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Women who travel for fun seem rare in mainstream media. Some interesting books and movies which capture the stories of travelling women.
By Amodini Sharma
In an age where the world is shrinking thanks to growing technology, travel might well be ephemeral. Travel blogs are fast growing, offbeat, and new-age travel romances bloom to be feted. Travelling for the female though remains a sport watched from afar, rarely if ever applauded or brought into the limelight.
So when the folks at Women’s Web suggested an article on “travel” books and films about women who travel, I had to think hard. Yes, I did read books and see films in which women travelled. But what did they do when they travelled? Well, primarily they accompanied (a man). Were there stories where women did more than that? Did they travel with a clear sense of purpose? Did they travel for the fun of it, in the spirit of exploration? Did they travel, where, as travellers, they were not tied down by their gender?
There are many films with men gallivanting so to speak, to enjoy the pleasures of the road; I come across bromance-travel films at every corner, but very few films feature women who travel for the fun of it, alone or even in groups. Travel for women in the popular media is generally associated with family and friends and ties, and seen as an escape from stressful situations, not something chosen voluntarily. Travel for women then, is seen through the gender lens.
I come across bromance-travel films at every corner, but very few films feature women who travel for the fun of it…
Whither the stories of the footloose, fancy-free female? While that mythical creature may or may not exist, here are a few of my personal favourites in films and books. Women travel in them, yes, but they also listen to their own voices and shrug off societal and familial expectations to go their own way. The ensuing journeys are interesting, much like the women themselves.
State Of Wonder by Ann Patchett
One of the best books I’ve read this year, this has one of the lead characters Dr. Annick Swenson going off to the Amazonian jungles in pursuit of new scientific discovery. The other and more prominent protagonist, a desi female, Dr. Marina Singh follows Dr. Swenson, who has gone incommunicado. Not only are the protagonists both female but they are intrepid, unusual women made all the more interesting by the (mental) baggage they carry. Marina crosses cultural boundaries, waxing nostalgic about her half-American, half-Indian heritage, sliding into a sea of white cousins, she says, “like a llama who had wandered in accidentally”.
A Lady Cyclists Guide To Kashgar by Suzanne Joinson
In this very recent novel, Eva, sister Lizzie and her friend Milicent travel to the dark lands to spread the message of their Lord. It is the 1900s but Eva armed with her cycle and a contract to write a travelogue, must resolve fraying tensions between the leader of their party and the sentiments of the local population. A parallel track in the book brings us to modern day England where Freida Blackmann, an unsatisfied Londoner meets an immigrant Tayeb. Both Eva and Freida want to be free and empowered, and see their cycles almost as a means to achieving it.
Kindred by Octavia Butler
I can’t help listing this book here, although this is a different kind of travel: time-travel. In this, Dana living in the relatively modern world of 1976, goes back in time involuntarily to the period of slavery in the US. The author uses this unexplained sci-fi construct, to shed light on the plight of the slaves in the early 1800s.
Ladies Coupe by Anita Nair
As far as desi “travel” novels go, this book comes to mind as an interesting and evocative read. In it, women travelling in the same coupe share their life stories and reflect on the choices before them.
Bread and Tulips(Pane e tulipani)
In this Italian film, Rosalba, offended at being “forgotten” by husband and son while on a road trip across Italy, tests those ties by impulsively going off to Venice by herself, sans money or luggage. Rosalba is played luminously by Italian star Licia Magiletti and the film is whimsical and humorous and a very good watch.
Under The Tuscan Sun
Newly divorced American, Frances (played by the graceful Diane Lane) escapes to Italy, buys a broken-down villa, renovates it and builds herself a satisfying life among strangers.
A Room With A View
This Merchant-Ivory classic is based on E.M. Forster’s book of the same name, and in it, timid Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter) goes on a trip to Italy with impoverished relative Mrs. Bartlett as chaperone; this is the early 1900s. Ms. Bartlett bemoans the fact that their Florence hotel room does not have a view and is instantly offered an exchange of rooms by fellow guests Mr. Emerson and his son George. Falling for George’s quite unsuitable charms, Lucy must decide whether she’ll lapse into Victorian impropriety (happy though it may be) or accept the societally acceptable alternative.
Little Miss Sunshine
Toni Collette plays a harried homemaker, who assembles her rag-tag family and gets them all into a van for a road-trip to give her little daughter (Abigail Breslin) a shot at her Beauty Pageant.
Gul Panag plays a determined Kashmiri wife, who must step out of familiar surroundings to travel to Rajasthan to rescue her husband from his death, by obtaining for him a maafi-nama, a certificate of forgiveness from the wife of the man he has killed. Ayesha Takia plays the sorrowing and hapless Rajasthani widow who must contend with granting a man his life, in the process questioning many of society’s patriarchal norms and finding her oft-subdued voice.
Mr.& Mrs. Iyer
Traditional Mrs. Iyer is travelling by bus, with baby and sans husband. Mid journey riots break out, and staunchly Hindu and conservative Mrs. Iyer must protect Muslim fellow passenger Raja Chowdhury from the angry Hindu rioters by pretending that he is her Hindu husband. Konkona Sen Sharma and Rahul Bose star in this nuanced film.
These, as the song kinda goes, are a few of my favourite films and books. I hope you like them too.
What are your favourite stories of women who travel? Let us know in the comments.
*Featured image credit: mysza831 (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)
Lovely list, I love travelling, though not done many on my own. Most of my travel experiences are with my family or friends. Some travelling I have done on my own are for attending conferences or work tours. But I enjoy them all. The book for ‘under the tuscan sun’ is also wonderful, and brings inner calm while reading it 🙂
Amazing List… thanks for some titles I didnt know. My all time fave women travel movie is Thelma and Louise.
Lovely, lovely read. Hadn’t heard of some of these either, as Towards Harmony says. One of my favourite books by a travelling woman is Sun Shuyun’s 10000 Miles Without A Cloud – an account of a journey by a Chinese-British author on her journey tracing the footsteps of the pilgrim/master Huan Tsang from China to India. It is a beautiful account set against the backdrop of China’s present day disconnect from its ancient culture and Buddhist heritage, owing to the intensive indoctrination by the communist party.
Ladies coupe has been on my list for a while now. I should definitely get the Kindle version.
Loved your list. I have been through some of them. They are definitely must-do’s
I love travelling and enjoyed my lonely “walks” while on office work to Russia.For Indian women, security is the prime concern in travels. But thankfully, there are many all-women travel groups (albeit expensive) now which specially cater to the needs of women.
Hope for a day when women can travel alone as a way of exploring the world and connecting to it 🙂
Thanks for the list of travel books.
very nice to hear of travelling women and their experiences.
Hey this is such an interesting article, and it relates to how I felt when travelling alone through Europe and some of India! I’d be intersted in relating some of the experiences.
Super list for the women travelling that who is afraid to walk alone and I’m sure that it will help to travel for the all women. Thanks for sharing!!!
very lovely to hear of traveling women and their experiences. Great..
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