Best Women’s Travel Books for 2021 to Stimulate Your Curiosity

Last updated on July 22nd, 2021

Our 2021 JourneyWoman book club selections will take you around the world

by Carolyn Ray, JourneyWoman Publisher 

I’m so excited about our book selections for 2021. Reading the submissions that came in from women around the world, I couldn’t help but feel hope, optimism and anticipation for future travel.  

Thank you to the women who sent in their ideas. I can only say “Wow!” We received some amazing recommendations. It was incredibly difficult but we culled it down to six books to start off with. These books are relatively recent, and readily available through independent bookstores, libraries and as downloads.

woman reading book

Women Breaking Boundaries

Our March pick, in honour of  International Women’s Day, is a book that was voted one of Africa’s 100 Best books of the 20th Century – “Nervous Condition” by Tsitsi Dangarembga.  Canadian Kate Harris’ “Land of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road” is about breaking boundaries and the ‘essential longing’ to discover what we are doing here in the universe. All of these are thought-provoking, intelligent and well-researched, taking us to Morocco, Italy, the ‘Stans’, and less known regions of the world.

We especially love that these books are written by women, about women’s experiences, solo travel and feature women from around the world. We hope these books inspire you, touch your soul and shift your perspective. Please look for more details on the books, including where you can purchase the book, discussion questions and information on the experts who will join us on each call. 

With gratitude,

Carolyn and Wendy, your book club co-hosts

January

Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World by Rita Golden Gelman (2002)

Recommended by Kathy

“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

February

The Lady in the Palazzo: At Home in Umbria by Marlena de Blasi (2008)

Recommended by Sandra

With the breathless anticipation that seduced her readers to fall in love with Venice and then Tuscany, Marlena de Blasi now takes us on a new journey as she moves with her husband, Fernando, to Orvieto, a large and ancient city in Italy’s Umbria. Having neither an edge to a sea nor a face to a foreign land, it’s a region less trampled by travelers and, in turn, less accepting of strangers. So de Blasi sets out to establish her niche in this new place and to win over her new neighbors by doing what she does best, cooking her way into their hearts. (Her recipes are included.)

Rich with history and a vivid sense of place, her memoir is by turns romantic and sensual, joyous and celebratory, as she searches for the right balance in this city on the hill, as well as the right home—which turns out to be the former ballroom of a dilapidated sixteenth-century palazzo.

De Blasi meets and makes friends with an array of colorful, memorable characters, including cooks and counts and shepherds and a lone violinist, and their stories, too, become a part of the tapestry of life that she weaves for herself in Orvieto. With a voice full of wonder, she brings to life these engagingly quirky people and the aloof, almost daunting society that exists in Umbria. Not since Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence has a writer so happily succeeded in capturing the essence of a singular place and in creating a feast for readers of all stripes.

Purchase “The Lady in the Palazzo” on Booksamillion, Indigo, amazon.ca or amazon.com.

State of Wonder, Ann Patchett

March

Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga (1988)

Recommended by Wendy

A modern classic in the African literary canon and voted in the Top Ten Africa’s 100 Best Books of the 20th Century, this novel brings to the politics of decolonization theory the energy of women’s rights. An extraordinarily well-crafted work, this book is a work of vision. Through its deft negotiation of race, class, gender and cultural change, it dramatizes the ‘nervousness’ of the ‘postcolonial’ conditions that bedevil us still. In Tambu and the women of her family, we African women see ourselves, whether at home or displaced, doing daily battle with our changing world with a mixture of tenacity, bewilderment and grace.

Purchase “Nervous Conditions” on bookshop.org, Booksamillion, Indigo, amazon.ca or amazon.com.

April

Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road by Kate Harris (2018)

Recommended by Wendy and Thia

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.

From Sand to Sea: A JourneyWoman Experience Just for You! 

We’ve partnered with the Wordy Traveler to offer you a special subscription box that includes three paperback books (or a code for ebook download), a limited-edition fine art print that captures the beauty of travel, and ethically sourced premium tea evocative of the region.

This special box includes are: 

  • Morocco to Timbuktu: An Arabian Adventure by Alice Morrison
  • An Embarrassment of Mangoes: A Caribbean Interlude by Ann Vanderhoof 
  • A House in Corfu by Emma Tennant

You’ll also receive a brand new JourneyWoman luggage tag (made from recycled plastic) and a JourneyWoman safety whistle/keychain. (These aren’t available yet so you are seeing them first!) 

Kindle version here   Paperback version here 

Please put code JWREADS in the coupon section. Items will ship from the US via the USPS.

books in suitcase

May

Morocco to Timbuktu: An Arabian Adventure– Alice Morrison (2017)

Recommended by Wendy and Cindy 

Alice Morrison follows the ancient, lost salt roads from the top of Morocco across the burning sands of the Sahara to find the fabled city itself. This book is a good old-fashioned adventure with death-defying donkeys, a severe case of gold fever and plenty of goat gizzards for dinner. It explores of one of the most dangerous routes in history which brought gold, salt and slaves across the Sahara and up to Europe.

