Some picks of the most groundbreaking women travellers, writers and explorers to cross our paths and pages.
“Walkers are 'practitioners of the city,' for the city is made to be walked.” - Wanderlust: A History of Walking
The woman who brought us the concept of mansplaining, Rebecca Solnit presents herself under many guises: writer, historian, activist. ‘Wanderlust: A History of Walking’ looks at the art of getting lost, how we move, in what ways. Covering a broad history of walking and what it represents, in walking for self, or political or social meaning. Looking at pilgrims, poets and demonstrators ‘Wanderlust’ is a fascinating look into our relationship with movement. Other works include, ‘A field guide to getting lost’ and ‘A Book of Migrations: Some Passages in Ireland’.
“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.”
A proper explorer from times before, Freya Stark was one of the first non Arabians (besides women) to travel through the southern Arabian deserts and wrote more than two dozen books on her travels in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Her books talk of Turkey, Syria, Iran in a way that sounds like smokey poetry with a pretty soulful intelligence. Baghdad Sketches is one example of her simple observations, painting into little vignettes and landscapes of a country and moments that make her prose so joyful.
One for the National Geographic generation. Robyn Davidson, at half way through her twenties, got up, moved her and her dog to the middle of Australia with a backpack of sarongs and decided she would train some camels and then walk them across 2000 miles of outback to the ocean. ‘Tracks’ beautifully documents this journey and gives us something unique. Aside from fixing broken lives or searching for meaning, Davidson is matter of fact, she walks, alone, for apparently no reason, and talks about what happened when she walked - and it's quite a journey.
“Because if you are fragmented and uncertain it is terrifying to find the boundaries of yourself melt. Survival in a desert, then, requires that you lose this fragmentation, and fast. It is not a mystical experience, or rather, it is dangerous to attach these sorts of words to it.” - Tracks
Welsh historian and writer, Jan Morris has lived quite a life and written about quite the places, born James Humphrey Morris, and published under her birth name until transitioning to female in 1972, Morris was the correspondent for the British Mount Everest Expedition and has since written several books on Wales, cities and (perhaps most famously) growing old with memories in ‘Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere’.
“There are people everywhere who form a Fourth World, or a diaspora of their own. They are the lordly ones. They come in all colours. They can be Christians or Hindus or Muslims or Jews or pagans or atheists. They can be young or old, men or women, soldiers or pacifists, rich or poor. They may be patriots, but they are never chauvinists. They share with each other, across all the nations, common values of humour and understanding. When you are among them you know you will not be mocked or resented, because they will not care about your race, your faith, your sex or your nationality, and they suffer fools if not gladly, at least sympathetically. They laugh easily. They are easily grateful. They are never mean. They are not inhibited by fashion, public opinion or political correctness. They are exiles in their own communities, because they are always in a minority, but they form a mighty nation, if they only knew it. It is the nation of nowhere, and I have come to think that its natural capital is Trieste.”
Exploring the other side of tourism and travel writing Kincaid’s book ‘A Small Place’ looks at the geography and history of the island of Antiga and the realities of living in a visited place. Her prose humorously looks at the neocolonial aspects of travel and gives a perspective of place, leisure and escapism from a position less privileged than ordinary travel memoirs and discusses what it means to be ‘native’.
“That the native does not like the tourist is not hard to explain. For every native of every place is a potential tourist, and every tourist is a native of somewhere. Every native everywhere lives a life of overwhelming and crushing banality and boredom and desperation and depression, and every deed, good and bad, is an attempt to forget this. Every native would like to find a way out, every native would like a rest, every native would like a tour. But some natives—most natives in the world—cannot go anywhere.” - A Small Place