Italian husband and her grief after his untimely death.
From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home (2019)
A poignant and transporting cross-cultural love story set against the lush backdrop of the Sicilian countryside, where one woman discovers the healing powers of food, family, and unexpected grace in her darkest hour.
It was love at first sight when Tembi met professional chef, Saro, on a street in Florence. There was just one problem: Saro’s traditional Sicilian family did not approve of him marrying a black American woman, an actress no less. However, the couple, heartbroken but undeterred, forges on. They build a happy life in Los Angeles, with fulfilling careers, deep friendships and the love of their lives: a baby girl they adopt at birth. Eventually, they reconcile with Saro’s family just as he faces a formidable cancer that will consume all their dreams.
In Sicily, it is said that every story begins with a marriage or a death—in Tembi Locke’s case, it is both. Her story is about loss, but it’s really about love found. Her story is about travel, but it’s really about finding a home. It is about food, but it’s really about chasing flavor as an act of remembrance. From Scratch is for anyone who has dared to reach for big love, fought for what mattered most, and needed a powerful reminder that life is…delicious.
Purchase “From Scratch” (book or audiobook) on bookshop.org, Booksamillion, audiobooks.com, Indigo, amazon.ca or amazon.com.
15. Rita Golden Gelman
Rita Golden Gelman is the author of more than seventy children”s books, including Inside Nicaragua, which was one of the ALA”s Best Young Adult Books of 1988, and More Spaghetti, I Say!, a staple in every first grade classroom. As a nomad, Rita has no permanent address. Her most recent encampments have been in Mexico and New York City.
Now 80 years old, she spent 30 years of her later life without a permanent residence. Rita has literally traveled around the world – living in often rural places in Mexico, Indonesia, Africa, Laos, Thailand, Guatemala, Colombia, India, Tanzania and more. Trained in Anthropology at UCLA, Rita mostly lived with families, immersing herself in local culture as much as possible.
Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World (2001)
Mexico, Bali, Southeast Asia
“I move throughout the world without a plan, guided by instinct, connecting through trust, and constantly watching for serendipitous opportunities.” —From the Preface
Tales of a Female Nomad is the story of Rita Golden Gelman, an ordinary woman who is living an extraordinary existence. At the age of forty-eight, on the verge of a divorce, Rita left an elegant life in L.A. to follow her dream of connecting with people in cultures all over the world. In 1986 she sold her possessions and became a nomad, living in a Zapotec village in Mexico, sleeping with sea lions on the Galapagos Islands, and residing everywhere from thatched huts to regal palaces. She has observed orangutans in the rain forest of Borneo, visited trance healers and dens of black magic, and cooked with women on fires all over the world. Rita’s example encourages us all to dust off our dreams and rediscover the joy, the exuberance, and the hidden spirit that so many of us bury when we become adults.
Purchase “Tales of a Female Nomad” (book and audiobook) on bookshop.org, Booksamillion, Indigo, audiobooks.com, amazon.ca or amazon.com.
16. Kate Harris
As a teenager, Kate Harris realized that the career she most craved–that of a generalist explorer, equal parts swashbuckler and philosopher–had gone extinct. From her small-town home in Ontario, it seemed as if Marco Polo, Magellan and their like had long ago mapped the whole earth. So she vowed to become a scientist and go to Mars.
To pass the time before she could launch into outer space, Kate set off by bicycle down a short section of the fabled Silk Road with her childhood friend Mel Yule, then settled down to study at Oxford and MIT. Eventually the truth dawned on her: an explorer, in any day and age, is by definition the kind of person who refuses to live between the lines. And Harris had soared most fully out of bounds right here on Earth, travelling a bygone trading route on her bicycle. So she quit the laboratory and hit the Silk Road again with Mel, this time determined to bike it from the beginning to end.
Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road (2018)
In between studying at Oxford and MIT, Harris set off by bicycle down the fabled Silk Road with her childhood friend Mel. Pedaling mile upon mile in some of the remotest places on earth, she realized that an explorer, in any day and age, is the kind of person who refuses to live between the lines. Forget charting maps, naming peaks: what she yearned for was the feeling of soaring completely out of bounds. The farther she traveled, the closer she came to a world as wild as she felt within.
Lands of Lost Borders, winner of the 2018 Banff Adventure Travel Award and a 2018 Nautilus Award, is the chronicle of Harris’s odyssey and an exploration of the importance of breaking the boundaries we set ourselves; an examination of the stories borders tell, and the restrictions they place on nature and humanity; and a meditation on the existential need to explore—the essential longing to discover what in the universe we are doing here.
Purchase “Lands of Lost Borders” (book and audiobook) on bookshop.org, Indigo, Booksamillion, audiobooks.com, amazon.ca or amazon.com.
17. Alice Morrison
Dina Bennett was born in Manhattan. In 1998 she abandoned corporate life for a hay and cattle ranch. Since then she has untangled herself from barbed wire just long enough to get into even worse trouble in old cars on over 100,000 miles of far-off roads. She resides in France.
Adventures in Morocco: From the Souks to the Sahara (2019)
When Alice Morrison headed out to Morocco, it was to take on one of the most daunting challenges: to run in the famous Marathon des Sables. Little did she expect to end up living there. But once she settled in a flat in Marrakech, she was won over by the people, the spectacular scenery and the ancient alleyways of the souks. Soon she was hiking over the Atlas mountains, joining nomads to sample their timeless way of life as they crossed the Sahara desert, and finding peace in a tranquil oasis.
Morocco to Timbuktu: An Arabian Adventure (2017)
Alice Morrison sets out on a journey from Morocco to the ancient city of Timbuktu to learn about the region’s rich history and culture.
Purchase “Morocco to Timbuktu” on bookshop.org, amazon.ca or amazon.com.
18. Erika Fatland
Erika Fatland was born in 1983 and studied Social Anthropology at the University of Oslo. Her 2011 book, The Village of Angels, was an in situ report on the Beslan terror attacks of 2004 and she is also the author of The Year Without Summer, describing the harrowing year that followed the massacre on Utoya in 2011. She speaks eight languages and lives in Oslo with her husband.
Sovietistan: Travels in Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan (2020)
Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan
An unforgettable journey through Central Asia, one of the most mysterious and history-laden regions of the world. Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan became free of the Soviet Union in 1991. But though they are new to modern statehood, this is a region rich in ancient history, culture, and landscapes unlike anywhere else in the world. Traveling alone, Erika Fatland is a true adventurer in every sense. In Sovietistan, she takes the reader on a compassionate and insightful journey to explore how their Soviet heritage has influenced these countries, with governments experimenting with both democracy and dictatorships.
“Besides getting some basic knowledge about these five countries I knew nothing about, I gained very specific information about their differences (they are all quite different!), and the different ways they still relate to their former occupying power, Russia. I also liked that, as a woman, Erika Fatland got the stories I was looking for: how were women faring in countries where most men migrate elsewhere to send home money, what’s being done about “bride snatching” in Kyrgyzstan, how are women, living out on the open plains, or struggling with poverty and traditions that do not benefit them, making a life in these newly established countries in regions with thousands of years of history and tradition? I haven’t been able to put this book down!
Purchase “Sovietstan” on bookshop.org, Booksamillion, amazon.ca or amazon.com.
19. Wanda St. Hilaire
Wanda St. Hilaire is a three-time breast cancer survivor with a predilection for research and a passion for delving into the psychology of wellness.
After a second diagnosis in 2010, she made lifestyle changes that contributed to her healing and supported her philosophy that our lives are meant to be lived doing what we love in places that make our hearts sing.
Through writing, St. Hilaire shares what she’s learned through the high peaks of adventure and love and from the dark valleys of illness and heartbreak. Her mission is to help people overcome the self and tap into their wise inner guidance system. Her wish is to inspire others to live true to their unique and beautiful nature.
