travel

The Global Niche Muse: Out Of Place And Mistress Of Her Domain

Take a plunge into metaphor with us as we explore the meaning behind a graphic muse you'll recognize from Dialogue2010 Mapping the Hybrid Life podcast and the Hybrid Ambassadors blog-ring. At GlobalNiche.net we love this image -- part photograph, part 2nd generation photocopy, and part Photoshop -- a whimsical pioneer woman peering out from the center of her own personal compass point. We've incorporated her into the logo for our new work-life initiative, and below we discover exactly how she embodies creative enterprise for the global soul.

(You can see this story of how I made our mystery woman in my isolated Kuala Lumpur office in 1998, where she comes from, what she's survived -- and also, circumstantially, why she's so well-coiffed -- in the proper Tweet-and-commentary format at Storify.com)

  • I spotted this whimsical woman on a fading coiffeur signboard in Sarawak, Borneo

Photography is a now-not-so-secret love of mine, and it was a saving grace of my first long-term expat stint in Southeast Asia. Seeing everything with a photographer's eye made my surroundings endlessly fascinating and ripe with opportunity, no matter what else was happening or how I was feeling. It was also a key to orienting myself, following leads, making connections between the past and the present cultures.

The quickly-disappearing antique commercial signboards of the Straits Settlements (Penang, Malacca and Singapore) were a particular favorite of mine. You can imagine when I landed in the East Malaysia state of Sarawak I went straight to the old town to see the remnants of what establishments had once flourished there.

Although the inevitable lag of fashion around the world might be at work here, from her hairstyle I guess the sign went up in the 1930s-40s.

  • the compass superimposed over her eye (self-image, get it?) is from an around-the-world cruise line ad

...and with her eye on the world, the image represents her unique perspective.

  • the round-the-globe ad was published during the Golden Age of Travel. I found it in the National Archives of Malaysia

I was an absolute microfiche *bandit* at the National Archive....here you can see some of the Straits Settlements newspaper gossip items and police blotters I captured. Hilarious, tragic, telling stuff no matter what the subject (whether it was Somerset Maugham's buttoned-down planters going nuts/running amok, or infectious diseases being passed around by the Chinese laundry services, or opium dens being fined for admitting ladies, the place was off-the-hook).

The steamer-trunks-and-servants Golden Age of travel was also an interest piqued by the region, and I explored it for a web venture Flaming East.

  • in land of White Rajas (Conrad's early heartofdarkness?), she seemed 1) out of place 2) possibly mistress of her domain
  • The White Rajahs were a dynasty of Brits who ruled Sarawak for about a hundred years during the mid-19th-20th century.

Joseph Conrad, author of the novel Heart of Darkness, had earlier written Lord Jim, which may have been based in part on the pirate-filled sea experiences of the first White Rajah James Brooke.

To that setting of personal, mini-empire building, add the coiffed nature of this woman and you get someone who seems like she's holding it together somehow. She's managing to take care of herself.

At GlobalNiche.net we're not all about personal grooming -- nor are we conquering anything except perhaps our situations (setting up our own private rajs?).

...but this specific and historical background was swirling around the image of the coiffed lady when I snapped it as a displaced Western woman in the tropics myself. To me, the context was captured along with the image.

Being yourself *and* at home in a place very different than what you've known or been prepared for -- out of place, and mistress of our domain -- that's the GlobalNiche combo!

  • GlobalNiche's muse is a woman in the wild following her personal compass where ever around the world it might take her

And in conclusion...just as the Golden Age of Travel revolutionized the possibilities of exploring the world with confidence

at GlobalNiche.net we're operating globally with the ease of digital nomadism and with the precision of a unique sense of who we are

...suddenly our incidental heroine is thoroughly modern, and appropriate for today's unbounded age.

  • our muse is a #pioneer centered by her personal compass in an age when traveling with speed/style/grace is perfected

Tell us what you see in the wild-but-coiffed woman of Borneo. What name would you give her? (I think we're going to need one!)

