Tag Archives: women

Women Travel Book Reviews

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Almost as much as I like to travel, I like to read what others, particularly women, have written about their own travels. Today I will share some of my reviews of writing by women travelers.

I really enjoy The Best American Travel Writing series. Although I never like all of the pieces in those books, there is always something (usually several somethings) that I do like.

In The Best American Travel Writing 2001, edited by Paul Theroux, the piece I liked best was “The Place to Disappear” (about Bankok’s Khao San Road)  by Susan Orlean. It was so good, I read it twice.

The aforementioned Susan Orlean is the editor of The Best American Travel Writing 2007. My favorite piece in that collection is “Long Day’s Journey into Dinner” by Elizabeth Gilbert. This piece is about walking the Grande Randonnee in France. Although I have practically nothing in common with Gilbert and her traveling companion (he spoke French, I’ve got nothing but English; they had money to eat sumptuous meals at expensive restaurants and sleep in charming, cushy little inns each night, while I am poor; they drank bottles of wine each day, while I am a teetotaler), Gilbert described the journey as so wonderful, so magical that I wanted to (literally) follow in her footsteps. (It was only when reading the book’s writer bios did I realize the author is the Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame. I have avoided Eat, Pray, Love for years, but after reading “Long Day’s Journey into Dinner,” I’ve added the memoir to my stack of books to read.)

Sand in My Bra and Other Misadventures: Funny Women Write from the Road (Travelers' Tales)
Sand in My Bra and Other Misadventures: Funny Women Write from the Road (edited by Jennifer L. Leo), is a collection of short travel stories from the Traveler’s Tales Humor Books series. I picked it up from a free pile, and I’m glad I didn’t pay for it. I actually wasn’t expecting much, as I had read at least one other book in this series and wasn’t impressed. If by “funny” the publisher means “mildly amusing,” this collection is right on target. I laughed out loud exactly once while reading these stories. (Unfortunately, I cannot remember which author made me laugh.)

I actually read More Sand in My Bra: Funny Women Write from the Road, Again! (edited by Julia Weiler ) before I read Sand in My Bra. I picked it up on a whim at the library, and it turned out to be not so good. Sigh.

The subtitle, Funny Women Write from the Road is a lie. Well, the from the Road part is true and the women part is too, as far as I could tell, but funny? No.

A few of the pieces were well-written, but some were embarrassingly amateurish. None of them were memorable.

I really wanted to like this collection, but I just didn’t.

I also borrowed Curves on the Highway: A Self-Help Guide for Female Automobile Travelers by Gerry Davis from the library on a whim. I read the first two chapters and skimmed the third.

This book was not written for women who have any road trip experience. This book was written for women totally new to the idea of traveling alone in a car. This book was specifically written for women who like to stay at fancy hotels and go shopping.

Some of the advice was pretty good. Davis encourages women not to broadcast the news that they are going out of town, and she point-blank tells women not to dress in a way that calls attention to themselves.

But she also gives weird advice like “Shoulder pads: a must!” and “Take starched cotton shirts.” She also says that during travels is a good time to lose weight and suggests women snack on “…a bag of crisp chopped lettuce, kept cool next to your baggie of ice.” Sounds like the worst road trip snack ever!

I guess this book might be helpful for someone, but it sure wasn’t helpful to me. Well, I did take one thing I read here to heart. Davis advises women to never let their gas gauge go below a quarter of a tank. I’ve started taking this precaution, and I stress a lot less about running out of gas.

Around the World in a Bad Mood!: Confessions of a Flight Attendant by Rene Foss was supposed to be funny, but it really wasn’t.

The author had been a flight attendant for over 15 years when she wrote the book. The book is based on a musical review also written by the author. Maybe it’s better as a song and dance…Some parts did amuse me, but nothing made me laugh out loud.

This book is mostly a manual on how not to act. It’s also mostly a yawn.

I couldn’t tell what author Polly Evans was trying to do with Fried Eggs with Chopsticks: One Woman’s Hilarious Adventure into a Country and a Culture Not Her Own. Was she trying to discourage Westerners from visiting China by showing it as a dirty place, full of disease and people with questionable hygiene habits, a place with weird, bad food and a difficult-to-speak language? Was she trying to be funny by poking fun at a culture she’s not a part of? Was she only trying to tell about her own experiences? I think most of all she was trying to sell her book.

I didn’t hate this book, but it did come across as if the author thinks living in the West is better and China is a strange and dangerous place. I did like the way the author seamlessly worked Chinese history into her story.

I’ve never really longed to visit China and after reading this book, it’s even lower on my list of possible travel destinations.

In the graphic novel French Milk, Lucy Knisley tells her story of spending a month in Paris with her mother. This was the journal and sketch book of her day-to day-life as a young women in a new place. I liked that. I liked getting a glimpse of what she did in Paris, where she went, what she ate.