The Cuban Chronicles: A True Tale of Rascals, Rogues, and Romance (2011)
In the infancy of Cuba’s tourism, Wanda St. Hilaire takes a trip to the tiny island. In spite of her love of all things Latin, she puts herself on a travel ban to Castro’s Cuba, one that lasts 20 years. When she is forced to cancel a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico at the last minute, she finds herself in Cuba twice, on back-to-back trips. Walking into the backstreets of Havana, eyes wide open, she finds herself pulled into a dalliance with a charismatic cubano.
Underneath the facade of Cuba’s tourism lies the desperation of a society living mostly in abject poverty. When tourists mingle with locals, we get a glimpse of what underlies the frivolity of Cuban entanglements. St. Hilaire speaks with an authentic voice and doesn’t mince words; she recounts her own activities, emotions and opinions with refreshing honesty.
With each solo adventure, the author reaches a deeper understanding of human nature and the world. At the same time, she conducts a journey of self-discovery, learning about her own entrenched beliefs, biases and blemishes.
Purchase “The Cuban Chronicles” on bookshop.org, Indigo, amazon.ca or amazon.com.
20. Anne Mustoe
Anne Mustoe (1933 –2009) was an English schoolteacher, a touring cyclist, author of travel books and former headmistress of Saint Felix School, Southwold, Suffolk. She fell ill and died in a hospital in Aleppo, Syria in 2009.
12,000 miles Around the World: A Bike Ride (1992)
When ex-headmistress Anne Mustoe gave up her job, bought a bike and took to the road, she couldn’t even mend a puncture. 12,000 miles and 15 months later, she was home.
Her epic solo journey took her around the world, through Europe, India, the Far East and the United States. From Thessaloniki to Uttar Pradesh, from Chumphon to Singapore, she faced downpours, blizzards and blistering deserts, political turmoil and amorous waiters – alternated with great kindness from strangers along the way.
A Bike Ride is the first in the series of Anne Mustoe’s successful and inspiring travelogues.
Purchase “A Bike Ride” on amazon.ca or amazon.com.
21. Cheryl Strayed
Cheryl Strayed is an American memoirist, born on September 17, 1968 in Spangler, Pennsylvania. She is a novelist, essayist and podcast host. The author of four books, her writing has been published widely in anthologies and major magazines.
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (2013)
At 22, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and she would do it alone. Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.
Purchase “Wild” (book or audiobook) on bookshop.org, Booksamillion, amazon.ca or amazon.com.
22. Donna Leon
Donna Leon is the American author of a series of crime novels set in Venice, Italy, featuring the fictional hero Commissario Guido Brunetti. In 2003, she received the Corine Literature Prize.
My Venice and Other Essays (2013)
Donna Leon has won a huge number of passionate fans and a tremendous amount of critical acclaim for her international bestselling mystery series featuring Venetian Commissario Guido Brunetti. These accolades have built up not just for her intricate plots and gripping narratives, but for her insight into the culture, politics, family-life, and history of Venice, one of the world’s most-treasured cities, and Leon’s home for over thirty years. Readers love how Leon opens the doors to a private Venice, beyond the reach of the millions of international tourists who delight in the city’s canals, food, and art every year.
My Venice and Other Essays will be a treat for Leon’s many fans, as well as for lovers of Italy and La Serenissima. For many years, Leon, who is a perennial #1 bestseller in Germany, has written essays for European publications. Collected here are the best of these: over 50 funny, charming, passionate, and insightful essays that range from battles over garbage in the canals to the troubles with rehabbing Venetian real estate. She shares episodes from her life in Venice, explores her love of opera, and recounts tales from in and around her country house in the mountains. With pointed observations and humor, she also explores her family history and former life in New Jersey, and the idea of the Italian man.
