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5 Travelogues that Will Leave You Itching with Wanderlust

July 19, 2009

Books1. Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman

This work by Rita Golden Gelman, children’s book writer and world traveler, was my introduction to the category known as the travelogue and one that changed my outlook on the then frightening idea of solo female travel.  Scouring the pages, I saw the strength and undying spirit of every young girl full of romantic notions come alive in this woman.  Not to say that her journey was in anyway easy or that it played out as the traditional fairytale, but I realized this was someone who knew what she wanted and needed out of life and had the courage to pursue it.  In a time when many women dismiss their dreams as girlish fantasies and feel that true adventure is best left to the men, this book elicited a challenge.  After the disintegration of her over 20-year marriage, Rita Golden Gelman embarks on a decades-long adventure around the world as what she terms a “real-life nomad”.  Instead of traveling for short stints from location to exotic location, she decides to live among the people whose country she is visiting.  She gets to know them: their routines, their traditions, their families.  What begins as a stay in a Zapotec village in Mexico transforms into a trip to the Galapagos Islands…then Israel…then Thailand…and Indonesia.  Of course, like any good travelogue, the book chronicles the development of the narrator as much as the locales visited.  Golden Gelman, like many before her and many after, learns on the road who she is outside of marriage, motherhood, and nationality.  Most inspiring about this book is that she crosses cultural barriers, reveals insights into other cultures, and most importantly, reminds us of the essential universalities found in all of humanity. (Link to her blog)

2. My French Life by Vicki Archer

Who wouldn’t want to buy a historic farmhouse in France, remodel it, and live out one’s days smelling the lavendar of the gardens and eating fresh-picked olives from one’s own orchard?  Vicki Archer is an Australian born writer who splits her time between London and St. Remy de Provence, France.  My French Life tells the story of how she and her husband bought and restored a farmhouse in rural Provence and began a new life in France.  This is the ultimate coffee-table book for lovers of France.  The pages are stocked full of luscious color photographs of the interior renovation of their farmhouse, the surrounding olive orchards and gardens, and weekend escapes to Paris.  Unlike many travelogues, this book is not the traditional “find your new self in a foreign country”.  It is for someone who loves interior design, fashion, photography, and a good story sprinkled in between.  I’m still waiting for my invitation to Mas de Berard (hint hint). (Link to her blog)

3. The Caliph’s House: A Year in Casablanca by Tahir Shah

The Caliph’s House offers a deliciously descriptive narrative of a Londoner and his family’s hassles, hardships, and harassments experienced while trying to renovate an old palatial compound deemed “The Caliph’s House”.  This is not a the typical cheery travelogue that from page 1 makes you want to run straight to the airport bound for the romantic locale described within.  Don’t be mistaken, Shah’s descriptions are fascinating, creeping the line of orientalizing, but they are also terrifying.  Shah doesn’t sugarcoat the entire experience of moving to a foreign country.  He includes the stories of the dishonest contractors, not-so-charmingly eccentric undertakers, and battering experiences of the crowded market streets.  Allowing the not-so-idealistic characteristics of Casablanca and the entire process of remodeling a historic house to have their place in the story creates a space where the reality of a cross-cultural exchange can come to the forefront.  In a time when we are taught we should appreciate and respect diversity and the beauty of each individual culture, Shah demonstrates how hard this can be.  We feel his struggles, frustrations, and annoyances, and in the end, like him, experience the deeper understanding that is only possible through living in and battling with a place until finally coming to the conclusion that, even at its worst, you wouldn’t trade living in this incredibly exciting and frustrating place for anything.  If you are looking for a nontraditional travelogue that will push you, this is it.

4. A Woman’s Passion for Travel by various

This is an anthology of short stories by women travelers.  Most of those featured are professional writers.  They range greatly in age, profession, and marital status.  Important about this work isn’t so much the stories or the places but the underlying theme of the deeply adventurous nature of the female spirit.  So many women feel pigeonholed as wives and mothers, and this work gives a much needed perspective of women as adventurers with an unquenchable thirst for travel.  The individual stories, which range from amusing to serious and exhilarating to terrifying, show the good, bad, and ugly sides of female travel.  A great book to read while on the road.

5. River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler

Peter Hessler served as a Peace Corps volunteer in rural China for two years in the late 90s.  This work is his memoirs of the experience, which contains chronological chapters narrating his activities interposed with short richly detailed chapters describing small aspects of the experience from a third-person perspective.  Like The Caliph’s House, what makes this work magical is Hessler’s lack of apprehension in including the negative aspects of life abroad.  He continually references the hardships of living in rural China, ranging from initial boredom to threatening confrontations with the locals.  However, at the end of his adventure, he comes out extremely knowledgeable about and sensitive towards Chinese culture, and you too feel you have grown and adopted a more open mentality by reading. 

I hope you enjoy these 5 travelogues as much as I did!  Have a favorite travelogue?  List it in the comments and tell me how it inspired you!

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. July 23, 2009 4:41 pm

    Eat, Pray, Love gave me a serious case of wanderlust – particularly when she was in Italy. Speaking of…I also recommend The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt (the same guy who wrote “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”).

    • Ashley Bruckbauer permalink
      July 23, 2009 7:15 pm

      Surprisingly, I still haven’t read “Eat, Pray, Love”. I need to add that to my always expanding list; many have said it is wonderful!

  2. July 26, 2009 10:44 am

    I just read First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria — and it was hilarious!

    • Ashley Bruckbauer permalink
      July 26, 2009 2:33 pm

      Just looked it up and it looks excellent! Will definitely be adding this one to my list!

  3. July 26, 2009 6:26 pm

    A book that gave me a serious case of wanderlust was rolf potts, vagabonding the art of long term travel. A really great book about the pychology behind long term travel and why we do it.

    • Ashley Bruckbauer permalink
      July 26, 2009 10:37 pm

      Several travellers have mentioned Potts! I look forward to reading and being inspired!

  4. August 6, 2009 6:46 pm

    thanks very much for posting this!

    • Ashley Bruckbauer permalink
      August 7, 2009 10:06 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it!

  5. October 30, 2010 1:17 am

    You you should make changes to the page name title 5 Travelogues that Will Leave You Itching with Wanderlust La Vie en China? to more better for your content you make. I liked the blog post yet.

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