On Travel & Twitter: My Thoughts At WorldHum

My comment on the subject of Twitter and travel, posted at World Hum: my favorite travel tweeters are people who share not only where they are, what's happening, why they're there, but also who they are and what they're looking for in the experience. a good example of this is @skinnylatte, a singaporean writer/photog bouncing between the UAE and SEAsia, tweeting all the way about her big life questions as well as the camel races in Abu Dhabi and the redshirt demonstrations in Bangkok.

also check out @everywheretrip, who's been on the road for 2 years and uses twitter brilliantly to drive traffic to his blog, but also to engage with people everywhere about what's happening where he is at the moment (Holy Week=Jerusalem)

as one tweeter in china says, "think global, tweet local". travel writers have a lot to share with the twitterverse, and twitter can be an integrated communications tool of greater power and less

as an American expat in Turkey, just being abroad falls into some people's travel category but I am also a travel writer and try to share cultural happenings and my local observations to events both here in Istanbul and elsewhere in the world.

Flaming East: How Do You Share Uncensored Awe About A Place?

The fresh perspective of an outsider-on-the-inside releases energy from all directions. What strikes us about a place — and may entice our fellow country-people  – often does not resonate to the same degree with the average native.

I was pleased to meet an expat woman entrepreneur on LinkedIn last week who was once a director at the American-Malaysian Chamber of Commerce. She now advises the Malaysian Tourism Ministry, sourcing products developed by foreigners so I’ve been revisiting a feverish amusement from a decade ago when I lived in Kuala Lumpur.

To enjoy the Newly Industrialized Country where hand-woven palm frond baskets were fast being replaced by pink plastic bags, I conceived a signature line of Southeast Asian travel mementoes, and a database of purveyors of exotic experiences like this on the island of Langkawi, on the island of Penang, and outside Kuala Lumpur.

I called the venture first Cool Arts South Sea and then Flaming East.

Cool Arts South Sea self-image

Inspired by history but not tethered to it, my Flaming East concept embraced the original wonder of the region’s watery crossroads, from the Renaissance’s Age of Discovery (with its empire-building and search for trade-routes) to the steamer trunks-and-servants Golden Age of Travel. All spiked with the delirium only a good bout of malaria could provide....

homepage

By the 1990s we were missing the boat, I moaned in my business proposal:

“The part of the world that lies around the South China Sea,” as one European narrator so circuitously referred to it, was once immersed in an illustrious mystique.  Pirates and monsoons held sway on the seas while headhunters and mosquitoes did their part in the interior. Yet for several centuries an international set of adventurers, traders, colonizing industrialists and pleasure travelers risked the tropical hazards. Along with Asiatic goods and unimaginable riches, fanciful tales filtered home: of ancient races, shining temples and blue, impenetrable jungle. Even the air was different here, the east wind apparently laden with the aroma of silks, sandalwood, spices and camphor. Well, no longer.”

To be honest, Southeast Asia’s enveloping assault on the senses continued. But colorful naiveté and uncensored awe were in short supply where I came from. Writing about the past of the place caused my politically-correct, Pacific Northwest spellchecker to protest. I was flaming the East! Didn’t I really mean “cinnamon” when I typed “Chinaman”?

Have you envisioned a tourism campaign, service or product for a locale where you're the outsider-on-the-inside? What does it show about the place, and you?

Decomposing Self: Misplacing Your Most Valuable Expatriate Possession

Happily at home in Istanbul in 2007, I flipped through Unsuitable for Ladies. Edited by Jane Robinson, this anthology of female travel writing crisscrosses the globe and stretches back into ancient history. Complete candy for me. Around the same time I was ruminating in an essay for a global nomad magazine why I've come to employ a defensive strategy for my expatriatism.

Sense of self is my most valuable expatriate possession.

During my first long-term stint overseas in the '90s my boundaries were over-run by circumstance and culture. Language and cultural barriers prevented me from expressing my identity. I'd tell Malaysians I was a writer. They'd reply, "Horses?"

I was mistaken for a different Western woman in Asia. A crew of Indonesian laborers working at my house wondered when I was going to drink a beer and take off my shirt.

Like leather shoes and handbags molding overnight, expat life on the equator made me feel my sense of self was decomposing at time-lapse speed.

A thunderbolt from Robinson: "Southeast Asia has more than its share of reluctant women travelers."

She compiled Wayward Women, a survey of 350 female travel writers through 16 centuries so her conclusion about Southeast Asian travelers is drawn from a massive canon. In that moment, my hardest-won lessons of expatriatism felt vindicated.

What happens to your unique travel or expat experience if you consider yourself part of a continuum?

