I was about 30 pages into Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World, when it hit me: this book was published 7 years *before* The Four Hour Work Week. In fact, many of the stories happened years, if not decades earlier.
This is important because it helps put the book into context. If this book were written today, it would almost be a novelty. Another individual finding inner peace through minimalism and lifestyle design. Good for them. However, in a world where I step off the plane in Ecuador and have instant access to the web from my phone, this bare bones lifestyle may actually not be so bare.
But Rita Golden Gelman, author of Tales of a Female Nomad, was embracing this lifestyle long before Tim Ferris showed us The Way. Niceties like Skype, AirBNB, Google Translate and even e-mail simply hadn't been invented yet. And more than that, there weren't websites and books that articulated how a simple and mobile lifestyle could actually be a healthy and fulfilling one. In this light, Gelman's journeys are downright impressive.
Another element of this story that makes it unique is that Gelman jumps into this lifestyle not as an eager 20-something, but as an out-of-shape 40 year old divorcee, with no vagabonding experience. She needs to figure it all out from scratch. Big props to her for pulling this off.
So her accomplishments are great, and the stories solid ones. However, as a narrative, I'm not entirely blown away. It took me most of the book to figure out why, but I do believe I finally untangled it.
I believe that Gelman was almost shooting for a fairly raw log of her stories. She's willing to share her successes and failures, as well as the successes and failures of those around her. It's that last bit that I think through me the most. Travel long enough and you'll find amazing people, as well as jerks. And she appears to dutifully document both. At first it almost came across as passive aggressive. Sure, you can be a jerk to me, but I'm the wrighter, I'll get the last word in. But, I think that's being unkind. I think Gelman was just trying to capture the good and bad. And so if you're going report on the person who generously opened their home to you, then you might as well report on people who took advantage of you.
In the end, I found her books nowhere near as entertaining as a Bill Bryson adventure (the Gold Standard, if you will). But, if you're interested in long term travel, this is definitely an important book to read. She demonstrates over and over again how you can make your own serendipity while traveling, and how this can lead to amazing experiences. At the same time, she also shows how things don't always go as planned and how loneliness, disappointment and missed opportunities also come with the lifestyle. Read it to soak up all her lessons.
Oh, and lesson learned: never piss off a writer.