The Un-Travel Book Reading Tour

Tuscan Countryside

When you comment, you will be entered to win a book about a place you probably don’t want to travel to. (See below)

Destination: Afghanistan? No. Ethiopia? No. Sudan? No. Italy? Yes.

Book: Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert.

A Guest Post by Alisa Bowman

Alisa Bowman has written Project: Happily Ever After: Saving Your Marriage When the Fairytale Falters She was good enough to visit A Traveler’s Library and share this story of reading and travel with us.

The Books I Read When I Was Grounded

A few years ago, I found myself grounded in Pennsylvania. Our daughter was only three and she had both  separation anxiety and a picky palate. She wasn’t the type of toddler that I would feel comfortable leaving with a sitter or good friend for a week while I traveled to Spain or Russia or the Canary Islands or a million other places I wanted to experience.

And she wasn’t the kind of kid I felt comfortable taking with me, either. Our budget was extremely tight anyway. My husband’s start up business was still on its way to becoming profitable. My marriage was vulnerable, too. We’d recently worked on things, and we’d seen a lot of improvement.

But this wasn’t the time to go rocking the boat—or climbing aboard one, either.

Yet, I desperately craved an escape. I wanted to immerse myself in a foreign culture. I wanted to taste foreign cuisine. And, just for a little while, I wanted to forget that I was a stressed out, exhausted, breadwinning mother.

So instead of a physical escape across the Atlantic Ocean, I turned to the next best thing: a mental escape through the pages of various books. Please do not misunderstand: I was not trying to read about foreign countries I wished to visit. No, I was reading to take my mind off the fact that I did not have the money, lifestyle or courage—at that time in my life—to travel to a foreign country.

This is why I did not read books that were about countries I wished to visit. That, my friends, would have been like buying chocolate and placing it on my office desk as a decoration. You know? Torture.

I made a point of reading books about places I was quite certain I would never be tempted to even think about visiting. You might call it the Un-Travel Book Reading Tour.

It started in Afghanistan with Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns. Nearly every relationship in this book (save two) were horrifically bad. That was good. It made me feel better about my still vulnerable marriage. The book was tragic, so much so that I sobbed at Pinocchio, a line you will only ever understand if you read the book. I needed that catharsis. After emptying all of the liquid out of my body through my tear ducts, I felt amazing. I’m sure I wasn’t just crying about the book. I was also crying about my marriage and about my life and about issues I was having with my career at that time.

Let me say this. After reading that book I had not one urge to travel to Afghanistan. But I loved that book. I highly recommend it.

Next came Melissa Fay Greene’s There is No Me Without You, which is about AIDS orphans in Ethiopia. I became lost in that book from the very first line. By the end, I felt dusty, as if I’d been in Ethiopia for the past week. Thankfully my husband had not read the book. So when I told him I wanted to adopt 8 Ethiopian orphans, he told me he’d think about it.

I don’t believe he ever got back to me.

That’s okay because I no longer want to adopt orphans. And I still don’t want to visit Ethiopia.

Next came Dave Eggers What is the What, about Lost Boys who travel on foot through the Sudan. As expected, I did not want to travel to the Sudan after reading that book. As expected, I wanted to adopt 10 or so orphaned Sudanese teens.

The yearning passed.

Then I picked up Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray Love. You might think that this book might be a risky pick. After all, one of the countries she writes about is quite close—only 8 or so hours away by plane. It also does not have a disease, orphan, poverty, drought or war issue going on.

I, however, did not see this as a temptation. You see, I do not frequent popular countries. No, the countries I’d traveled to pre-parenthood had been places like Finland, Hungary, Israel, Turkey and Dominica. Italy? So overrated.

Or so I thought.

Did I tell you that I love to eat?

And did I tell you that when I travel, I don’t sight see? I just eat. I eat my way through countries. That’s why I travel.

Alisa's Italian eats

And so, of course, you know that Gilbert ate her way through Italy. The Italy section of her book is a literary food-gasm is what it is.

It left me with a yearning for pizza, pasta, wine, ice cream, and Italian men.

“I’d like to go to Italy,” I announced one night.

“I don’t want to go to Italy,” my husband said.

“Why not?” I asked.

“I just don’t. How about we hike the alps?” He asked.

“Not what I had in mind,” I said.

So it was settled. I’d go without him.

It had now been three years since I’d started the Un-Travel Book Tour. Our daughter was on the cusp of 6. I was on the cusp of 40. We had a little more money than in year’s past.

And dang it, I was sick of not traveling.

I told my husband that I would like to go to Italy to celebrate the half of my life I still had left to live. He gave me his blessing. I met one of my best friends there, and I ate my way through Tuscany.

I didn’t partake in the Italian men. I only looked at them.

But I can tell you this: Tuscany is not overrated. I loved it so much that I’m thinking about going back. This time my husband says he might join me.