Purchase “My Venice and Other Essays” on bookshop.org, Booksamillion, Indigo, amazon.ca or amazon.com.
23. Jane Christmas
Jane Christmas is a Canadian travel writer, who was a shortlisted nominee for the Stephen Leacock Award and the Word Awards in 2014 for her memoir And Then There Were Nuns. She has published five books of what has been categorised as travel writing but of which she prefers to call journey memoir.
What the Psychic Told the Pilgrim: A Midlife Misadventure on Spain’s Camino de Santiago de Compostela (2007)
Who knew that a bottle of wine, an airline steward, and a rash of goosebumps would direct me to a 780-kilometre trek across Spain, despite the fact I had never backpacked or laced up hiking boots? I believe that every physical journey we take has a metaphysical one (or six) going on inside us simultaneously; for me, that year, those side journeys included healing a broken heart, grappling with the politics of female friendships, and trying not to be a whining middle-aged woman. Then, in the midst of it all, something wonderfully unexpected sprang up, and altered my universe. Never underestimate the power of goosebumps, but if it ends up involving 14 other women don’t say you weren’t warned.
Purchase “What the Psychic Told the Pilgrim” (book or audiobook) on bookshop.org, Indigo, audiobooks.com, amazon.ca or amazon.com.
Great selection!!! Am planning to read several.
Thank you, I’ve read some and am looking forward to reading many more.
Glad you picked so many that I recommended! I have written down all the books I don’t have for future reading. Looking forward to more Book Club meetings and hearing which books are selected for the second half of the year.
An amazing selection to add to my must read list. Thank you for this.
I was very excited to see that Pig in Provence, by my friend and High School classmate, Georgeanne Brennan, was listed among the travel books by women in this article! It’s one of my favorites and the included recipes make it extra special. I’ve read a few others on the list and am just now finishing Lands of Lost Borders, by Kate Harris. Her writing is superb! Though I have no desire to try her type of journey, it is a joy to read. Thanks for a great selection that has added several new books to my must read list.
For readers looking for a travel tale about newlyweds in 1972 living in a VW van for 2 years while traveling across 4 continents, my memoir, Wherever the Road Leads, A Memoir of Love, Travel, and a Van, was awarded a silver medal from Independant Book Publishers Assoc. in the travel literature category.
Intriguing selection. Well done!
Thank you, a brilliant selection. I have just purchased five off Ebay!
Wow! What a list of writers , inspiring tales allows me to reminisce as I won’t be able to travel much for next few years, this is the reason I joined journeywomen and was priviliged to meet Evelyn Hannon z”l on one of her visits to Israel i read CITY OF JOY many years ago before a trip to India and have travelled extensively until 7 years ago when last i visited Monaco, and Cote d’zur in France as a gift for my 50th a year after a trip with my young son back to Australia where I grew up.Unfortunately now i will rarely be able to travel but might catch a book or two. Thank you.
You had me at Dervla Murphy! Thank you for curating this edible list, Carolyn. I nodded along with your picks from Kate Harris to Jane Christmas and have made note of a few new ones that slipped through my bookshelf cracks! I’d add everything by Alexandra Fuller, Kuki Gallmann’s I Dreamed of Africa, Carol Drinkwater’s The Olive Farm, Sara Dykman’s Bicycling with Butterflies and French Milk by Lucy Knisley.
Thank you for the exciting selection of boks by new faces – although l have read Dervla Murphy’s The Ukimwi Road – from Kenya to Zimbabwe – set around the 1990s – an amazing read.
I’m Kenyan – so it was interesting to read from another traveller’s perspective.
Erika Fatland’s other travel book, “The Border”, tells of her visiting every country whose border touches Russia–as well as visiting the Arctic Sea, Russia’s longest “border”. It’s a great read from a really fabulous author!
Thank you for putting together such an inspiring list! Always searching for my next read, a number of these are now on my list to hunt down and add to my collection of travel writers.
Great list, Any you can add for 2021 to present?