As I said 3 weeks ago when I did the memoir recommendations, I read so many memoirs that that I pretty much had to break it into regular and travel-related memoirs.
Even as a little girl who had never seen more of the world than the rural part of Massachusetts I grew up in and various parts of Maine where we either lived in or visited relatives in, I dreamt big. I devoured books like “A Little Princess” and longed for a garret of my very own (yes, I was a weird little kid, why do you ask?), and wished for the moors of “The Secret Garden.” I fantasized about growing up and seeing the skyscrapers of New York City, just like in the movies (Curly Sue comes to mind, as does Annie). I never did camp. Hell, for me, going to mall just over the New Hampshire border (yup-Pheasant Lane) was exotic.
I got on my first airplane when I was 20 for a short term abroad in the south of France, and I later found out that the two professors in the French department had placed bets on whether or not I’d actually get on the plane. I guess I asked a few too many nervous questions. I went to Boston for the first time in high school. I saw New York for the first time in high school on a drive to DC to compete in the Future Business Leaders of American–stop laughing–as the winner of the Massachusetts Public Speaking event, but they didn’t let us out. The first time I got to walk the streets of New York, I was 22.
So I led a very sheltered early life, and dreamt of travel. Luckily, travel is also Ravi’s drug of choice. Together we’ve traveled to 8 other countries on three continents-Canada, Scotland, England, France, Switzerland, India, Singapore (and on Monday Thailand). In the US we’ve been to 17 states.
But I still dream big. So I read travelogues. (Plus, I’m a wimp and can read about things I’d never in a million years actually do). As always, links are to US Amazon.
I’m going to skip Eat, Pray, Love. Yes, it’s good, but if you want to read it, you already have. If you haven’t, nothing I say is going to convince you to. Ditto A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson-it’s so well known (and dear lord but in the US “hiking the Appalachian Trail” will never sound the same again) you’ve either read it or not. Ditto Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific by J. Maarten Troost which Barnes and Noble and Borders made a point of shoving in my face every time I stepped into the travelogues section-if you’re into this stuff, you’ve already read it.
The Collections The first few recommendations I have are by multiple authors and while not every story is awesome, the vast majority are.
How to fit a car seat on a camel and other misadventures traveling with kids edited by Sarah Franklin. As a parent whose 21 month old has logged more travel in her life than I managed in the first 25 years of my life, this was kind of a no-brainer to read. Why I decided to torture myself with a book clearly labeled “misadventures” before taking my infant on a plane for the first time, I still have no clue. But there are so many great stories of travel with babies, toddlers, kids and teens here. In “The Devil Wears Pull-Ups”, Stephanie Sylverne recounts a road trip taken with her friend (also a single mom) and their 3 girls under 8. In “From Absinthe to Zeitgeist,” Adrienne St. John-Delacroix shares the international adventures with her 17 year old and said 17 year old’s 100 pound bag of things that couldn’t be left behind on their trip. “Four Babies, Two Sisters, and a Breast Pump” is the misadventure of getting the quads home via train after being born early at a hospital states away from home because of the high risk pregnancy needs of their mom. If you’ve ever wondered exactly how insane Ravi and I are…this book may tell you. Or it may convince you to travel more with yours…after all, the best stories are the ones where your toddler threw up on you on the plane and spent 3 hours in an airline blanket (that they didn’t want back) while you were shivering in a vomit covered shirt, having forgotten the cardinal rule of 2 changes for baby and one for the parents–or maybe that’s just me. It’s the flight I remember far better than the ones that went smoothly…after all, where’s the story in that?
Not so funny when it happened: The best of travel humor and misadventure edited by Tim Cahill. Considering the all-star lineup of authors (Dave Barry, Bill Bryson, and Anne Lamott among many others), it’s hardly shocking that this book is laugh out loud funny. “Hold onto your lunch” is also recounted in Elliott Hester’s book, but who doesn’t want to read the story of being puked on from the flight attendant’s point of view? “Penny Pinched” warns those going to Thailand (*ahem*) what happens when you don’t negotiate your fare in advance with a cab driver. “The Elephant that Roared” is an entertaining look at national stereotypes within a game.
