Summer Muse: Books, films, and podcasts from our staff

Summer Muse: Books, films, and podcasts from our staff

Jun 15, 2021|Traveler Resources| by Christa Markley

Looking to feed your wanderlust or learn about a new topic this summer? Here, we’ve gathered some of our staff's favorite book, documentary, and podcast recommendations. Whether you’re interested in taking a vicarious journey through the pages, discovering new worlds and people from your living room, or pondering some of the planet’s most pressing questions – we’ve got a pick for you.


“Educated: A Memoir” by Tara Westover
recommended by Chris Bensley, VP Partnerships and Marketing

Chris says: Whether you work in education or not, this personal account of the daughter of a survivalist living in the mountains of Idaho will captivate you. It will not only make you appreciate a “normal” upbringing, but get you to look at your own life with fresh eyes. Anyone who has had a family struggle will identify with the choice of accepting a difficult upbringing or cutting ties. If you love adventure, it also provides an account of living unconventionally, shut off from the rest of the world.

“Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms: The Story of The Animals and Plants That Time Has Left Behind” by Richard Fortey
recommended by Kevin Van Dien, Specialty Travel Consultant

Kevin says: This book is about evolution, but instead of being about extinct plants and animals, it focuses on the ancient ones that are still alive, the ones that have survived multiple mass extinctions.  But it is also a travel narrative, as the author travels the globe to see these species and understand their relationships to their past, present, and future environments.  It made me want to go to Australia, New Zealand, Ecuador, to find some of these bizarre relics.

“No Touch Monkey!: And Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late” by Ayun Halliday
recommended by Wendy Frazier, Air Specialist

Wendy says: If you're looking for a fun, easy read, this book would be a perfect fit. Part memoir, part travelogue, "No Touch Monkey!" is essentially about the expectation of travel versus the reality. The stories range from laugh-out-loud-nearly-pee-your-pants to so much cringe and secondhand shame. I think I read it three times, which is rare for me! *Note: this book does contain adult content

“The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander Von Humboldt” by Andrea Wulf
recommended by ​Andrea Holbrook, President

Andrea says: This book tells a story that has been somewhat lost – the story of explorer, scientist, scholar, and thinker Alexander Von Humboldt. Many of us have heard of Humboldt because so much is named for him, such as the Humboldt current, the Humboldt penguin, and Humboldt National Park. But few understand his importance. He was the first thinker to conceive of the idea that all things in nature are connected in a web of life. As early as the 1830s, he was writing about man's impact on the natural world through deforesting, irrigating, and polluting the air with manufacturing. Reading this book was amazing; the account of his life is almost like a fictional adventure! The book also discusses his legacy, and the influence he had on naturalists like Charles Darwin and Henry David Thoreau. Truly outstanding. 

“The Flame Trees of Thika: Memories of an African Childhood” by Elspeth Huxley
recommended by Anna Brown, Program Manager

Anna says: Elspeth Huxley’s memoir is a beautifully written account of her childhood years living in Kenya during British rule. She and her parents moved to Thika, Kenya after her father bought a large tract of land he hoped to develop into a working farm. The book offers an interesting glimpse at the life of European settlers in Kenya during the early 1900s, seen through the eyes of a young girl.   


“My Octopus Teacher,” Netflix
recommended by Chris Bensley, VP Partnerships and Marketing

Chris says: You don’t need to be into documentaries to love this moving film. It won the Best Documentary at the Academy Awards last year and has amazing cinematography. It takes you on a journey beneath the water into a natural world and shows how humans can connect to wildlife on an emotional level. It’s inspiring and calming, therapy for the main character and also the viewer. The lessons for listening to nature are prescient.

“Dynasties,” BBC America
recommended by Sandy Schmidt, Specialty Travel Consultant

Sandy says: This incredible project was two years in the making, with teams all over the globe as they zeroed in on five particular families of animals, following them for sometimes longer than a year and giving us stories that are eye-poppingly amazing and brutally honest. And come on, who doesn’t absolutely love listening and learning from David Attenborough?! Don’t miss any of the episodes – I guarantee you will learn a great deal, and be moved beyond words. And don’t miss any of the episodes going “behind the scenes,” how these shows were made!

“Dancing with Birds,” Netflix
recommended by Stephanie Kowacz, Chief Operations Officer

Stephanie says: This is a short, fun documentary on bird courtships. Enjoy one hour watching an array of what male birds go through to attract that special beaked lady!

“The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came To Eden”
recommended by Kevin Van Dien, Specialty Travel Consultant

Kevin says: I watched this while on a boat in the Galapagos, and it is a documentary that plays out like reality TV, with bizarre real-life characters and lots of drama and intrigue. If you want to know what life was like for the first settlers on Floreana Island, check this out.  Plus it has a great voice cast, including Cate Blanchett!



“Ologies” with Alie Ward
recommended by Lindsay Taulbee, Marketing Manager

Lindsay says: I’m a big fan of the podcast Ologies. In her own words, host Alie Ward “asks smart people stupid questions” as she interviews experts from a variety of mostly science-related fields. I’ve learned about so many new topics, and often the ones I think sound boring end up being the most interesting. (Who knew hagfish were so cool?) It’s clear each guest is passionate about what they do, and they make science feel accessible, even to a lay-person like me. If you’re looking to try it out, some of my personal favorites are the episodes on futurology, phonology and etymology, quantum ontology, spidroinology…I could go on.

“The Inquiry,” BBC World Service
recommended by Christa Markley, Interactive Designer

Christa says: I love listening to BBC's The Inquiry, because it breaks down high-level, complex issues in a methodical and manageable way. Each episode centers on one single question, then deconstructs it into its key components, calling on experts to present challenges, opportunities, obstacles, and context in an effort to provide an answer. Usually the topics address current events or complex global problems that can seem daunting before listening. For issues of natural and human environments, I recommend their episodes How Soon Can We Go Carbon Zero?, How Can We Save Our Forests?, and How Do You Move a Capital City?.

“The Moth Radio Hour,” PRX
recommended by Jen Hajj, Specialty Travel Consultant

Jen says: I’m fond of podcasts, and The Moth Radio Hour is one to sink your teeth into. Short, true stories, told by the people who experienced them. They often feature stories of the hardships experienced in other parts of the world. Some are small triumphs, others are huge. They’re all really inspirational.


This post was originally published on 4/22/20; updated 6/15/21