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F is for Female Nomad: An Interview with Rita Golden Gelman

Rita in a classroom in Tanzania, Africa.
One of the best examples of living an extraordinary life has to be Rita Golden Gelman.
Rita had always done the “right” thing. She got married and had two children. Then, at the age of 48, she found herself on the verge of divorce. Her children were grown and living miles away. She decided it was time to live life on her own terms.
So what did Rita do? She sold almost everything she owned and began her life as a female nomad. Trained in anthropology at UCLA, she immersed herself in the culture of every country she visited, living with a local family whenever possible. As an anthropologist, she tries to blend in as much as she can and never imposes her own views or morals on anyone else, which is not always easy.
She’s found blowing soap bubbles to be an excellent ice breaker, especially with children.
The thing I love about Rita and her memoir, Tales of a Female Nomad, is that she lets you behind the curtain. So many of these travel/adventure memoirs make it all seem so easy–the biggest difficulties you ever read about are lost luggage that is almost immediately retrieved, or maybe some unwanted male attention. When you read about Rita’s journey, you are sharing her joys and her struggles. During her first trip to a rural village in Mexico, the women shut her out until someone was kind enough to lend her traditional clothing. This made all the difference in the world.
One of the main messages I got from her book is that you don’t have to be brave all the time, or exceptionally outgoing, or in your early twenties to be able to travel this way. All you need is to be willing, positive, and open to each new experience.
Rita is currently renting a house in Oregon while she works on the Gap Year Project, something she is intensely passionate about. I was thrilled that she was willing to be interviewed for this blog.
“I’m doing what I’m supposed to do, and I’m as happy as anyone you’ll ever know,” she says of her nomadic lifestyle. “I haven’t had a home in 27 years. I’m homeless but I’m not poor.”
When she arrives in a new country, one of her favourite tricks is to visit a local restaurant. She will eat at the same table at the same time for three days in a row to make sure she always gets the same waitress. Once she’s been accepted as a new “regular”, she’ll ask for suggestions on how to stay with a local family. She’ll also ask for help with the language.
 “I try to learn ten good sentences and I forget them all the time. Asking people to teach me their language dignifies them and lowers me, which I like,” she says.“I’ll talk to absolutely anybody. You learn to do so when you travel because it enriches your life. Smile a lot, talk to strangers.”
After her experience in Mexico, she always dresses like a local.
“I was blonde, my face was pasty, my eyes were blue, my clothes were wrong. There was nothing they could relate to. Wearing traditional clothing helps with connection,” she says.“Learn their language, the games they play, and foods they eat. I also don’t take pictures unless the community has cameras of their own, because it objectifies people.”
When Rita began her journey, she was already a prolific children’s author. Her royalties provided more than enough to live on, especially if she stayed in developing countries. But she has some great ideas on how everyone can travel the world on a tight budget.
Servas is wonderful. I crossed this country using Servas,” says Rita, who has met people in India, Colombia, Guatemala, Tanzania, Thailand, and Laos through the organization. If you’re a member of Servas, you are open to letting travellers stay in your home for free. “There are 15,000 families around the world who want you to come visit. They can’t wait to show you their world. Sometimes they pick you up at the airport.”

She also recommends Idealist, which posts job openings around the world.

“Your comfort zone is a trap. When you travel, you’re challenged and you have to make decisions. You suddenly know who you are and you become a leader for the rest of your life,” Rita says. “I’m afraid of almost nothing. Fear is the opposite of trust. If you trust people, you’re not afraid. If you trust the world will treat you well, it will. Someday I’m going to trust a serial killer, but what a ride it’s been.”

To learn more about Rita and her extraordinary adventures, read Tales of a Female Nomad. You will not be disappointed.
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21 Comments

  1. Karen Jones Gowen

    Fascinating! I’m going to look for this book. Following you from the A to Z Challenge, will visit again!

