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

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.  We’re starting 2001 with “Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World.” This book immediately resonated with me – Rita Golden Gelman sells all of her possessions (as I did) and travels the world (as I want to!) to follow her dream of connecting with people in cultures around the world.

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.

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.

We especially love that these books are written by women, about women’s experiences, solo travel and feature women of colour. 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

woman reading book

 January

Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World (2002) 

by Rita Golden Gelman
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. 

February

The Lady in the Palazzo: At Home in Umbria (2008)

by Marlena de Blasi 
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.

State of Wonder, Ann Patchett

March

Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga
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.

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.

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.

June

An Embarrassment of Mangoes: A Caribbean Interludeby 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.

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.

August 

To come 

Carolyn Ray

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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5 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. Avatar

    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. Avatar

    Great addition to my reading pleasure!

    Reply
  4. Avatar

    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. Avatar

    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

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