Books, in particular, travel memoirs, always go well with travel. You can read when you’re on a plane, train, or simply sitting on the beach. Ironically, I haven’t used to read travel books, like most travelers do. I was always reading classics, especially loving Russian and French literature.
I went through Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Guy de Maupassant, Flaubert, and others, but never read a typical travel book per se. Or at least I haven’t considered some a travel book.
Once I joined blogging groups, I realized that travelers are obsessed with reading books that fuel the wanderlust for another destination. Travel books are dominating bestseller lists and being made into star-studded Hollywood films. Fair enough. As a traveler who was also buried in work, last year I decided to make time and read some of best rated female travel memoirs. But the more I read the more confused I become about what exactly is a travel book…
As to my understanding, inspiring travel memoirs should be able to bring the reader into the scene and introduce him to the some of the country’s culture and learn from it.
Here are my honest reviews of the best female-oriented travel memoirs…
1. Travels with Myself and Another by Martha Gellhorn
Martha Gellhorn doesn’t need an introduction, as she’s one of the most respected war journalists and a second wife of Ernest Hemingway. In this memoir she describes her globe-spanning adventures on four ‘horror’ trips, both accompanied and alone. The places she went and persons she met are fascinating.
2. The Taliban Shuffle by Kim Barker
I discovered Barker’s book after Tina Fey’s movie based on it, titled Whisky Tango Foxtrot. To my surprise, the book was totally different than the movie. Probably that’s why many readers got disappointed by the book if they saw the movie first. While the movie is simply hilarious, it doesn’t tell people’s stories that Barker’s told in the book. Instead, it focuses on Kim’s sexual relationships of the author, which in the book hardly happen at all.
The Taliban Shuffle is a memoir of her time working as a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. She's blunt, she's funny and it feels like a report of things a journalist should write in order to make sure the world doesn't ignore what's important, but can't in an official newspaper. If you just don't understand these countries and that whole neighborhood, this is the book for you.
3. Without Reservation by Alice Steinback
A book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist can’t be bad. I’d say it’s a great read for females who never had the courage to travel alone, but certainly, have the curiosity to do so. Her characters seem to be jumping out of places and you might not want to put it down until you finish.
I liked she writes about not only personal triumphs, but also her fears and doubts. I’m sure you’ll love it Without Reservations.
4. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
When I read Vanity Fair back in high school, I didn’t think of it as a travel book. It’s a classic that wonderfully satirical panorama of upper-middle-class life and manners in London at the beginning of the nineteenth century. And while it might seem old-fashioned to some, the story still resonate today.
The book follows a female character who arrives in London and struggles with love and her status, as she tries to fit into the society. It's already a travel book! The story also moves further to Germany and India.
5. The Cat Who Went to Paris by Peter
All right, this isn’t a female travel memoir, but I think it deserves an honorable mention. I didn’t mention this book just because I’m a huge cat lover. But I admit that my affection for furry friends might have influenced my choice to read it at the first place. The Cat Who Went to Paris is the first part of a saga written from a perspective of Norton the cat. I guess it makes it sort of a memoir.
6. Girls Who Travel by Nicole Trilivas
I smiled many times while reading Nicole’s book. Girls Who Travel perfectly points at the absurdity of what some can get hung up on in everyday life, contrasting them with an idea of being often idealistic about traveling to unknown places. Nicole features a girl who just returned home to NYC after backpacking around Asia. Upset, missing her old boyfriend, and with a job she hates, she’s given an opportunity to work as an au pair in London.
I was originally scared that the book was going to be mostly about guys, but the author quickly proved me wrong. The characters are vibrant and I could definitely see it being made into a movie one day. And while this book is less about new places, more about the idea of being a traveler. Plus if you've ever visited London you'll recognize some places mentioned.
7. How Not to Travel the World by Lauren Juliff
If you’ve ever read Lauren’s blog Never Ending Footsteps, you could probably suspect that her book was going to be hilarious. This girl attracts every possible disaster and tells you How Not to Travel the World. Lauren describes her misadventures in a way that any seasoned backpacker can look at and chuckle because they can relate.
Some might say this book is about finding yourself (similar to Eat Pray Love and many others). But I think it's more about not giving up and her horrifying travel experiences.
8. The Lonely War by Nazila Fathi
Another book written by a journalist, but this time an Iranian female describing the struggles of living in modern Iran. While the view of Iran has always been biased by the media, Nazila clears it up.
Don’t expect a funny love story, but more of an informative piece on Iran and how oppressive the Islamic regime is. Also, what it has done to bring many people into the middle class. The Lonely War is incredibly well written.
9. Graduates in Wonderland by Rachel Kapelke & Jessica Pan
Graduates in Wonderland is a good book for recent graduates. Anyone over 30 years old would enjoy it as it would make them nostalgic about their own self-discovery as a recent graduate. It's an easy read with tone is always fresh and authentic.
10. Tracks by Robyn Davidson
If you liked Wild you’re most likely going to enjoy this book as well. Tracks is a memoir of author’s perilous journey across 1,700 miles of hostile Australian desert to the sea with only four camels and a dog.
While it’s a journey of self-discovery and human’s connection with nature, her recollections of her times with Aboriginals and station people were the most interesting to me. And the fact that Robyn is scathingly honest about herself, no matter how off-putting it might be.
11. What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman
It wasn’t the book I thought it was going to be, after every second girl who travels glorified it. I’m still not sure whether I like it or not as it’s definitely a strange one. What I was Doing While You Were Breeding starts with a prolog by an author explaining that she’s not a slut but enjoys men adventures on her travels – what already left me puzzled.
The entire plot is about Kristin going on escapades to have some fun with foreign guys. Sometimes 'dating' two or three at once. When she isn't sharing details about her travels and international boyfriends, she tells the reader about her career as a comedy writer in Hollywood. And while she might be describing everything in a funny way, I kept thinking that it was often too much information for me.
12. Paris was Ours by Penelope Rowlands
Ever wanted to go to Paris? This book is a compilation of essays from different writers. They describe how they were seduced by Paris, and then began to see things differently. Paris was Ours gives an unusual perspective of the romantic city that everyone dreams about.
The essays are funny, sad, informative, but most importantly honest. If you’ve ever been an expat in any country, you’ll enjoy this book!
Have you read any of these books? Which books have I missed? Read my recommendations for Best Travel Movies next.