Moved to Travel: What Books and Films Inspire Women’s Wanderlust?
What inspires you to travel to a particular place?
I posted that question on four sites for women travelers (Girls Love Travel, Female Digital Nomads, Not So Young Female Bloggers, and Over 60 Female Travelers), asking them to share the books and films that made them take off for parts unknown.
I received an avalanche of replies. Hundreds of responders were moved to travel by a word, a phrase, a sentence, or an image (or a person, a building, a work of art….or even a crossword puzzle [i.e., Vernazza and Monterosso, in the Cinque Terre of Italy].
As long ago as childhood; as recent as last week
Most of these triggers were not the result of plugs from travel books or from cheery advice online (sorry, marketers) but were evocative words and images coming from the hearts and pens of people who created art (not always good art, I think). Some of the dreams of travel were rooted in the hazy past of one’s childhood (Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates, which led one person to skate on a frozen canal in Holland) and some came from the latest book on the best-seller list.
For all the women who decided to go to Bali after reading Eat Pray Love (“You can literally [sic] lose yourself in this book,” wrote one young seeker) or who went to Tuscany because of a new life discovered Under the Tuscan Sun, there are those whose travel inspiration was less picturesque — one person actually moved to Boston she was a fan of New Kids on the Block, and one enjoyed seeing the sights of Dallas after watching what most would consider an unfortunate trip in the film JFK. One responder actually visited the Grand Canyon after she saw the film Thelma and Louise (since she was alive and responding, it seems that she didn’t ape their takeoff).
Literary influences largely ranged from the geographically dramatic (Lord of the Rings in New Zealand, Game of Thrones in Northern Ireland, Outlander in Scotland) to the more quotidian (Little House on the Prairie, South Dakota, and Anne of Green Gables Prince Edward Island).
Different cohorts, different destinations
There were some repeats in inspirational triggers in all of the cohorts, but I found a different emphasis and direction in replies from different age groups. To me, the choices by the Not So Young Female Bloggers had more meat than did some of the millennial responses. But when I got to the Over 60 Solo Female Travelers I found nirvana because their choices were often surprising and, sometimes, revelatory (could it be because this is my cohort?).
I am grateful for Not So Young responder for her description of taking off for India after seeing several Satyajit Ray films. I too have always wanted to see the fort at Jaisalmer because of Ray’s film Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress).
Moved by names
I also could understand one woman who traveled to places whose names sounded romantic: Ulaanbaatar, Popocatepetl, Timbuktu, Hoi An). I remember traveling to several of the western isles of Scotland years ago because I was fascinated by their names: Benbecula, Eriskay, Berneray, Mingulay.
Another said that she was as “gobsmacked” by the country of Iceland as she was by Halldor Laxness’s book, Independent People. “Extraordinarily inspirational and outstandingly beautiful,” she wrote.
“For me,” wrote one, “it would be music and Manhattan: Patti Smith, Television’s album Marquee Moon, plus the Ramones and Rockaway Beach…” She also noted a trip to Nashville and Memphis, heading “down to Dockery Farm for the home of the Blues.”
Homage to inspiring people
Several paid homage to the chef and writer Anthony Bourdain and the countries he visited on his television series Parts Unknown and No Reservations; one wrote about going to Vietnam and sampling the street food after she watched an episode. Another show led a woman and her family to restaurants in Cleveland, with a shout out for Hungarian restaurants there.
Other destinations included Versailles after watching the television series, Savannah for Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the Milan of Beneath a Scarlet Sky, the Venice of The Wings of the Dove, and a trip to Cornwall to follow the path of British television’s Doc Martin. For one woman, a vacation seemed to center on a journey to Istanbul to visit where an American low-level hashish smuggler experienced a hellish jail experience in Midnight Express. One of Anne Cleve’s murder mystery series was set in the Shetland Islands, inspiring a journey by one respondent. Another followed the path of Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon, on an American road trip.
A book inspires a move
Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda (who also influenced Steve Jobs and George Harrison) led one pilgrim to India to trace his life. Another noted that Carlo Levi’s Christ Stopped at Eboli got her interested in Matera, in the Basilicata region of southern Italy. A number of travelers hiked the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain after seeing the film The Way, and the novel Green Dolphin Country motivated one to emigrate to New Zealand.
Watching the films Hatari and Out of Africa were the reasons that one traveler went to Kenya three times and “cannot wait to go again, but should really try another country. I just keep getting lured back to Kenya.”
Watch the film, learn that Life is Short
Several women noted that the film Shirley Valentine inspired their travels to Greece. One wrote that she left her husband after she saw the movie — -but still hasn’t made it to Greece.
Australian fans included those who were moved by On the Beach and A Town like Alice. One traveler went to Granada, Spain, after reading Tales of the Alhambra, by Washington Irving.
Some travelers went to the Greek island of Corfu because they were inspired by the novel This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart, and others felt the urge to travel there after they read Lawrence Durrell’s books (or his brother Gerald’s) about the island or saw the British television series The Durrells in Corfu, with its gorgeous views of the hills and the seas and its wonderful cast of characters.
One person wrote “I went to Hawaii at 14 years of age because of Michener’s book. That was six decades ago and I’ve never looked back (or reread the book).”
A woman in the over 60 group was inspired by Dervla Murphy‘s book Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle, about an overland cycling trip.
Traffic jam: when too many people are inspired
Several went to Bruges because of the film In Bruges (although it’s basically a story about hit men, the city is a gorgeous co-star). I noticed recently that the government is currently trying to lower the number of day trippers and travelers on cruise ships to Zeebrugge, the nearby port, because of overcrowding.
Several Mama Mia fans went to the Aegean island of Skopelos. One person (obviously with a wide range in tastes) traveled to Haworth, England, because of Jane Eyre and then moved on to Oahu, where she visited the resort where Forgetting Sarah Marshall was filmed.
What does it all mean?
There were many, many works mentioned, and perhaps I’ll write another blog with more of them. What does all of this mean? I really don’t know but am tracking down some of the books and films mentioned to see if they move me to take flight as well. At the very least, these choices say something about our changing tastes and changing forms of entertainment.
Women as heroines
I also wondered whether or not the books and films that influence women are different from those that affect men. Well, many (but certainly not all) of these works feature women as protagonists or at least as participants in the action, but I think that probably what inspires people is just good literature or film (but not always), no matter the sex.
On being gobsmacked
The women in these Facebook groups are either armchair or active travelers; many have romantic souls and want to experience the world up close and feel like the explorers they are in their souls. After all, the world may always be changing but, to a large extent, is still unchanged. It still offers unforgettable adventures. May these women continue to wander the world and be “gobsmacked” by its wonders.
On a personal note, one of my most meaningful trips was inspired by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s film I Know Where I’m Going; I wandered the island of Mull and sailed near the Corryvreckan whirlpool in the early 1980s. Watch the film and I dare you not to want to hop on a plane and fly to Scotland.