Purchase “Morocco to Timbuktu” on bookshop.org, amazon.ca or amazon.com.

Morocco to Timbuktu book cover

June

An Embarrassment of Mangoes: A Caribbean Interlude – by Ann Vanderhoof (2005)

Under the Tuscan Sun meets the wide-open sea . . . An Embarrassment of Mangoes is a delicious chronicle of leaving the type-A lifestyle behind — and discovering the seductive secrets of life in the Caribbean.

Who hasn’t fantasized about chucking the job, saying goodbye to the rat race, and escaping to some exotic destination in search of sun, sand, and a different way of life? Canadians Ann Vanderhoof and her husband, Steve did just that. In the mid-1990s, they were driven, forty-something professionals who were desperate for a break from their deadline-dominated, career-defined lives. So they quit their jobs, rented out their house, moved onto a 42-foot sailboat called Receta (“recipe,” in Spanish), and set sail for the Caribbean on a two-year voyage of culinary and cultural discovery.

Purchase “An Embarrassment of Mangoes” on Indigo, bookshop.org, amazon.ca or amazon.com.

An Embarrassment of Mangoes
senior woman read a paper book at home

23 Women Whose Travel Memoirs Will Inspire Your Next Journey

There is no shortage of incredible travel memoirs written by women. Here are 23 of our favourite authors, as recommended by our readers.

Read More

July

A House in Corfu by Emma Tennant (2003)

Recommended by Cindy  

The story of an unspoiled island and an English family making a home by the Aegean Sea. In the early 1960s Emma Tennant’s parents, on a cruise, spotted a magical bay and decided to build a house there. This book is the story of that house, Rovinia, set above the bay in Corfu where legend has it Ulysses was shipwrecked and found by Nausicaa, daughter of King Alcinous. It is also the story of the couple who have been at Rovinia since the feast in the grove that followed the roof-raising-Maria, a miraculous cook and the presiding spirit of the house, and her husband, Thodoros-and of the inhabitants of the local village, high on the hill above the bay.

Tennant offers us the delights of quotidian adventures-salt water in the well, roads to nowhere, collapsing walls-all hilariously presented. That the house is still lived in and loved, with new generations coming to understand the delights of Corfu, is a tribute to the people and a special landscape which is distinctly Greek. Full of color and contrast, A House in Corfu shows the huge changes in island life since the time of the Tennants’ arrival, and celebrates, equally, the joy of belonging to a timeless world: the world of vine, olive, and sea.

Purchase “A House in Corfu” on bookshop.org, Indigo, amazon.ca, and amazon.com.

A House in Corfu book cover

Once-in-a-Lifetime Travel Box: Camino de Santiago, Antarctica and Africa 

We’ve partnered with the Wordy Traveler to offer you a special subscription box that includes three paperback books (or a code for ebook download), ethically sourced premium tea evocative of the region, a reading light and a JourneyWoman small recycled plastic luggage tag and red JourneyWoman safety whistle/keychain. This allows you to get all three books at a discounted price with plenty of time to read them in advance!

This special box includes: 

  • The Long Road Home: One Woman’s True Story of Reclaiming Her Life Along the Legendary Camino de Santiago by Alesa Teague 
  •  Our House in Arusha, by Sara Tucker 
  • Magnetic North: Notes from the Arctic Circle by Sara Wheeler 

Kindle version here   Paperback version here 

Please put code JWREADS in the coupon section. Prices do not include shipping. Items will ship from the US via the USPS.

books in a suitcase box

Dear Canadian /International JourneyWomen:  Please note, this product is being shipped from the US and fees are calculated by the USPS. Unfortunately, shipping costs and exchange rates between the US and Canada/Rest of World have risen dramatically in the past few years. As a small business, the Wordy Traveler cannot afford to cover shipping costs, so we fully appreciate that this may not be cost-effective for you right now. However, if you choose to purchase this product, know that you are helping two small businesses, JourneyWoman and the Wordy Traveler, to inspire women’s love of travel through reading.  

August

The Long Road Home: One Woman’s True Story of Reclaiming Her Life Along the Legendary Camino de Santiago by Alesa Teague (2014)

Recommended by Cindy

When Alesa sets off on a 500-mile pilgrimage across Spain known as the Camino de Santiago, she can’t yet fully express why she would undertake such a challenging trek. All she knows is she needs to get far, far away from her pain and everything she knows … an irretrievably broken marriage, a traumatic bout with cancer, a deep river of depression leaving her little desire to even continue living and isolating her further from her beloved teenage daughter. Desperate to reconcile her past and find meaning again, she sells her business and abandons her life for five weeks to walk the Camino with just a backpack and a prayer. Little did she know that something had to die on the journey in order for her to really live again.

Purchase “The Long Road Home” on bookshop.org, amazon.ca, or amazon.com.