The attitude about money bugged me. The author/artist mentioned several times that she was worried about her finances and couldn’t afford to buy things, yet did manage to buy things. My guess is that her parents picked up the tab for the trip, but how did they afford it? She also mentioned only receiving little presents from her parents for Christmas because the trip was a big deal, which also led me to believe her folks footed the bill. However, one of the little presents she got was a brand new digital camera; not a little present at all where I come from.

Ah, class issues. They can’t be escaped, even in comic books.

No Touch Monkey!: And Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late
The last book for today is No Touch Monkey!: And Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late by Ayun Halliday. Ah, Ayun Halliday. I should write her a fan letter.

I enjoy her self-deprecating wit. I enjoy any author who is not afraid of showing her weaknesses, because seeing them makes me feel a little bit better about my own.

I like that this book explores the downside of budget traveling, doesn’t only show it surrounded by the halo of happy coincidences and good vibes and swell luck. A lot can go wrong when traveling, and Ayun is not afraid to share it with us if it gets her a laugh.

I also really adore the title of this book, and have taken many opportunities throughout my life to shout at random,  NO TOUCH MONKEY!

The Second Women’s Meeting at the 2015 RTR

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Sixties Groovy Female Symbol by GDJAt the end of the first women’s meeting, I asked everyone to think about what they wanted to discuss at the next meeting and to come prepared with suggestions so we could start by making an agenda.

The first topic we discussed was what motivated us to live our lives as vandwellers/rubber tramps/travelers. While everyone there had a different story, several women spoke of wanting to live more simply. Some women started living on the road after nearly devastating personal hardship. Others decided not to wait until their final years to travel and see new places.

Next, we talked about our creative outlets and how we manage our supplies in our limited living spaces. A couple of women who work with fabric shared their techniques for storing all their cloth. A woman who works with glass told us how she stays neat and organized.

While we were writing our agenda, one woman said she wanted to discuss how to deal with men she wants to be friends with when they start giving off  vibes suggesting they’re looking for romance. Recommendations ranged from wearing a fake wedding ring to being straight-up honest about feelings and intentions.

Another woman was interested in how traveling women manage to date and sustain relationships, especially if one’s partner doesn’t want to travel. One suggestion was to break up with the partner because if the partner wants such a different lifestyle, he (or she) must not be the right one. Another suggestion was to go out traveling while the partner stays at home but to stop in for visits as often as possible.

(Side note: The woman sitting next to me arrived after we had set the agenda and didn’t realize that a woman in the circle had asked to discuss this topic. When the discussion was lagging, the woman next to me said sharply, “I don’t think this is an issue!” I think she thought I’d put the topic on the agenda and was telling me no one wanted to talk about dating and relationships. Obviously someone wanted to talk about this subject, but the woman who’d ask to talk about it wasn’t talking. So I had to bring the discussion back to the original woman and get her to talk about her specific issues so others could present ideas that might help her. I wish people would get to meetings on time and not assume they know what’s going on when they don’t.)

The most polarizing topic of discussion was about shooting and posting photographs, as well as sharing identifying information about others, on the internet. (Coincidentally, before we had a chance to discuss photography, the woman sitting next to me got up, went to her rig and got her camera, and was about to shoot photos of the whole group. Another woman at the meeting told her that she should get permission before taking any photos. It turns out that the woman with the camera was quite irritated at being told she should ask first.)

We started the conversation talking about physical safety, elaborating on some of the safety methods we had discussed the week before. One woman talked about her habit of being aware at all times of who is around her, what those people are wearing, and what they are doing. She spoke of the importance of looking people in the eye so they know she is aware of them. This woman then started talking about security measures she takes when writing her blog. This (unintentional, as far as I could tell) segue took us right into a discussion of internet security.

Several folks pointed out that photographers should not be taking photos without permission and certainly should not be posting photos anywhere on the internet without permission. The woman next to me expressed that she was upset that she had been told she shouldn’t take photos (when actually, she was told she shouldn’t take photos without permission). She said she’d been doing this (and I assume by “this” she meant going to gatherings and taking photos without permission) for years and no one had ever said she shouldn’t do it. As the conversation progressed, she then asked if facial recognition software was what people were worried about. When people said yes, she seemed to understand at least a little why people were concerned.

While there was a group of women who were vocal about not wanting their photos taken or posted, another group said they were totally fine with having their photos posted any and everywhere. Someone suggested that in the future folks at the RTR who did not want to be photographed could wear a sticker of a predetermined color so folks with cameras would know who it was cool to take pictures of and who to leave alone.

