Books for women who want to travel the world alone
No, Eat Pray Love is not on the list, OK?
Generally speaking travel writing is dominated by men. The Jack Kerouacs and Hemingways and Steinbecks of the world, so girls don’t get much of a look-in. But if you’ve spent most of 2016 planning for an escape from an annus horribilis to the new year new you of 2017, and if that planning includes finding yourself somewhere, and if the world “wanderlust” makes you cringe and if you didn’t like Eat Pray Love, then read this list instead.
Wild – Cheryl Strayed
By 26 Cheryl Strayed is already a bit of a fuck up. She’s just divorced her husband, she’s lost her mum to cancer and she’s started using heroin. But tired of moping about the state of her psyche she distracts herself by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, from Mexico to Oregon, completely alone, with no hiking experience whatsoever and while wearing the wrong size boots.
Also a really great film with Reese Witherspoon.
Somebody’s Heart is Burning: A Woman Wanderer – Tanya Shaffer
If running away from shit and towards enlightenment is your travel-writing theme of choice then this is for you. “It’s my life and I can run away from it if I want to” Shaffer writes. She leaves comfortable domesticity to spend a formative year volunteering in Ghana instead, building schools and hospitals in remote villages. Yeah, and what have you ever done?
Full Tilt, Ireland to India with a Bicycle – Dervla Murphy
Traditionally you don’t think of Irish people and think of hot countries or being active. We’re pale and we drink too much and that makes this story of an Irish woman’s solo trip from Ireland to India (through nine different countries) on a bicycle in the thirties all the more impressive – although to be honest it’s pretty impressive as a feat in itself.
The Nomad, The Diaries of Isabelle Eberheart
Isabelle Eberheart died at 27 in 1904, but she’s still more of a badass than most people you’ll meet today. She published short stories under a male pseudonym before going ‘fuck it’ and escaping to North Africa where she dressed as a man, converted to Islam and generally travelled around doing whatever she wanted, and what she wouldn’t be allowed to do as a woman at the time. These are her stories (they’re pretty great).
A Woman Alone: Travel Tales Throughout the Globe – Faith Conlon
The downsides of books if you’re travelling: they’re heavy. So this one is pretty great, practicality speaking, because it compresses 29 stories from other women who have travelled the world alone altogether.
Gorge – Kara Richardson Whiteley
Hiking Kilimanjaro is, in itself, no mean feat, right? Fair. Imagine hiking it three times. Imagine when you hiked it you weighed 300lbs. That’s what Kara Richardson Whiteley did. She wanted to show that you don’t have to be a tanned Instagram-worthy waif to travel the world, and you don’t have to wait until you’re smaller, better, or more ready to do it.
A Journey of One’s Own – Thalia Zapatos
A lot of these books are memoirs about personal experiences travelling, but Thalia Zapatos is about the pros and cons of going it alone and the existential state of being a traveller (if that’s what you’re into). So if the trials and tribulations of other women who have gone before you aren’t exactly inspiring you as much as terrifying you then let this calm, measured, practical advice be your Bible instead.
A Field Guide to Getting Lost – Rebecca Solnit
Keeping away from the first person memoir vibe is this collection of nine short essays from Rebecca Solnit. Rather than being a grounded, day to day account of what happens as a woman out on the road, they’re pretty abstract, so if you don’t want to read a full chapter on Vertigo or the colour Blue, this isn’t for you. If you do though, meander through them and feel enlightened without having to drop any money on a flight anywhere.
Tracks – Robyn Davidson
Aged 27 Robyn Davidson decided ‘fuck it’ and set off for a 1,700 journey through the Australian outback. Then, with no intention of ever writing about it, she embraced a nomadic lifestyle, travelling through the deserts of western Australia with only her dog and four camels as companions, which literally sounds like the dream. It’s so iconic it’s inspired songs and a 2013 film with that girl from Alice in Wonderland.