Great Travel Writers of History

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Great Travel Writers of History

Isabella Bird, an indomitable world traveler

Isabella Bird, an indomitable world traveler

In this section GoNOMAD presents some of the finest travel writers in history from Charles Dickens chatting with a Choctaw chieftain aboard a steamboat on the Ohio River, to Isabella Bird riding her pony through remoted snowbound passages in the Colorado Rockies.

If you have a favorite travel writer from another era whom you would like to see featured here, email Associate Editor Stephen Hartshorne.

Read excerpts from the great travel writers of history:

Isabella Bird: Intrepid Solo Womens Travel

When you Google ‘intrepid solo women’s travel,’ they should have a picture of Isabella Bird. I have been reading her book about Colorado, which she visited in the 1870s, but she also visited Australia, Hawaii, Japan, China, Vietnam, Singapore, India,Tibet, Turkey, Persia, Kurdistan, Baghdad, Tehran, China, Korea, and Morocco.

In later life, she used the celebrity status she had attained to found not one but two hospitals in India.

The following excerpts are from A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains. The book is a trifle slow-going at the beginning, but it winds up galloping away with you. Here is her description of a cattle round-up in Estes Park, Colorado:

“In one wild part of the ride we had to come down a steep hill, thickly wooded with pitch pines, to leap over the fallen timber, and steer between the dead and living trees to avoid being ‘snagged,’ or bringing down a heavy dead branch by an unwary touch.

“Emerging from this, we caught sight of a thousand Texan cattle feeding in a valley below. The leaders scented us, and, taking fright, began to move off in the direction of the open park, while we were about a mile from and above them.

Charles Dickens visited America in 1842 and wrote a book about it called American Notes.

Charles Dickens visited America in 1842 and wrote a book about it called American Notes.

‘Head them off, boys!’ Our leader shouted, and with something of the ‘High Tally-Ho in the Morning!’ away we went at a hard gallop down-hill.

Charles Dickens: He Was a Travel Writer, Too!

The Universal Disregard of the Spitoon

Both Houses of Congress are handsomely carpeted; but the state to which these carpets are reduced by the universal disregard of the spittoon with which every honorable member is accomodated, and the extraordinary improvements on the pattern which are squirted and dabbled upon it in every direction, do not admit of being described.

“I will merely observe, that I strongly recommend all strangers not to look at the floor; and if they happen to drop anything, though it be their purse, not on any account to pick it up with an ungloved hand…

“I was surprised to observe that even steady old chewers of great experience are not always good marksmen, which has rather inclined me to doubt that general proficiency with the rifle, of which we have heard so much in England. Several gentlemen called upon me who, in the course of conversation, frequently missed the spittoon at five paces.”

Read a review of Mick Conefrey’s new bookabout adventurous woman travelers:

How to Climb Mt. Blanc in a Skirt: A Handbook for The Lady Adventurer

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