Every writer knows it’s important to read within your genre.
For me, this is not a reason to read travel memoirs as much as an excuse. I love travel memoirs. I read every one I can get my hands on. And now that I’m writing one, I read them in the name of research.
One of my favorite travel authors is Paul Theroux — I read his most recent book, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star (sequel to The Great Railway Bazaar, pubbed in 1975) while traipsing through Madagascar last year. But what I’m really focusing on now — partly out of interest, partly for research purposes — is travel memoirs written by women, particularly women traveling alone.
This comes in handy for my book proposal, which has a section called “Competitive Books,” where I list already-published titles that will be competition for my book. (Proposal writers take note: It’s also important to explain briefly why your book will be different and better than those titles.)
So what’s on my travel memoir bookshelf?
To help you decide whether to read these yourself, I’ve rated them on a three-star three-asterisk system. Three is best.
- Eat, Pray, Love: One woman’s search for everything across Italy, India and Indonesia: by Elizabeth Gilbert. 2006. Who hasn’t heard of this international best seller? She’s even got a sequel out called Committed, which I’m reading now. ***
- Somebody’s Heart is Burning: A woman wanderer in Africa by Tanya Shaffer. 2003. Her boyfriend in California proposes marriage, so the twenty-seven-year-old author heads for Africa, where she spends most of her time volunteering in Ghana. (Read my interview with Tanya.) ***
- First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria: How A Peace Corps Poster Boy Stole My Heart and a Third-World Adventure Changed My Life by Eve Brown-Waite. 2009. Hilarious memoir by a pampered woman who falls in love with her Peace Corps recruiter and accompanies him to Uganda. She’s only traveling alone for half the book, but it counts! (Read my interview with Eve.) ***
- Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at large in the world by Rita Golden Gelman. 2001. Adventures in Mexico, Indonesia and Bali. A woman in her fifties, newly single, decides to make the nomadic lifestyle permanent. ***
- Without Reservations: The travels of an independent woman by Alice Steinbach. 2002. A middle-aged mother and journalist travels to Paris, Oxford and Milan, trying to learn to take chances. *
- Around the Bloc: My life in Moscow, Beijing and Havana by Stephanie Elizondo Griest. 2004. Humorous coming-of-age memoir. **
- Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone by Mary Morris. 1988. Travels in Latin America. On my to-read list. ***
- East Toward Dawn: A Woman’s Solo Journey Around the World by Nan Watkins. 2002. After the death of her adult son and thirty-year marriage, the author travels across Europe and Asia. On my to-read list.
Have I missed any memoirs written by women traveling alone?
A quick note on how my book will be different and better, as required by my book proposal. As you can see, very few memoirs written by women traveling alone take place in Africa. And most of these authors were older than thirty, while my perspective is that of a woman in her late twenties.
But most importantly (aside from my literary voice, of course), unlike most women’s travel books, my story is not about looking for love nor running away from a failed relationship. It’s about taking a leap in life, following a dream, and how that in itself — even without a man, if you can believe it — is thrilling and satisfying.