Check out some of expat+HAREM's favorite hybrid life reads here.

Reading Travelers: Find Your Historical Context

"Can you share a travel secret?" asked an online travel site for women prepping its annual feature of tips from women writers worldwide. "Read the women who went before us," I replied. "Or, read about them."

For this expat/ archaeologist/ writer/ traveler, cultural wisdom pools at the intersection of women and travel.  The romance and grit of historical travelogue connects me to the land -- and reminds me of travel's transformative force in the lives of women. Reputation-risking. Life-threatening. Culturally redeeming. Personally empowering.  (My post about a related controversial history.)

Adventurous Women in Southeast Asia (Oxford-in-Asia), a selection of traveler sketches by historian John Gullick, gave my own struggling expatriate experience new meaning when I was sweating it out for 5 years in the Malaysian jungle. Playing an attitudinal extra aristocrat on the 1860s filmset of "Anna and The King" with Jodie Foster and Chow Yun Fat in 1999 (next to a pig farm during a swine flu outbreak, but that's another post!), I appreciated learning about the dark side of the iconic governess to the Siamese court. Foster may have played Anna Leonowens prim, proper and principled but actually the lady was a scrappy mixed-blood mistress of reinvention. There was hope for me!

If you plan a trip to Turkey maybe Cultures in Dialogue holds similar promise for you. The print-on-demand series resurrects antique writings by American and British women about their travels in Turkey (1880s to 1940s), along with surprisingly political writing by women of the Ottoman empire. Contempo analysis by spunky scholars Reina Lewis and Teresa Heffernan refreshes the context of a region in transition.

Any favorite antique travel reads? What draws you to by-gone reports? +++++ Check out some of expat+HAREM’s favorite hybrid life reads here.

Disposable Liaisons Of The Traveling Class

It's that time of year -- for what's euphemistically called "Romance on the Road." Getting your groove back in foreign zipcodes. Shirley Valentine’s Day. In 2006 I reviewed for Perceptive Travel a somewhat academic book about the controversial practice of "sex pilgrimage", traveling for the purpose of sexual adventure. I'm no proponent of behavior that often falls outside the bounds of a traveler's own culture as well as severely straining mores at international destinations. I warned the assigning editor he probably had more optimistic reviewers in his stable of cutting-edge travel writers. But he couldn't find anyone who wanted to be associated with the dense “history & how-to cum memoir” ROMANCE ON THE ROAD. Shipping it from Nashville, Tennessee to Istanbul was his best option.

Viewing the situation from the sex-toured Near East and my five years in South East Asia, it’s clear that one forgettable fling has the power to affect systems far larger than the person, family, village or region which witnessed and absorbed the behavior.

Plus, the environment of sexual predation many Western women face overseas is bound to be heightened by the wanton choices of sex pilgrims. Travelers and expatriates like me strive to modulate our behavior to find social acceptance with native friends, families and colleagues, aware we must differentiate ourselves from sexual opportunists who don't have to lie in the messy bed they've made.

Which cultural product are sex tourists exporting? Is the practice of hot-and-bothered globetrotters empirical evidence that Western culture is morally corrupt?

+++ Here's my full review from Perceptive Travel:

Romance on the Road Traveling Women Who Love Foreign Men

By Jeannette Belliveau (reviewed by Anastasia M. Ashman)

Jeannette Belliveau was a "sex pilgrim" for 12 years and now the 51 year old former erotic adventuress reveals all in this dense volume of travel sex history and how-to cum memoir.The author got her groove back after a divorce by sleeping with men in Greece, the Virgin Islands, the Bahamas and Brazil. Of French Canadian descent, she is currently married to a younger man of color she fantasizes looks like a 'pharaoh'. In ROMANCE ON THE ROAD she attempts to place her actions into wider context.

As an American expatriate living in Turkey, this reviewer senses a motive of authorial self-preservation: to normalize controversial sexual behavior which not only falls outside the bounds of her own culture but severely strains mores at international destinations.

Creating what she calls a geography of sex and love, the newspaperwoman from blue-collar Maryland examines a social phenomenon that may have involved more than 600,000 Western women in the past 25 years: travelers who engage in flings or long term affairs with foreign men, vaulting over cultural boundaries. While intercultural love and marriages are a subtheme, the book's focus is hedonistic sex with virile strangers."Travel sex by women is revolutionary," Belliveau declares, a rebellion barred from polite conversation and insufficiently chronicled by social scientists even if its roots are deep in Victorian travel.