Queen of the Road: The True Tale of 47 States, 22,000 Miles, 200 Shoes, 2 Cats, 1 Poodle, a Husband, and a Bus with a Will of Its Own by Doreen Orion. What happens when two married pyschiatrists (Orion says her husband is the better one as he convinced her to do the trip) spend a year traveling on a remodeled bus? Hysterically funny stories from Alaska to Florida. Getting stuck in the mud. A cousin “runned over by the tractor!” And a self-admitted jewish princess who might not be as interested in shoes as she was at the start of the trip.
No Touch Monkey and Other Travel Lessons Learned too Late by Ayun Halliday. If telling you that she has to explain what tampons are to soldiers in Kashmir, and that she gets screamed at by a madam in the red-light district of Amsterdam aren’t enough to make you want to read this book, you are dead inside.
Dork Whore: My travels through Asia as a twenty-year-old pseudo-virgin by Iris Bahr. Bahr has just finished up her mandatory stint in the Israeli army and does what everyone else who has just finished their mandatory stint in the Israeli army does–she decides to backpack through Asia. But Bahr has a secret mission–she is going to lose her virginity, damnit! Too bad circumstances and the men involved just don’t seem to work out. So what’s a girl to do?
Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure by Sarah MacDonald. I really can’t improve on the back flap copy of the book, so I’ll excerpt that and just add that I love this book. “In her twenties, journalist Sarah Macdonald backpacked around India with a lasting impression of heat, pollution and poverty. So when an airport beggar read her palm and told her she would return to India-and for love-she screamed, “Never!” and gave the country, and him, the finger. But eleven years later, the prophecy comes true. When the love of Sarah’s life is posted to India, she quits her dream job to move to the most polluted city on earth, New Delhi….
With Karma Sutra Under My Arm: My Madcap Misadventures Across India by Trisha Bernard. While every fact stated may not be exactly right (there are way more Muslims in India than 10 million, Trisha), I think that Trisha and her friend Sally’s (and Sally’s giant suitcase from hell’s) adventures in India are hysterical. Because what else would you do if you boyfriend dumped you but travel to India and consult the Kama Sutra for advice on how to find and keep your next lover (and how to train a hawk to send him/her letters)?
The Lost Girls: Three Friends, Four Continents, One Unconventional Detour Around the World by Jennifer Baggett, Holly C Corbett, and Amanda Pressner. Approaching 30 and all unhappy with the state of their lives, Holly, Amanda and Jen quit their jobs, tell their boyfriends to wait for them or not as they choose and start a one year around the world adventure. This new book is only in hardcover, although it’s reasonably priced for Kindles (the format I read it in), so get it from your library. I really love the idea of this sort of adventure but 2 of my 3 closest girlfriends also have kids so there’s no way we’d ever do this sort of thing at this point in our lives, so it was fun to read their stories in their alternating voices. How their relationships with their boyfriends changed. How their friendships grew or grew strained. And if nothing else, after reading their description of it, I’m dying to hike the Incan trail and watch the sun rise over Machu Pichu now.
Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Sarah Jane Gilman. I knew Gilman from her hysterically funny memoir “Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress” (didn’t make my other list by accident…totally worth a read) so I picked this one up in hardcover. Far more sober, this is the story of two kids who’d never even left the US and in 1986, just after college graduation, decide that China (which has just opened its borders) is a great place to visit. Their adventures are funny, until they’re not….when Claire begins to have a mental breakdown in a country where they don’t speak the language and the government is super scary. Not what I expected, but incredibly well written and Gilman really makes you feel like you’re there…and you, like she wonder if Claire is right (after all, no one does big brother quite like China) or not…
As a reminder…I’m in Phuket next week. I’ll try to post, but it will be sporadic.