A Support Group for Travelers: The San Francisco Travel Book Club and Lecture Series

Forty women – readers, writers and travelers, wannabes and already haves – gathered tightly in the back of Books, Inc in San Francisco to absorb the travel tales from the editor and three contributors of the just published The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2011: True Stories from Around the World (Travelers’ Tales).

San Francisco Travelers Book Club

Photo courtesy of Tara Russell

Our gathering was organized by Tara Russell, who is described by the book’s editor Lavinia Spalding, as “a force for good.” Tara organizes, runs, and delivers the Meetup Group “San Francisco Travel Book Club and Lectures Series” to hungry travelers, readers, and those who just need a “support group for travel” as one attendee described it. I joined last fall after arriving in San Francisco from two years of traveling around the world. Hungry for something travel-related in the world of “settling down” and “finding a home,” I searched “travel” on Meetup.com and was rewarded with this therapy for wanderlusters.

Tara strives to give travelers “the same kind of random connections and intimate conversations found at 3 a.m. in a hostel lobby.” She chose a book club because a bookstore is where she felt returned travelers go to feel connected with the places and sense of adventure they miss from the road. Plus, she wanted to support local booksellers like Books, Inc.  Hopefully,  the Lonely Planets are kept behind the counter.

In addition to a returned-traveler community, Tara also founded the book club to inspire those who are ready to take a break from their cubicles and travel the world. “If you’re ready to take a break from your beige veal cages, call me,” she humorously encouraged at the intro of the event. Tara, a certified life coach, formed her company, Three Month Visa Coaching and Consulting, as way to give people “clarity and commitment” to their travel dreams.

Tara Russell

Tara Russell

At this event and at others I’ve attended, there’s a common refrain shared among wannabe travelers – those who have big travel dreams, but have yet to act on them. Tara speaks of a “holy trinity of objections [to travel] – career, money, and family.” As a life coach, Tara helps her clients meet those obstacles head on. She works with them to plan how to use a big trip to benefit their career, how to make money stretch the furthest before and during travel, and how to use family travel as a way to become closer.

Tara relates her own story to clients and attendees. “I earned 10 months of freedom off of nine bucks an hour.” Working as an emergency medical technician, her minimum-wage salary and discipline afforded her an extended trip to South American and Asia. Upon return and with a new job surrounded by executive coaches, she decided one night to start a company that combined life coaching and travel. That was in 2005 and six years later, numerous clients have benefited from her advocacy, network, and assistance in making their travel dreams come true.

On this particular night at the San Francisco Travel Book Club and Lecture Series, Tara had gathered four travel-writing powerhouses and contributors to the 2011 edition of The Best Women’s Travel Writing to share their stories and inspiration with the hungry dreamers in the audience.

  • Lavinia Spalding, book editor and writer, shared how she began her travel lifestyle with the help of her older sister and conspiring friends while sharing Tanqueray and tonics on a New Jersey rooftop.
  • Marcia DeSanctis, a widely published journalist who flew in from New York, read “Masha.” The story described her time in Russia as a tour guide, where she resided at a Soviet-era hotel, complete with curious government officials and scavenging attendants.
  • Laura Deutsch, a long-time travel writer with a spiritual bent, read “The Rhythms of Arezzo” about her month in Arezzo, Italy where she was waylaid by sickness. Instead of wallowing she found the charms of the town and people as a way to get back to health.
  • Marianne Rogoff, a writer and teacher at California College of Arts, eloquently spoke her story, “Common Tongues” with accents and lyrics, about her writer’s retreats in Mexico where her and other women tried to find a way to communicate with a visiting Latvian (male) sports team.

Their tales and the following questions about how to travel and get published blended into a vibrant evening of women meeting women, travelers meeting travelers and stories finding a home with an eager audience. Tara closed one part of the evening with an invitation to join the group at a wine bar across the street and continue the connections. For this traveler and writer, it was a welcome chance to connect further with my new travel heroes and feel more settled into this community than ever before.

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