The Western world might not deem it noteworthy but the buzz is growing in remote Central American fishing villages, sandy strips of West Africa, and the tiniest towns in the Himalayas. The author suggests that today's feminine voyagers are "stumbling into a major life experience without a map."

Does Romance on the Road provide a compass for the heartbroken (or hot-and-bothered) globetrotter looking for a distant cure? It can get a gal started.

Prurient interest will be dampened however by the charts, graphs, survey results, and Modern Language Association-style citations of more than 800 bibliographic sources from Henry James' Daisy Miller to a British newspaper feature entitled "My Toyboy Tours".

There's a global chronology of the trend, a summary of related books and movies, and basic ethics and etiquette ("remember the man is real, not an actor in your fantasy"; and "do not use him as a sperm donor").

She has done an admirable job of combining veteran intelligence on each locality with a profile of an adventurous Western woman and a timeline of foreign female exploits in the region. Much like the book itself, these geographic chapters are not all fun and games. In Latin America, "sex is a parallel universe of magic" yet gigolos may sport "a breezy attitude toward the truth". A sex pilgrim profiled has a bleak history, found murdered on the side of a Mexican road, "presumably left by a cruel pickup".

Clearly an optimist, Belliveau argues that despite obvious risks the lustful practice can be psychologically healing, fulfill a woman's urge for sexual connoisseurship, or address situations like involuntary celibacy.It can also be a road to discovery.

Erotic adventure may not be on the agenda but can be inspired by the act of travel itself. Wandering women have the opportunity to "reclaim pagan freedoms lost since the advent of civilization" Belliveau waxes, since they exist in a liminal zone, a reality unconnected to their usual existence. A traveler may view the people around her as social equals, think of herself as anonymous, feel unburdened by expectations of social propriety, be more playful and suggestive. Novelist Rebecca Brown is quoted discovering her sexuality on a trip abroad: "Like Stein, Toklas, and other women who have traveled away from home, it took leaving my native land to realize I was a lesbian."

Even so, it is difficult to approach Romance on the Road, or know who would, besides social scientists who might wallow in its surfeit of statistics or old hands who will identify with the insider dope, and buoyant we-can-all-get-it-on (and perhaps heal the world by having international children) conclusions. It's hardly pleasure reading nor something to openly peruse on a crowded subway. Some may not want to get caught reading it at all. This reviewer's Turkish husband handed it over saying "You got a trashy book in the mail."

It's unfortunate that Belliveau's concentration on ecstasy abroad overwhelms her scholarship on ethical and economic questions as well as cultural and social ramifications in sex-host cultures.

The few harmful consequences she includes are female tourists being perceived as "man-stealers" by native women in the Mediterranean, the Caribbean and Africa; the new role of hustler that thousands of foreign men have adopted; and a rise in STDs and incidents of harassment and assault. Soon enough she is making the case for positives like liberated Scandinavian women spurring sexual revolutions for their sisters in Spain, Greece and Mexico.

Belliveau doesn't seem concerned with the cultural factor freespirited sensualists export.

Writing from the sex-toured Near East, this reviewer suggests the damaging potential of each disposable liaison is empirical evidence that Western culture is morally corrupt. One forgettable fling has the power to affect systems far larger than the person, family, village or region which witnessed and absorbed the behavior.

The environment of sexual predation many Western women face overseas is also bound to be heightened by the wanton and culturally inappropriate choices of sex pilgrims. Travelers and expatriates striving to modulate their behavior to find social acceptance with native friends, families and colleagues must struggle to differentiate themselves from sexual opportunists who don't have to lie in the messy bed they've made.

Without apology Belliveau admits this detrimental byproduct of her Shirley Valentine amusement (or was it healing?): "At first I was appalled at the smothering level of harassment I encountered in Athens. Then I succumbed to these temptations, with the likelihood that my sex partners became further convinced about the ease of seducing any lone Western female tourists to later cross their paths."

On behalf of thousands of traveling women hoping to explore the world unmolested -- thanks for nothing.