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      Thanks, Karen! Welcome to my blog. It’s an awesome book. One of the best travel memoirs I’ve ever read, by far. Rita really takes you along for the ride.

      Reply
    • Rita Golden Gelman, Founder, LET'S GET GLOBAL

      Thanks, Holli. I do hope the interview inspires tons of people to take off and connect across cultures…in the developing world. The payoff is a heart throbbing, blood pumping joy that comes with the warmth and welcome that inevitably comes when you are open and smiling. Yes, it does involve getting out of your comfort-zone….but that comfort zone is a trap! Forget it. Take some risks, cross some borders, and smile!! It’ll change your life!

      Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      Thanks for commenting, Rita. As you can see, everyone is so inspired by your story. Thanks for living such an extraordinary life and sharing it with the rest of us through your beautiful book.

      Reply
  2. Crystal Collier

    Super awesome. I would love to travel that way, and when my kids are out of the house and it’s just me and my hubby, we will be off to see the world, serve in 3rd world countries, and spend our days with people of different cultures. Can’t wait!

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      Sounds awesome, Crystal! What an experience to have. I so admire anyone who can make that happen.

      Reply
  3. Charity Bradford

    I’m with Crystal. How wonderful to travel and just study cultures and people!

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      I really admire people who can live like Rita, with no possessions to speak of and no home base. As much as I’m downsizing to move to an island next year, there’s still many things I feel I “can’t” live without. Rita wasn’t even in town when her house sold–she never saw the majority of her belongings again, and she really could care less. I love that about her.

      Reply
  4. Elsie Elmore

    Was amazed at her level of trust and desire for full immersion within each culture. Thanks for sharing her story. Adding this book to my list. Great post.

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      It’s truly a great book, Elsie. I just loved it, and I loved it before she agreed to be interviewed. 🙂

      Reading it, I was astounded at how long she tried to be accepted in the Mexican village before she actually was. I would have given up long before she did!

      Reply
  5. Rhonda Parrish

    I just put a hold on Tales of a Female Nomad at my local library. You intrigued me!

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      That’s awesome, Rhonda! Be sure to let me know what you think.

      Reply
  6. Chrys Fey

    Rita Golden Gelman is a true inspiration! I’m going to have to read her book to find out even more about her adventures. I’m going to do what Rhonda did and put it on hold at my local library. 🙂

    I dream of doing what she did, but I’m not sure I’d be able to manage it. But if she could, maybe I can too. 🙂

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      Thanks for commenting, Chrys. She truly is inspirational, and I love that she included all the mishaps and all the awkward moments. So often travel memoirs are written by the uber-confident, who never seem to struggle with anything. Rita is a lot more real, and that makes her adventures an accessible dream for the rest of us.

      Reply
  7. Stephanie Faris

    What an amazing woman. Such courage. I think many of us wish we could do something like that, but we never really do.

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      Thanks, Stephanie. I agree, and yet it’s rare to meet a person who doesn’t say one of their greatest regrets is that they didn’t travel enough. Maybe we don’t all feel comfortable going to the extreme Rita did, but why not go on an immersive vacation? She also has some great ideas for ways to leave your comfort zone without leaving home. I’ll be sharing those when we hit the letter T. 🙂

      Reply
  8. Erica Gore

    What a great story and what a woman!
    Thanks for this most interesting post.
    Erica

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      You’re very welcome, Erica. I’m glad you liked it. Thanks for the kind words!

      Reply
  9. melaniegobledvm

    I love this! I can’t wait until the day that I can do this regularly. If I could drop everything and travel around the world, learning about other cultures and people, helping where I can, I would do it in a heartbeat! (if only my husband agreed!)

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      Maybe you could twist his arm? I don’t think he’d ever regret it.

      Reply
    • Rita Golden Gelman, Founder, LET'S GET GLOBAL

      Maybe he’d do it with Servas (www.usservas.org). Look at “hosts, member countries” There are 15,000 hosts out there who want you to come visit them. It’s like having family wherever you go!!

      Reply

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