It’s freezing outside and you’re wrapped up in as many layers as possible, but somehow through those ultra-thick socks you can still feel your feet itching to travel.
Fortunately, there’s a way to satiate that growing wanderlust without having to haul yourself out of that cozy cocoon of blankets. From wildly adventurous travel memoirs to the story of a traveling circus that pulsates with real magic, these books by inspiring female authors will sweep your imagination away to far-off places. Help yourself to a hot chocolate and settle in.
1. “Travels With Myself and Another” by Martha Gellhorn
“I had been a traveler all my life, beginning in childhood on the streetcars of my native city, which transported me to Samarkand, Peking, Tahiti, Constantinople. Place names were the most powerful magic I knew. Still are.”
Dynamic, fearless, and quick witted, Martha Gellhorn was an accomplished travel writer and novelist, as well as one of the 20th century’s most prolific war correspondents. The “another” mentioned in the title of this book happens to be Ernest Hemingway, to whom Gellhorn was married for five years after the two fell in love while covering the Spanish Civil War (though she only ever refers to him as her Unwilling Companion or “U.C.”). Amusing at times, confronting at others, this memoir charts her adventures – both solo and accompanied – from China to Russia to the Caribbean and Africa, told in the incisive yet evocative tone she became famous for.
2. “My Paris Dream” by Kate Betts
“Saint Laurent was living proof that putting yourself in a foreign context – real or imaginary – is often the best way to see yourself more clearly.”
Let’s be honest – there’s no shortage of books about foreigners moving to Paris, but few are as fascinating as this one. It still features the usual entertaining anecdotes about navigating the frustratingly fickle ways of the French, but Betts – a veteran fashion editor whose resumé includes W, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar – also offers a compelling behind-the-scenes account of the Parisian fashion world in the late eighties and early nineties when haute couture began to reign supreme. In between her encounters with Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Louboutin, Karl Lagerfeld and other icons, Betts also provides charming accounts of life in France outside the capital, as well as recipes and playlists.
3. “The Blue Sweater” by Jacqueline Novogratz
“I awoke to the sounds of a Kenyan dawn … where birds call loudly to one another, monkeys fly from tree to tree, insects buzz amid the dewy grasses, and flowers blow perfumed kisses to the bees.”
In high school, Jacqueline Novogratz – founder of Acumen Fund, a non-profit that has helped lift millions of people out of poverty – had a beloved blue sweater that she gave away to the Goodwill. Years later, while in Africa, she encountered a young boy wearing that very same sweater – with her name still on the tag. Such captivating twists of fate form the basis of this story, which charts Novogratz’s journey, beginning with her first trip to Africa as a naive 20-something who left a career in international banking in search of new ways to alleviate poverty. If you’ve been wondering how you can make change in the world, this book is filled with wonderful ideas on how to help those in developing countries rise up and help themselves.
4. “Love With a Chance of Drowning” by Torre DeRoche
“Beneath the waves , I enter a turquoise world. Sunlight shatters into fragments that flicker across skin, sand, and sea life.”
There’s facing your fears and then there’s jumping into them head on. Australian graphic designer Torre DeRoche was a city girl with a morbid fear of the ocean when she met a handsome Argentine in a cocktail bar. She then embarked on a year-long voyage across the Pacific in a leaky old sailboat – all in the name of love. Not only is this an epic travel story that will leave you yearning for your own adventure, but it’s also a great lesson in taking a leap of faith.
5. “Desert Queen” by Janet Wallach
“Summer hit like a furnace blast … Gertrude’s parasol was useless; her fair skin baked in the sun, her cheeks stung from the swirling dust, her eyeballs ached in the fierce wind.”
Though T.E. Lawrence – aka Lawrence of Arabia – is well-recognized for his efforts in helping to shape the modern Middle East, it’s his lesser-known compatriot Getrude Bell who deserves much of the credit. After being recruited by British intelligence in World War I, Bell (who was fluent in Arabic and Persian) explored and mapped the Arab world, gaining the loyalty of its tribal leaders and kings, and playing a significant role in establishing the country now known as Iraq. Using letters and journals, author Janet Wallach pieces together an enthralling account of Bell’s extraordinary life, including her intrepid adventures across the Syrian desert on camelback, and her tumultuous personal relationships.
6. “My Life on the Road” by Gloria Steinem
“The road is messy in the way real life is messy. It leads us out of denial and into reality, out of theory and into practice, out of caution and into action, out of statistics and into stories – in short, out of our heads and into our hearts.”
Gloria Steinem began traveling with her family at such a young age that she learned to read from road signs. As she puts it, this is the story of a “modern nomad” – in her first two decades traveling as an organizer, the longest stretch of time she ever spent at home was eight days. Told through irresistible prose and beguiling anecdotes from her own wanderings across America and beyond, Steinem urges others – women especially – to not only tell their own stories, but to listen intently to those of others they meet on their journeys. The beauty of traveling, she says, is that “mystery leaves space for us where certainty does not.”
7. “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern
“You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows that they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.”
Though this story winds its way from London, to Paris, Boston and New York, it’s the world of the namesake Night Circus that takes your imagination on the real journey. Arriving in each location unannounced, the circus is open only from dusk until dawn and its majestic black-and-white tents behold all sorts of fantastical goings-on. Set in the late 19th/early 20th century, Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel sweeps you away with its sumptuous turns of phrase and lyrical descriptions, as it details an ongoing duel between two young magicians who have been adversaries since childhood but eventually fall deeply in love with each other.
8. “West With the Night” by Beryl Markham
“I learned to watch, to put my trust in other hands than mine. And I learned to wander. I learned what every dreaming child needs to know – that no horizon is so far that you cannot get above it or beyond it.”
The life of Beryl Markham was anything but dull. British-born and raised in Kenya, she was both an accomplished horse trainer and a pioneering aviatrix – and the first person to fly east to west from England to North America non-stop. Her memoir (originally published in 1942 and winning the rarely bestowed praise of Hemingway), offers an enchanting glimpse into her childhood in Kenya – vividly describing the culture and landscape as someone who clearly knew it intimately – as well as her fearless trip across the Atlantic.
9. “The Snow Child” by Eowyn Ivey
“She looked directly up into the northern lights and she wondered if those cold-burning spectres might not draw her breath, her very soul, out of her chest and into the stars.”
Not a travel story as such, but this book will completely transport you nonetheless. Inspired by Arthur Ransome’s classic Russian fable “The Little Daughter of the Snow,” author Eowyn Ivey’s story instead takes place in her beloved Alaska and is brought to life by carefully crafted, endearing characters. Through eloquent depictions of the beauty – and isolation – of the Alaska Territory in the 1920s, Ivey succeeds at capturing heart and imagination all at once.
10. “What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding” by Kristin Newman
“Get on a plane by yourself and go have an adventure.”
Given that Kristin Newman’s professional pedigree includes stints writing for That ‘70s Show and How I Met Your Mother, it’s safe to say that this book will have you both laughing out loud and cringing uncomfortably. While her friends were off settling down and having kids, Newman was spending her 20s and 30s taking advantage of the hiatuses between television seasons and heading off on debaucherous adventures around the world. Those hilarious tales of love and lust are all documented in this nimble travel memoir, which also reminds us all as women how important it is to be comfortable spending time and traveling alone.
What are you reading this winter?
Feature Image via Müjgan Afra Özceylan