For more books on the Camino de Santiago click here! 

An Embarrassment of Mangoes

September

Our House in Arusha (Tanzania) by Sara Tucker

Recommended by Patricia

When an American traveler on her way to Kansas ends up in the Serengeti, her life gets a complete makeover. Within months, she is the wife of a French safari guide and the stepmother of an 11-year-old. The year that follows is a test of courage and resilience as each member of the family struggles to make a place for himself in a tantalizing and dangerous world. Part love story, part adventure saga, Our House in Arusha explores resilience and the meaning of second chances.

Purchase “Our House in Arusha” on bookshop.org, amazon.ca, and amazon.com.

Our House in Arusha book cover

October

The Magnetic North: Notes From The Arctic Circle by Sara Wheeler

A Globe and Mail Best Books of the Year 2011 Title

Recommended by Cindy

More than a decade ago, Sara Wheeler traveled to Antarctica to understand a continent nearly lost to myth and lore. In the widely acclaimed, bestselling Terra Incognita, she chronicled her quest to find a hidden history buried in Antarctica’s extreme surroundings. Now, Wheeler journeys to the opposite pole to create a definitive picture of life on the fringes. In The Magnetic North, she takes full measure of the Arctic: at once the most pristine place on earth and the locus of global warming.

Inspired by the spiraling shape of a reindeer-horn bangle, she travels counterclockwise around the North Pole through the territories belonging to Russia, the United States, Canada, Denmark, Norway, and Finland, marking the transformations of what once seemed an unchangeable landscape. As she witnesses the mounting pollution concentrated at the pole, Wheeler reckons with the illness of the whole organism of the earth.

Smashing through the Arctic Ocean with the crew of a Russian icebreaker, shadowing the endless Trans-Alaska Pipeline with a tough Idaho-born outdoorswoman, herding reindeer with the Lapps, and visiting the haunting, deceptively peaceful lands of the Gulag, Wheeler brings the Arctic’s many contradictions to life. The Magnetic North is an urgent, beautiful book, rich in dramatic description and vivid reporting. It is a singular, deeply personal portrait of a region growing daily in global importance.

Purchase “Magnetic North” on bookshop.org, Indigo, amazon.ca, and amazon.com.

Magnetic North book cover

November

The Cuban Chronicles: A True Tale of Rascals, Rogues, and Romance (2011)  by Wanda St. Hilaire

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 twenty 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 faade 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.

Cuban Cronicles book cover

December

From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home (2019) by 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.

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.

From Scratch Book Cover

Carolyn is the Publisher + Editor-in-Chief of JourneyWoman and a member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) and Travel Media Association of Canada (TMAC). A Canadian raised in South Florida, Carolyn loves all things Spanish, historic destinations and always has her backpack ready to go.

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6 Comments

  1. Nancy Chappell

    2 books to recommend
    Girl,Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo a novel that tells stories of a dozen women of color in contemporary Britain

    Song of the Cuckoo Bird by Amalya Malladi
    A gathering of misfit women and girls who share decades together in an ashram on the Bay of Bengal

    Reply
  2. Patricia Shelley

    12/9/20 Ohmygosh! How did I get lost in layers of this great e-mail and now wish I could go pack a bag, after reading about these great-sounding books!
    May I suggest, Wild Swans, by Jung Chang, (2003), as well as, On Gold Mountain by Lisa See, the history of her family, (author of so many great titles of fiction).
    I now want to read about Marrakech, because I have been there, and Ireland because I have not–yet?
    Thanks so much for this burst of energy in these confining times!

    Reply
  3. Carole Reagle

    Great addition to my reading pleasure!

    Reply
  4. Thia

    I am so pleased that the book I recommended ( Lands of Lost Borders by Kate Harris) has been selected for April’s book club reading. I hope other journey women will enjoy it as much as I did.

    I’d like to recommend A Fork in the Road: Tales of Food and Travel by Anik See. Anik is a traveller, a cyclist – exploring the globe mainly on foot or bike ( often travelling alone) & a food researcher.

    In this book she shares with us her experiences to remote parts of Mexico, Patagonia, & Iran ( among others). Food, & the people she shares it with, are the highlight of her travels, Each story is accompanied with a recipe for a regional dish.

    Her prose is beautiful, her photography breathtaking & the recipes delectable. It’s an oldie (2000) but a goodie 🙂
    Travel memoir meets cookbook … what could be a more perfect pandemic read !

    Reply
  5. Peggy Shelton

    So many books, so little time! Can’t recall who this should be attributed to…it is absolutely true… now we have time we’ve wished for in the past, to read, read, read! One thing to be grateful for in this terrible pandemic is a book. We can travel via your book selections. Great choices!

    Reply
  6. Sally Jane Smith

    My copy of Emma Tennant’s A House in Corfu has arrived and am excited to be joining my first Journeywoman book club this month – and looking forward to some travel nostalgia as I remember my own trip to Corfu in 2017 🙂

    Reply

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