Guest Hosting #LitChat On Twitter On Topic Of Expatriate Literature

Anastasia Ashman hosts #LitChat on topic of expatriate literatureOn May 29 at EST 4pm, I will guest host #litchat, an open discussion series founded by a fellow author (@litchat), on the topic of expatriate literature. (#litchat is an hour-long open discussion on a topic, three times a week. You can follow it in Twitter search or on www.Tweetchat.com using the term “litchat”.)

I’ll be guiding the hour-long live discussion, soliciting opinions and offering my own based on this view:

Expatriate literature may be stocked in the travel section, but does it deserve a shelf of its own?

Living for extended periods in foreign locales, expatriates struggle to reestablish themselves and find meaningful access to their new home.

Travelers passing through often have the luxury to avoid the very issues of assimilation and identity that dominate the expat psyche.

We’ll talk about the unique depths this can bring to expat lit’s combination of outsider-view-from-the-inside and journey of self-realization.

See litchat.wordpress.com for more info.

+++

See the transcripts of my expat #litchat event here.

Going On Record As A Travel Writer With Rolf Potts' Interview Series

Excerpt from a travel writers interview by Rolf Potts at his Vagabonding site, 2006. View the full interview here. How did you get started traveling?

My fascination with a wider world cropped up early.

As a toddler in countercultural Berkeley, CA my favorite pastime was "French Lady", a tea party with Continental accents.

I began traveling even further when I learned to read -- comic books.

Instead of poring over Archie & Veronica, perky storylines that revolved around characters who never graduated from high school nor breached the border of their staid hometown, I was entranced by the global expanse of history and people and culture revealed in the Belgian-made graphic adventures of Tintin.

Tracking a drug-smuggling ring in Egypt, discovering a meteorite with a Polar research vessel, surviving a plane wreck on an Indonesian island -- this was life!

Tintin's travel tales, and many others after them, remain reference points. Last fall at a museum in Nazca, Peru one long-haired, head-banded Incan mummy stirred a pleasant flashback to "The Seven Crystal Balls", as well as the awe of my twelve-year old self. It's no wonder I pursued a degree in archaeology.

How did you get started writing? AA: In the early  '70s I kept a journal on childhood road trips where I recorded preferences for the wildness of Baja's bumpy sand roads and discovering the mother-lode of sand-dollar graveyards in San Felipe to a sedate spin around British Columbia's Lake Victoria and a fur-seal keychain from the gift shop.

Later I was a correspondent, trying to explain my own culture to teen pen pals in Wales, Northern Ireland, and Malaysia, while I searched for clues about theirs hidden in precise penmanship, tarty vocabulary, and postage stamps with monarchs -- some butterflies, some queens.

During a slew of 20-something media and entertainment jobs I wrote and edited for years, whenever the opportunity presented itself, for a book packager and literary agency in New York, and for television, theatre and film producers in Los Angeles.

What do you consider your first "break" as a writer?

AA: Reviewing Pico Iyer's essay collection Tropical Classical: Essays from Several Directions for the Far Eastern Economic Review in 1997. The newsweekly magazine based in Hong Kong was equivalent to TIME in Asia. I was living in Malaysia and devoting more attention to my writing career, so it was a breakthrough to write for a major publication and huge audience about subjects which mesmerized me.

What is your biggest challenge in the research and writing process?

AA: Calling up facts. Seeing the larger story. Sitting down and doing the writing!

What is your biggest challenge from a business standpoint? Editors? Finances? Promotion?

AA: Publishers and acquisition editors and publicists seem to have narrow expectations for travel literature so for my next book I plan to devote a lot of energy to a detailed marketing plan which will accompany the manuscript in its rounds to publishers. Jennifer and I learned quite a bit about marketing to publishers with Tales from the Expat Harem, which was initially turned down by 10 New York houses who liked it but couldn't fathom its market (Turkey's too limited a subject, they said).

We've since determined that it addresses a multitude of distinct groups beyond the basic cells of travelers, expatriates, women writers and travel writers. In fact, we found enough specific target markets we were able to fill a hundred pages of our marketing plan with actual contacts of potentially interested people and organizations, like Turkish American associations, women's and Middle Eastern studies programs at hundreds of North American universities, and specific Turkophile populations like the alumni of the Peace Corps who served in Turkey.

And the beauty of a marketing plan which breaks down readerships is that a writer (or if you're lucky, a publisher) can contact all of these people.

