Travelling the World: A Woman’s Perspective

Photo: GaudiLab via Shutterstock

For the past nine years, I have been reviewing travel books by women for the website Women on the Road. When I first started, I realized that almost all the travel books I had read until then were by men.

For me, this opened up an entire new world of incredible travelogues by women, many excellent, and easily as good as those by men. In spite of this, most mainstream reviews focus on those by men.

Women on the Road reviews highlight travel books by women. This is a continuation of a list I published in 2018 of some of my favourites.

To break up this long list, I have tried to group them thematically. Links lead to my reviews on Women on the Road.

It was hard to pare down the list to just a few books, and I am sure I have left out many others that I have also enjoyed. Explore the Women on the Road’s review section to find more.

Exploring Home and Searching for Roots

These are books about writers going back to their roots, reclaiming their homelands, or getting to know a new aspect of their home.

To the Lake—A Balkan Journey of War and Peace: Kapka Kassabova
This is a brilliantly written book about Kapka Kassabova’s trip to Lake Ohrid on the Balkan Peninsula, where her family originally comes from. Her journey takes her to North Macedonia, Albania and Greece. Full of history and insight into the people living there, this was one of the best books I read that year.

Two Trees Make a Forest—In Search of My Family’s Past Among Taiwan’s Mountains and Coasts: Jessica L. Lee
Jessica L. Lee’s family is from Taiwan, although she was born in Canada. She visits Taiwan for the first time after her grandfather dies, when she goes there with her mother to visit his grave. Lee decides to return to Taiwan to get to know the country and to try and understand her beloved grandfather.

Winter’s Pasture—One Woman’s Journey with Kazakh Herders: Li Juan (Translated from Chinese by Jack Hargreaves and Yan Yan)
Li Juan, a Chinese writer living in the Altai Mountains goes with Kazakh herders to their winter pasture. A description of a vanishing way of life.

Shalimar—A Story of Place and Migration: Davina Quinlivan
A lyrical exploration of roots that is memoir, travelogue and nature writing. Daniva Quinlivan grew up in the UK, and has Burmese, Indian, Irish, French, German and Scottish heritage. Her Burmese father is central to this story, which is both about her present and her family’s past.

Wanderland—A Search for Magic in the Landscape: Jini Reddy
Trying to connect with her home, Britain, and pull herself out of what she calls her “decade of despair”, Jini Reddy travels around the UK in search of magic places and a connection with nature.

I Belong Here—A Journey Along the Backbone of Britain: Anita Sethi
Anita Sethi is subject to a racist attack by a man on a train in the UK, who tells her to go back to where she came from. But she was born in Manchester and is as British as the man who yells at her. This journey is about Sethi reclaiming her land by hiking the Pennine Way and turning the nasty attack on her into something positive.

Moving Home

Writers move to another country to live and discover the culture and people, or to escape their home country.

Dancing with Cuba—A Memoir of the Revolution: Alma Guillermoprieto
Alma Guillermoprieto spent six months in Cuba in 1970 teaching dance. She arrived in the middle of Fidel Castro’s push to get Cubans to secure bumper harvests. This is an account of what life was like in Cuba during that time.

The Girl with Seven Names: Lee Hyeon-seo (with David Jones)
A story about a woman who manages to leave North Korea and live in China illegally for 10 years before moving to South Korea. It’s a fascinating account of life in North Korea and what it takes for her to rebuild her life.

Bella Tuscany—The Sweet Life in Italy: Frances Mayes
This is Frances Mayes’s love letter to Italy, to Tuscany in particular, where she buys a house. This book is about life in rural Tuscany.

Names for the Sea—Strangers in Iceland: Sarah Moss
A book about Iceland that captures what it is like to live there. Sarah Moss spends a year in the country with her partner and two young children, and explores its culture.

Radio Shangri-La—What I Discovered on My Accidental Journey to the Happiest Kingdom on Earth: Lisa Napoli
Lisa Napoli takes up a job at Kuzoo FM, a radio station in Bhutan aimed at young people, and which operates out of a disused kitchen. It’s a engaging account of a little-known country.

Cities

Books that are specifically about cities.

Flâneuse—Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London: Lauren Elkin
A flâneur is a man with time and money who walks city streets. Lauren Elkin feminizes the concept and writes about her time discovering cities on foot. She also writes about the flâneuses who have gone before her, like writers Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys and Georges Sand, artist Sophie Calle and filmmaker Agnes Varda.

Shadow City—A Woman Walks Kabul: Taran N. Khan
Taran N. Khan, an Indian journalist, made several trips to Kabul between 2006 and 2013. She was told not to walk the streets by herself, advice that she ignored. The result is a book about the real Kabul and its people, not the version portrayed in the media.
Read the Talking About Books interview with Taran N. Khan.

Alone Time—Four Cities, Four Seasons, and the Pleasures of Solitude: Stephanie Rosenbloom
This book is a paean to travelling alone and slowing down. Stephanie Rosenbloom spends two weeks by herself in four cities: spring in Paris, summer in Istanbul, autumn in Florence, and winter in New York.

