Best Women’s Travel Books for 2021: We’ve Made our Selections!

Announcing our 2021 Book Club Selections!

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

More details on the books below will be provided closer to the date.

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

Adventures in Morocco: From the Souks to the Sahara – Alice Morrison (2019)
Recommended by Wendy

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.

June

Song of the Cuckoo Bird (2005)
Recommended by Nancy

A sweeping epic set in southern India, where a group of outcasts create a family while holding tight to their dreams.

Barely a month after she is promised in marriage, eleven-year-old orphan Kokila comes to Tella Meda, an ashram by the Bay of Bengal. Once there, she makes a courageous yet foolish choice that alters the fabric of her life: Instead of becoming a wife and mother, youthful passion drives Kokila to remain at the ashram.

Through the years, Kokila revisits her decision as she struggles to make her mark in a country where untethered souls like hers merely slip through the cracks. But standing by her conviction, she makes a home in Tella Meda alongside other strong yet deeply flawed women. Sometimes they are her friends, sometimes they are her enemies, but always they are her family.

Like Isabel Allende, Amulya Malladi crafts complex characters in deeply atmospheric settings that transport readers through different eras, locales, and sensibilities. Careening from the 1940s to the present day, Song of the Cuckoo Bird chronicles India’s tumultuous history as generations of a makeshift family seek comfort and joy in unlikely places–and from unlikely hearts.

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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4 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

    Great addition to my reading pleasure!

    Reply
  3. 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
  4. 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

We always strive to use real photos from our own adventures, provided by the guest writer or from our personal travels. However, in some cases, due to photo quality, we must use stock photography. If you have any questions about the photography please let us know.

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