Why We Need Women in Travel Writing

If you haven’t already I highly recommend going down to your nearest book store (yes, store, not Amazon) and have a flick through the above books. You don’t even need to be interested in travel writing; they’re beautifully written memoirs.

In moments of sheer panic as my own expedition approaches, I’ve found myself pulled towards strong women who have, if you like, trodden the path before me. To draw my own strength from theirs.

Take it as reassurance that a female can travel alone and emerge better, not cracked.

Tracks, written by Robyn Davidson, tells the story of one woman’s 2000 mile trek across the Australian outback from Alice Springs to the Pacific Ocean in the 70s. Going from University drop out to spending two years diligently domesticating wild camels so she could solo the desert with four camels and a trusty Labrador. It is an incredible story. I cannot do it justice on here, I simply suggest you give it a go.

Wild is an equally brilliant book. Struggling to process the grief of her mother’s death, Cheryl Strayed threw herself into a spiral of drugs, alcohol and dead end jobs as she watches her family and marriage disintegrate. After two heroin induced weeks, she decides to hike the Pacific Coast Trail; a 1100 mile hike down the west coast of America.

Similar to Davidson, Strayed trekked to piece the broken bits of herself back together.

Both books were huge commercial success and were made into equally successfully feature films. This demonstrates that despite what we’re told, their IS a market for female driven material. Part of the appeal lies in the mythical element for sure; dropping everything and going off on an adventure, surviving it and being successful in its wake. But part is the inspiration and awe it generates. It makes you go ‘yes, maybe I COULD do that…’

The strength both these women produce is almost tangible through the paper. A visceral response is produced in me which takes my hand and guides me through the moments of sweaty panic at the thought of 6 months of solo travelling. This is why we need more women in literature. It is so often overlooked the strength needed of mind, body and emotion to do something like this. And I think women deal with it in a more direct way without shutting the reader out or making them feel alienated. Men are factual, but the very nature of travelling is to experience. To experience is to feel. Women are better (in my opinion) at expressing their emotions on paper, because they see their vulnerabilities as strengths. And they are. They feel them fully and are not afraid of being overpowered by them.

In a world newly committed to female empowerment whilst unhealthily absorbed in the selfie, the female writer offers an alternative: healthy empowerment – how to draw your value from inside. Not one of these women above took a camera – in fact one actively detested the publicity – and each emerged as strong, balanced, self-aware women. It’s not confined to bestsellers. Search any traveller, especially female, and they all say a similar story. I have nothing against a selfie, but you only get so much from it.

We need these books. I need these books. It plants a seed in us which drives us to do more, to achieve more, and write success stories of our own.

7 thoughts on “Why We Need Women in Travel Writing

  1. Thoroughly agree. Love Robyn Davidson and one of my favourite travel writers is Freya Stark, who often traveled alone, disguised as a man, through large swathes of Arabia in the early 20th century. Her descriptions of Yemen, Arabia and Afghanistan are unparalleled in travel lit.

    Thanks a lot for recommending Cheryl Strayed! Sounds absolutely terrific.


  2. I agree definitely. I’ve read tons of travel books, and one of the best, most honest, is It’s not about the tapas by Polly Evans. I think I’ll give a few more women writers a bash now though, thanks for the recommendation and best of luck with your writing.
    Barry O’Leary


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