Jennifer and I also compiled more practical subsidiary audiences for the anthology, like multinational corporations with operations in Turkey, and embassies and tourism organizations which might use the book as a cross-cultural training tool or a promotional vehicle. We were successful enough in our initial efforts in academic marketing that the book is currently used in at least three university courses and is stocked by more than 100 academic and public libraries worldwide.

Have you ever done other work to make ends meet?

AA: Always. Often my most satisfying work has been poorly compensated. I do believe that will change, eventually! Until then I continue to be a proponent of pursuing the work you love rather than the work which pays best.

An essay about a transformational subway ride which I wrote for an obscure website in 2002 not only led me to be quoted in the New York Times and brought me my literary agent, but it also now appears in The Subway Chronicles book published by the site's creator, alongside venerated New York writers like Calvin Trillin, Colson Whitehead and Jonathan Lethem.

What travel authors or books might you recommend and/or have influenced you?

AA: Recently I enjoyed Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before by Tony Horwitz for its mix of historical research, personal experience, and contemporary journalism.

Historical travel writing also connects me to the lands I find myself in, and points to the parallels which still exist.

My steamy days in Kuala Lumpur were enriched by reading Somerset Maugham, whose Malayan fiction was entirely believable. A series of historical Asian travelogues and contemporary scholarship released by Oxford-in-Asia jogged my imagination and similarly, now that I am based in Turkey, I'll be turning to the Cultures in Dialogue series at Gorgias Press, which resurrects antique writings about Turkish life by British and American women travelers and refreshes them with contemporary academic analysis.

What advice and/or warnings would you give to someone who is considering going into travel writing?

AA: Advice: Read the bulletin boards at Travelwriters.com. A lot of very fundamental wisdom there about the life and business of travel writing. Warning: Don't post a word at Travelwriters until you've read the boards for a week or two and have a good understanding of what topics have already been covered, and how best to introduce yours.

What is the biggest reward of life as a travel writer?

AA: Sharing my view of the world with others. Adding to the conversation. Having every excuse to adventure.

Heartbroken (or Hot-and-Bothered) Globetrotters

My review of Romance on the Road: Traveling Women Who Love Foreign Men by Jeannette Belliveau Jeannette Belliveau was a "sex pilgrim" for 12 years and now the 51 year old former erotic adventuress reveals all in this dense volume of travel sex history and how-to cum memoir.

The author got her groove back after a divorce by sleeping with men in Greece, the Virgin Islands, the Bahamas and Brazil. Of French Canadian descent, she is currently married to a younger man of color she fantasizes looks like a 'pharaoh'. In ROMANCE ON THE ROAD she attempts to place her actions into wider context. As an American expatriate living in Turkey, this reviewer senses a motive of authorial self-preservation: to normalize controversial sexual behavior which not only falls outside the bounds of her own culture but severely strains mores at international destinations.

Creating what she calls a geography of sex and love, the newspaperwoman from blue-collar Maryland examines a social phenomenon that may have involved more than 600,000 Western women in the past 25 years: travelers who engage in flings or long term affairs with foreign men, vaulting over cultural boundaries. While intercultural love and marriages are a subtheme, the book's focus is hedonistic sex with virile strangers.

"Travel sex by women is revolutionary," Belliveau declares, a rebellion barred from polite conversation and insufficiently chronicled by social scientists even if its roots are deep in Victorian travel. The Western world might not deem it noteworthy but the buzz is growing in remote Central American fishing villages, sandy strips of West Africa, and the tiniest towns in the Himalayas. The author suggests that today's feminine voyagers are "stumbling into a major life experience without a map."

Does Romance on the Road provide a compass for the heartbroken (or hot-and-bothered) globetrotter looking for a distant cure? It can get a gal started. Prurient interest will be dampened however by the charts, graphs, survey results, and Modern Language Association-style citations of more than 800 bibliographic sources from Henry James' Daisy Miller to a British newspaper feature entitled "My Toyboy Tours". There's a global chronology of the trend, a summary of related books and movies, and basic ethics and etiquette ("remember the man is real, not an actor in your fantasy"; and "do not use him as a sperm donor").