Alyssa in Cortona, Italy

Alisa Bowman is the author of Project: Happily Ever After, a book that tells the story of how she went from wishing her husband dead to falling back in love. She is also the creator of ProjectHappilyEverAfter.com.

Alisa, Ken and I had a moment of recognition from this story. I was 41, the country was Greece, but the conversation was almost the same. And the result–I made my first European trip without him. I’ll never forget when the passport arrived in the mail, and he said, “You’re really going to do this, aren’t you?” Ever since that time, he has traveled to Europe with me, as enthusiastic about the trips as I am.

Thank you so much for sharing your reading and traveling experiences with us. Having followed your blog, I knew that you would be totally honest with us about travel, too.

Now it is the reader’s turn. What’s your favorite un-travel book??

One person who comments today through 6:00 a.m. MST Jan. 11  will win the book, Cemetery of Dreams (Oct.2010) excellent novel about Iran, another place Alisa would not want to go. (see all the fine print about contests here.)

Vera Marie Badertscher

About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She writes frequently for Reel Life With Jane and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

16 thoughts on “The Un-Travel Book Reading Tour

  1. I’ve learned about China, Russia, India, and many more places through reading, but my all-time favorite Un-Travel book is Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. I love his writing, but this story about his hike up the Appalachian Trail is definitely NOT on my bucket list. From the search for all the camping gear–and waterproof sleeping arrangements–to his constant fear of being eaten by bears, the tale has all the gritty details that reinforce my decision. But when I say laugh out loud, and frequently, I mean, some of these will have you giggling for five minutes. Bill pairs up with his old friend Katz, an overweight, geeky guy who is the personification of who should NOT be on a months long hike. Just adds to the laughter. If you’ve ever though about walking through the rain and heat, on a narrow path through thick underbrush, climbing tall mountains with a big pack on your back, sleeping with critters, and taking a shower every two weeks or so –or NOT–then be sure to read this one.

  2. Another book by Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner, is my favorite un-travel book. And, I agree with Alissa about A Thousand Splendid Suns, sad all the way around. I made my first visit to Tuscany this fall. Yes, it is a must return kind of place. The food, ah, the food.

    1. Donna: Somehow I felt that A Thousand Splendid Suns was much more of a downer than The Kite Runner. I kept thinking, when are things going to get better?

  3. I don’t get nearly as much time to read as I’d like, but I recently finished a YA novel with my 7 y-o and even though it wasn’t about a real place it did feel like I was getting a chance to travel to somewhere else. That’s why I love reading this blog–for a few minutes I get to sneak off to another country.

  4. “This is why I did not read books that were about countries I wished to visit. That, my friends, would have been like buying chocolate and placing it on my office desk as a decoration. You know? Torture.”

    LOVE this. And I love how Alisa’s Un-travel Tour eventually inspired her to go to a new place.

  5. I have a theory that when they travel, most people like to do what they do at home, only somewhere different. So, Alisa, I’m so with you on the eating part. Thanks for great book recs too, for the armchair traveler

    1. Interesting theory, Sarah. I’m looking at my own way of travel, and can’t say that I do nearly as much seeking out of historical spots, going to museums, taking time to just walk and look when I’m at home as when I’m traveling.

  6. I agree with the author’s comment that Tuscany is not overrated, as for “Eat, Pray, Love,” I’ll never know, because I probably won’t read it. I thought the Housseni and the Eggars books were both really, really good.
    Happy New Year, Vera.
    Jason

  7. i am laughing so hard, because for many of the books i read, i SO do not want to go there. i love reading of it, and learning about the culture and people, but it’s not a Must See. love this article!!

  8. I, too, fell in love with Italy both times I visited. When my husband asked me, recently, where I wanted to go for our special anniversary, I said without a moment’s thought – “Italy.” I just can’t get enough. Enjoyed reading about your un-travels, Alisa!

  9. I really haven’t been much of a traveler up to this point in my life, but I’m thinking if funds allow, I’d love to travel more in the second half of my life. But I do love reading about far away places. Another great book about Afghanistan is ‘The Kabul Beauty School,’ co-written by my friend Kris Ohlson. A fascinating look into the women of that country.

  10. Hubbies are all fine and good, but why take ‘em along if they want a different vacation than you do? Way to go for having an amazing holiday without the spouse, plus all the literary vacations that preceded it.

  11. Thanks for sharing! I thing “literary food-gasm” is going to be my phrase of the day! My wife and I are planning an Italian trip this year. -r

  12. I, too, love books about travel, including adventures that I know are too rugged for me but I can mentally hop aboard through reading while all cozy and safe at home. A recent book by Binka LeBreton titled “Where the Road Ends,” tells the story of making a home in the far reaches of the Brazilian Rainforest with all the complications you can imagine, but this is TRUE. I learned a lot about the region and the local people and efforts to save a rain forest, plus the delightful story of an adventurous couple!

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