Rita Golden Gelman is a fascinating woman with an interesting story. She’s an author of both travel memoirs (like this one) and children’s picture story books, and she’s been living a nomadic existence since 1986. Her travelling began when she was 48, after her marriage fell apart and she took a long look at her life to decide what she actually wanted to do moving forwards. With grown up kids and a portable career as a writer, Gelman headed off to live in local communities in a succession of different countries.
Gelman’s blog is worth a visit, particularly this TED talk she gave in 2014 (though, unless you’re interested in helping to promote gap years for young Americans, you don’t really need to watch the last few minutes).
Tales of a Female Nomad tells the story of Gelman’s travels between 1986 and 2000, beginning with the breakdown of her marriage. To begin with, she has a lot to learn about how to be an independent traveller. For example, she tells the story of flying to Mexico, and sitting in her hotel room panicking because she doesn’t have anyone to go to dinner with and she can’t imagine going to a restaurant on her own! Over time, though, she falls in love with the idea of living as part of a local culture, and lives in a series of different countries for months or years at a time.
Why I Love It
As a starting point, I should probably say that while I admire Gelman deeply, I could never be her. Her way of moving through the world involves a lot of trusting strangers, going with the flow, and accepting a place to stay from people she barely knows. While this works well for Gelman, I cringe at the very thought of replicating it for myself.
With that caveat out of the way, though, here is what made me really fall in love with Tales of a Female Nomad: reading Gelman’s story made me stop and think about what is truly possible. It’s easy in today’s culture to fixate on youthful celebrities, child prodigies, and teens who somehow make a fortune by becoming ‘influencers’ on social media (I may be showing my age when I say I just do not understand how ‘influencer’ became a viable way to make money!). I’ve still got a couple of years to go until I hit 40, but there are times when I feel like I’ve missed my chance at accomplishing anything significant, or like all the best opportunities go to people younger than me. Logically, I know it’s ridiculous to feel washed up while still in my 30s, but I bet I’m not the only one.
Gelman’s book made me stop and examine my assumptions about youth and achievement. She was 48 years old when she began her nomadic lifestyle – in 1986, when ‘digital nomads’ didn’t exist, and far fewer people had the will or capacity to make the leap into living overseas while working remotely. As far as I can tell, she has continued her travels ever since. Reading this book made me think to myself: If Rita Golden Gelman could be living a nomadic lifestyle in any number of different cultures when she was 50, 60, 70 years old, what on earth is stopping ME from doing the things I want to do?
That thought has been reverberating through my mind ever since I closed the book, and I’ve gotta say, it’s an exciting one. I picked up Tales of a Female Nomad expecting an interesting travel memoir and, while I certainly did get that, I also got much more.
Where To Get It
My local library doesn’t own a copy of this book, but fortunately I was able to order it in from a library elsewhere in my state. As soon as I can, I’ll be ordering my own copy from Book Depository, because this is definitely a book that’s going on my keeper shelf so that I can pull it down when I need a jolt of inspiration or motivation.
My life is endlessly fascinating, filled with learning, adventure, interesting people, new and enlightening experiences. I laugh, sing, and dance more than I ever have. I am becoming the person inside me.
Rita Golden Gelman