Around the world with Shirley Mayhew

Colorful essay collection chronicles global travel that spans three decades. 

Shirley Mayhew has put together a collection of her essays, titled "Around the World in Thirty Years." —Lexi Pline

While the rest of us were complaining about the traffic, fighting off the crowds, and trying unsuccessfully to keep deer out of the garden and skunks out of the trash, Mayhew deftly finalized and published another colorful essay collection. 

“Around the World in Thirty Years” is a gathering of 20 short reminiscences of trips spanning some three decades. Mayhew’s photographer daughter Sarah designed the eye-catching cover, while West Tisbury writer (and MV Times freelancer) Amelia Smith was book designer.

This is the fourth volume Mayhew has published since 2014, including two essay collections and her 2016 children’s story, “Islander: The Circus Comes to Martha’s Vineyard.”
“Around the World in Thirty Years,” an attractive paperback, delivers exactly what the title promises — finely recalled tales of travel from around the United States to Iceland, Greenland, the U.K., then on to such exotic destinations as Japan, Kenya, Thailand, Nepal, Burma, and Indonesia, and many more. Mayhew has frequently said that her travels began relatively late in life, with her children grown and years of experience teaching school on her résumé. 

Mayhew was not a nomadic teen, nor a backpacking college student trekking around Europe or Asia like some of her peers. She could have caught the travel bug earlier, we might imagine. Instead her adventures as a Pembroke student took a different direction — falling

in love with and marrying dashing Navy pilot veteran John Mayhew, moving to his Island home, and settling down to raise a family.

“In 1972 I was 46 years old, and had never been out of the country,” Mayhew writes. In her organized fashion, perhaps developed through years as a schoolteacher in Edgartown, she began researching travel opportunities, transportation, tours, and destinations. Her first trip off United States soil was to Iceland and then Scotland, where she knew she could speak the language. By 1974 she bravely ventured to Russia, a college graduation gift for her daughter, Deborah. From that colorful expedition, despite several challenging moments, she never looked back.

Mayhew logged an impressive list of journeys to more than 50 separate destinations, most of them outside the country. She made at least one excursion each year, and often two or three. She kept careful journals and took many photos everywhere she went.

In recent years, she dug out the journals and developed the recollections into short personal essays while participating in Cynthia Riggs’ writing group. All the vignettes she collected during her travels became perfect raw material for her writers’ group homework assignments.

“We had to write something and bring it in every week,” Mayhew explained during a phone interview. Readers are now the beneficiaries of Mayhew being such a careful journal keeper and responsible writing student — always on time with those weekly assignments.
Living in this small, safe Vineyard community where neighbors and surroundings were so familiar, the plucky Mayhew took a deep breath and set out confidently. There were times of doubt, uncertainties, apprehensions, and surprises along the way, but she never let that stop her. She was often a solo traveler, other times joined by a family member or friends, and

occasionally signed on to organized tours.
Although she often ventured to exotic locations, Mayhew said two of her favorite adventures were on U.S. soil. On a camping trip in Colorado wilderness, she slept alone in a tent, traveled miles on horseback, and climbed a tree to view wildlife. The second was only a few miles from home, when she shared a tiny Chilmark cottage with a sociable mouse.

We surely admire Mayhew for organizing and editing this, and other several other essay collections now, in her early 90s. She is equally impressive when we meet her as a younger woman, while already juggling a teaching career and busy family life, for her steadfast commitment to venture out and see the world.
Mayhew’s careful documenting of her travels, her crystal-clear memory and attention to detail in writing combine to lend a delightful vitality to these stories. She seldom visited any destination more than once, preferring to pack as much variety as possible into the time she had available to travel.
Peru was a notable exception, the one place she visited several times, which brought unique rewards. Mayhew and her teacher friend Verna Lacey undertook that arduous journey several times during the 1980s, learning local ways and making friends with villagers on return visits. They provided support for a local dance troupe (and joined the dancers in a festive parade), and procured desks and materials for schoolchildren. Mayhew even has two grown godchildren there, whom she regretfully says she has lost contact with due to language barriers.
These mini-memoirs are pleasurable and easy reading. Only a few pages long, they offer not only compact “armchair journeys” to distant and often exotic locales, but also compelling insights into Mayhew’s personality — determined, inventive, brave, and most of all, curious and fascinated by the places she sees and people she meets there.

“What I found out is that people all over the world live their lives in many different ways, but basically are alike in all the ways that make us human,” she reflects as she looks back on her extensive explorations.

This is a delightful collection of personal stories to enjoy during a late summer afternoon on the beach or sunny veranda. Perhaps to doze and dream of those adventures that Mayhew brings to life with her inimitable storyteller’s gift.

To order “Around the World in Thirty Years,” visit or contact Shirley Mayhew at or 508-693-1184.