America-bound until visa problems saw me jailed by Homeland Security – a fabulous weight-loss initiative, in case you're wondering, and four days of not washing your hair really brings out its essential oils – in lieu of actual travel I decided to read On the Road by Jack Kerouac. The Bible of the Beat Generation, parts of it are lyrically, almost spiritually, beautiful. Parts are utter crap. But it was written over the course of just three weeks in a sleepless frenzy of coffee and Benzedrine - which makes the good bits even more astonishing: forget Benzedrine, if I stay awake for as much as 48 hours it doesn't produce much more than hysterical crying and prison guards pleased to see the back of me.
The book was rejected and rejected and rejected as publisher after publisher worried about indecency charges due to its risqué content (people who aren't married have sex) but finally launched to great acclaim, the New York Times calling it 'the clearest and most important utterance of the generation.'
OK, and well done Jack. Small problem – the book's hero Dean Moriarty is a complete bastard. I would have pushed him out of a moving car after half an hour of his misogynistic drivel. The deadest of deadbeat dads, off his head most of the time and a raving loony the rest, Dean leaves debts, wives, and unsupported children scattered from San Francisco to New Orleans. Sal Paradise, our narrator, isn't much better and the only female character of any note is Mary Lou, a vacant blonde who sometimes travels naked (probably due to a lack of clean clothes). All of which started me thinking: who are the great traveling women of fiction, the literary ladies inspiring the packing of suitcases? For a moment, I worried there mightn't be any. Luckily, there's heaps. Here are some:
The Wife of Bath from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. On the road when it wasn't even a footpath, the Wife of Bath practically invented rambling - during a group walk from Winchester to the shrine of Thomas Beckett. Saucy, sexually exhausting (her first three elderly husbands died catering to her appetites) and rich, the widow Allison is in need of a younger man, but more than that, equality in marriage and 'sovereyntee' over her own property – a pretty radical concept in 1387.
Alice. Bored and looking for an adventure, Alice falls down a rabbit hole (difficult) into the undiscovered continent of Wonderland, where she studies the local flora and fauna by eating it and encounters it's people; some of whom are mad, others bloodthirsty. Denouncing animal cruelty (playing croquet with flamingos) and chronic one dimensionality (cards who think they're soldiers), she returns home. Dr. Livingstone's got nothing on her.
Wendy Darling. Flies over London at nighttime on her way to Neverland. As a girl who is beginning to 'grow up' she stands in stark contrast to Peter Pan, who refuses to do so. Gets caught up in a messy love triangle involving a fairy and plays house with some lost boys, until, fed up with the drudgery, she leaves for adulthood and servants of her own. Peter continues a mildly pathetic relationship with Wendy's children and grandchildren – the uncle who never grew up – teaching them to fly and filling them up with rubbish.
Dorothy Gale. Caught up with her dog Toto in a cyclone that deposits her into munchkin county in the land of Oz, Dorothy finds her house has landed on and killed the wicked witch of the East. Stealing the corpses' shoes, she then meets three men lacking, variously: courage, heart and brains (the bad boyfriend club). Finally, At the behest of a local warlord, Dorothy knocks off the wicked witch of the West. A bit of an operator, really. But traveling sometimes brings out the worst in people.
Miss Lucy Honeychurch. Wants a room with a view. Gets one.
Aunt Augusta in Graham Greene's Travels with my Aunt. A septuagenarian eccentric with flaming red hair, for whom love has been the defining feature of her life, Augusta draws her 'nephew' into a globe-trotting world of excitement, danger and fluid legality.
Lieutenant Ahura. Boldly goes where no communication officer has gone before: space, the final frontier. Has fabulous taste in earrings.
Thelma and Louise. A road trip that goes a bit pear-shaped. Yes, they dove off a cliff at the end, but so did Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Saving the best for last, Dora the Explorer. This animated Latin vagabond, monkey sidekick Boots the Sancho Panza to her Don Quixote, is the most awesome of girl adventurers. With Dora as example, young ladies learn to make a friend of their backpack and beware of swipers. Combine that with living for love and wonder, investing in great jewelery and avoiding the edges of cliffs, and I can think of no better travel advice. Apart from: always make sure you have the right visa.