The last topic discussed was how women could find other people (particularly other women) with whom to travel. Some already established group mentioned were Sisters on the Fly, RVillage, and the Wandering Individual Network. (I have done no research on these groups–other than finding a web address for them–so I can neither discourage or encourage folks to check them out.) Someone also mentioned a Facebook group for traveling women, but I didn’t write down the name, and I have no Facebook navigation skills, so I couldn’t find it. The last thing we did was pass around a sign-up sheet so women who wanted to could share their contact information with each other.

Facilitating the women’s meetings was a positive experience for me. It allowed me to get involved with the RTR, and made me stand out a little bit to people who might not have noticed me or talked to me otherwise. I also felt like I was doing a job that no one else wanted, but for which I was qualified. The main way attending the women’s meetings helped me was by giving me a chance to learn a little bit more about other women so I could use what I had learned there to strike up a conversation later. It was also extremely encouraging to see how many women at the RTR were single and traveling alone.

All in all, I’m glad I facilitated the women’s meetings.

Read about the first women’s meeting at the 2015 RTR.

Read about my first week at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous.

Read about my second week at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous.

Read about how I decided to go to the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous.

Image courtesy of https://openclipart.org/detail/282925/sixties-groovy-female-symbol.

The First Women’s Meeting at the 2015 RTR

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Sixties Groovy Female Symbol by GDJ

I offered to facilitate the first women’s meeting at the 2015 RTR because I knew I could do it. In a past life (and by “past life,” I don’t mean a life I was living in a different physical incarnation before I was born into my current body), I facilitated many meetings on a variety of topics.

Before the meeting, a couple of women approached me at different times and asked me about my plans for the meeting. I was told about a past women’s meeting where a women new to van living took over the meeting to talk about how hard this new life was to her and how scared she was. I was determined not to let anyone hijack the meeting, even if the hijacker really needed assistance and support. I was certain we could help anyone who needed it and still have a meeting where everyone who wanted to could participate.

I opened the meeting by saying that anyone who wanted to facilitate the next week’s meeting was welcome to do so, but there were no takers.

I then suggested that each women introduce herself by telling the group three things she wanted everyone there to know about her. I thought asking each woman to share three things would give some structure for folks who wouldn’t know how to respond to “tell us about yourself” and would  limit folks who would otherwise never shut up.

At every meeting, there seem to be people who just don’t want to talk. It seems like a gun to their heads wouldn’t get them to join in, but something about being in a group must appeal to them because they show up and continue to sit there…quietly. Maybe these people are exceedingly shy. Thankfully, everyone at this meeting managed to say at least a few words about herself.

Of course, on the other side of the coin are the people who can’t seem to stop speaking. There were a few women in that circle who probably would have talked for two hours straight, never noticing all the glazed eyes and drool dripping lips. Did these women perhaps receive no attention as children? (I’m making jokes, but the sad truth is that a lot of people didn’t get enough attention as children and have barely recovered as adults.)

As the facilitator, it was difficult to know when someone’s introduction had gone on long enough. It was even more difficult to know how to hurry along a rambling biography. On the one hand, I didn’t want to be rude or hurt any feelings, but on the other hand, I wanted everyone to get a turn.

I think the coolest part of the first women’s meeting was when someone asked how many of the women sitting there were single women traveling alone. Out of the 30 or so women at the meeting (unfortunately, I forgot to get a count of women in attendance at both meetings), I believe about two dozen of us raised our hands to answer yes to the question. I seldom meet single women traveling alone, so to have so many in one place was really exciting.

After introductions, talk turned to toileting techniques. I think folks new to rubber tramping will always want to know how to take care of their bathroom needs. I feel grateful for people willing to speak/write candidly about such matters. I think some of the women who have been living on the road for a while were bored with this discussion.

We also talked about safety, a topic all women should be discussing. The following are some ideas that were shared:

One should carry herself so she looks alert and in control. If a woman doesn’t look like an easy target, someone looking for an easy target is less likely to bother her.

Be ready to leave an area at the first sign of trouble. Have a clear path to the driver’s seat. Know where the keys are. Park so the vehicle can easily exit.

Think about what items on hand can be used for self-defense.

Next we talked about…I don’t remember. Honestly, I don’t remember if we wrapped up the meeting here or talked about other things. Perhaps this means that whatever was discussed wasn’t all that important to me. Or maybe I was busy facilitating, and couldn’t pay good attention to the discussion. In any case, at the end of the meeting I suggested we think about what topics we wanted to talk about the next week so we could set an agenda at the beginning of the meeting.

This post wasn’t very much fun for me to write. I think it seems more like a school report than an interesting story from my life. Sorry, kids. I guess they can’t all be winners.

Read about the second women’s meeting of the 2015 RTR

Read about my first week at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous.

Read about my second week at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous.

Read about how I decided to go to the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous.

Image courtesy of https://openclipart.org/detail/282925/sixties-groovy-female-symbol.