She has done an admirable job of combining veteran intelligence on each locality with a profile of an adventurous Western woman and a timeline of foreign female exploits in the region. Much like the book itself, these geographic chapters are not all fun and games. In Latin America, "sex is a parallel universe of magic" yet gigolos may sport "a breezy attitude toward the truth". A sex pilgrim profiled has a bleak history, found murdered on the side of a Mexican road, "presumably left by a cruel pickup". Clearly an optimist, Belliveau argues that despite obvious risks the lustful practice can be psychologically healing, fulfill a woman's urge for sexual connoisseurship, or address situations like involuntary celibacy.

It can also be a road to discovery. Erotic adventure may not be on the agenda but can be inspired by the act of travel itself. Wandering women have the opportunity to "reclaim pagan freedoms lost since the advent of civilization" Belliveau waxes, since they exist in a liminal zone, a reality unconnected to their usual existence. A traveler may view the people around her as social equals, think of herself as anonymous, feel unburdened by expectations of social propriety, be more playful and suggestive. Novelist Rebecca Brown is quoted discovering her sexuality on a trip abroad: "Like Stein, Toklas, and other women who have traveled away from home, it took leaving my native land to realize I was a lesbian."

Even so, it is difficult to approach Romance on the Road, or know who would, besides social scientists who might wallow in its surfeit of statistics or old hands who will identify with the insider dope, and buoyant we-can-all-get-it-on (and perhaps heal the world by having international children) conclusions. It's hardly pleasure reading nor something to openly peruse on a crowded subway. Some may not want to get caught reading it at all. This reviewer's Turkish husband handed it over saying "You got a trashy book in the mail."

It's unfortunate that Belliveau's concentration on ecstasy abroad overwhelms her scholarship on ethical and economic questions as well as cultural and social ramifications in sex-host cultures. The few harmful consequences she includes are female tourists being perceived as "man-stealers" by native women in the Mediterranean, the Caribbean and Africa; the new role of hustler that thousands of foreign men have adopted; and a rise in STDs and incidents of harassment and assault. Soon enough she is making the case for positives like liberated Scandinavian women spurring sexual revolutions for their sisters in Spain, Greece and Mexico.

Belliveau doesn't seem concerned with the cultural factor freespirited sensualists export. Writing from the sex-toured Near East, this reviewer suggests the damaging potential of each disposable liaison is empirical evidence that Western culture is morally corrupt. One forgettable fling has the power to affect systems far larger than the person, family, village or region which witnessed and absorbed the behavior.

The environment of sexual predation many Western women face overseas is also bound to be heightened by the wanton and culturally inappropriate choices of sex pilgrims. Travelers and expatriates striving to modulate their behavior to find social acceptance with native friends, families and colleagues must struggle to differentiate themselves from sexual opportunists who don't have to lie in the messy bed they've made.

Without apology Belliveau admits this detrimental byproduct of her Shirley Valentine amusement (or was it healing?): "At first I was appalled at the smothering level of harassment I encountered in Athens. Then I succumbed to these temptations, with the likelihood that my sex partners became further convinced about the ease of seducing any lone Western female tourists to later cross their paths."

On behalf of thousands of traveling women hoping to explore the world unmolested -- thanks for nothing.

+++

This appeared in Perceptive Travel, July/August 2006

Figurehead Travel Model For The Sharing Economy

Acknowledging a tendency for certain students to be natural leaders in their social circles, Kerim Baran, principal of a figurehead travel service based in San Francisco, invites magnetic personalities to serve as unencumbered trip leaders while their classmates cement social and professional bonds in style.

“Imagine jetting off to an exotic locale with your favorite college crowd,” says Baran. “Without the buzz-killing responsibility of being in charge.”

 

Inspired by his own social travel peaks while in the academy, this Harvard MBA offers a short-cut to quality group travel in Turkey and beyond, absorbing intensive logistics and tailoring trips to culturally curious, active collegiates.

In its maiden season this past summer, Baran chartered Istanbul nightclub hopping and Aegean yachting tours for several assemblies of Harvard students.

Staging my destination wedding in Turkey last year was a first-hand lesson in the immense energy investment -- and memorable profit -- of group travel. Through social connections I have become acquainted with Mr. Baran and his travel philosophy.

I see it as a way to maximize college holidays: students with less cash to drop than shoulders to rub can benefit from the economy of scale offered by this new form of group trip. The figurehead model.