Non-Stop Metropolis—A New York Atlas: Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Shapiro
I love these books—this is the second in the series that I’ve read. Rebecca Solnit digs deep into a city to uncover its history, and the strange connections that exist there but might not seem obvious, such as harpooning and publishing, or brownstones and basketball. The book comprises commissioned articles that are accompanied by gorgeous maps.

Food and Travel

What more could you want?

One More Croissant for the Road: Felicity Cloake
A perfect travel book for a foodie. Felicity Cloake cycles around France, starting in the northeast and circling her way around the country in search of the perfect croissant. Naturally, she also makes plenty of time to sample the other delicacies available.

On the Noodle Road—From Beijing to Rome with Love and Pasta: Jen Lin-Liu
Jen Lin-Liu sets out to discover where pasta originated, starting with China and going west through Kyrghyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Turkey and ending in Rome, sampling forms of pasta/noodles on her way.

Travelling the World

Journeys that cover the world (or nearly).

Following Nellie Bly—Her Record-Breaking Race Around the World: Rosemary J. Brown
What I really enjoyed about this book was learning about someone I had never heard of. In 1888, Nellie Bly, a journalist in New York, decided to circumnavigate the globe. She wanted to beat Phileas Fogg’s record of 80 days, which she did.
Read the Talking About Books interview with Rosemary J. Brown.

Imagine Wanting Only This: Kristen Radtke
This is the only graphic novel in this collection. Devastated by the death of her beloved uncle from a genetic heart condition which she also inherited, Kristen Radtke loses interest in beauty and instead seeks out the world’s abandoned places.

The Border—A Journey Around Russia: Erika Fatland (translated from Norwegian by Kari Dickson)
Erika Fatland journeys around the countries bordering Russia to find out what it is like to live next door to a large and powerful neighbour. A rich mix of travelogue and history.

Around the World in 80 Trains—A 45,000 Mile Adventure: Monisha Rajesh
Monisha Rajesh loves train travel, one of its attractions being that they bring her closer to people. In a nod to Jules Verne, her first book is about going around India in 80 trains. This time she does it again, going around the world.
Read the Talking About Books interview with Monisha Rajesh.

Narrowing It Down

In-depth travel to a particular place.

Land of the Dawn-Lit Mountains—A Journey Across Arunachal Pradesh: Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent
Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent explores Arunachal Pradesh in northeast India, driving around the state on a small motorcycle. She meets local tribes, navigates dense forests, and visits Tibetan monasteries and national parks. This is a travel writer whose books I look out for.
Read the Talking About Books interview with Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent.

On a Truck Alone, to MacMahon: Nabaneeta Dev Sen (translated from Bengali by Arunava Sinha)
A fun book by a woman who is a force of nature. Nabaneeta Dev Sen is attending a woman’s literary conference in Jorhat, Assam, in 1977, when she decides to visit a Buddhist monastery in Tawang, a remote town without any public transport links. Ignoring all attempts by worried friends to dissuade her, she hitches a ride on a truck.

A Handful of Honey—Away to the Palm Groves of Morocco and Algeria: Annie Hawes
Annie Hawes was briefly imprisoned in a high security prison in Salazar’s Portugal (she never found out why). On her way back, she was shown great kindness by some young men from an oasis town in Algeria. Twenty years later, she travels to Algeria and Morocco to locate their families.

Travels in a Thin Country—A Journey through Chile: Sara Wheeler
Some of my happiest years were spent in Chile as a child, so I could not resist including this. Sara Wheeler starts out in Arica in northern Chile, and works her way through the Atacama Desert down to the southernmost tip, which is close to Antarctica. An enjoyable trip in a fascinating country.

Following a Trail

These writers take us on unusual journeys as they look for tigers, pianos, or radio stations.

Travels with My Radio: Fi Glover
Fi Glover explores the world through radio stations, choosing small stations to visit in various countries, including the UN Peacekeepers radio station in Lebanon.

Tigers in Red Weather: Ruth Padel
Ruth Padel travels around Asia in search of tigers, meeting with conservationists and trying to spot the elusive cat. This is a call to preserve wildlife and wild spaces.

The Lost Pianos of Siberia: Sophy Roberts
A travel book with a difference. Sophy Roberts goes looking for pianos brought to Siberia by exiles over the centuries.

Essays

Essays on travel covering a wide range of subjects.

The Window Seat—Notes from a Life in Motion: Aminatta Forna
This collection is a mix of travelogue, memoirs and essays. Aminatta Forna spent her childhood in several countries—Sierra Leone, UK, Iran, Nigeria and Zambia—and has not stopped travelling since. Her essays include pieces about conflict, the Renaissance generation in Africa, insomnia, and wildlife in cities.

Travelling While Black—Essays from a Life on the Move: Nanjala Nyabola
Nanjala Nyabola, a Kenyan political analyst, writes about people on the move, including migrants, and what it is like to travel as a woman of colour. Her essays are partly about “the ideas that come from dislocation” and focus mainly on Africa, including a piece about Bessie Head, the South African writer who spent half her life in Botswana when she was made stateless.

Read the first blog about women’s travel writing.

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