Last month I read a really wonderful book by Beth Whitman called Wanderlust and Lipstick: The Essential Guide for Women Traveling Solo. I picked this up a couple years ago at Half Price on a whim. So glad I did. I read it for the first time last month as I really started kicking my preparation for Cambodia and China into gear. It’s a really smooth, easy read. Even if you’re only looking to visit another city in you state or country, I think it would still be beneficial not only for solo women travelers, but for anyone traveling alone.
This is of course aimed at women, so if you’re a guy and want to pick this up there are some parts that won’t apply, such as the section discussing tampons, birth control, and interrupted cycles. But other than that, I’d say the advice in this book applies to all solo travelers.
My favorite section of the book is the “Idea Generator” chapter. There’s even a helpful chart you can copy down or write directly in the book. It’s a really simple way to make that dream vacation a reality. I used it to chart the logistics and costs of three trips I want to make: An Antarctic cruise, a road trip visiting a couple National Parks out west, and a two week Egyptian antiquity tour.
Let me tell you, dream trips aren’t cheap.
But, now that I have a ballpark estimate of what kind of expenses I’m looking at I can start saving now. So maybe it’ll be five years before I get to take an Antarctic cruise via the Chilean fjords, but, if I keep up with my savings then in five years I’ll be writing to you with a penguin looking over my shoulder. So if you’re serious about traveling, even if it’s to visit NYC for a week or see the lighthouses of Maine or fly to Europe for a month, map it out. Start saving. It might take a little time and you might have set backs, but start saving and you’ll get there.
Another two chapters that are really helpful is “Let’s get Booking” and “This Bed is Juuuuust Right”. They go over the different travel and accommodation options you have. In chp. 5 (Booking) some of this information is a bit outdated—it was published in 2007—and you’ll be disappointed to find that you can’t readily book cheap flights on courier flights anymore. I spent a week trying to find a way to do it, but post 9/11 a lot of companies now only hire professional couriers and won’t accept anyone off the street to hang out in their planes. The explanations on a lot of things are also a little outdated, she spends a great deal of time discussing e-tickets versus paper tickets, sites like Priceline and Hotwire and how they work. But some of the cheap fare sites are still active and if you’re looking to book last minute on the cheap they’re a really good source.
Chp. 6 discusses accommodations ranging from resorts to campgrounds and gives the pros and cons of all depending on your preference and budget. We’d all like to stay at five star resorts, but for most of us the budget won’t allow it. That doesn’t mean you have to sleep in your car. Whitman mentions the often overlooked family owned Bed and Breakfasts that can add a really unique twist to a vacation and are often cheaper than the local Fairfield. There are also tips on booking European lodgings such as Hostels and Pensions. Did you know that women can overnight at YMCAs? I didn’t, so there’s a handy fact if you need somewhere to rest for a night.
The chapter I’ve been rereading the last couple of weeks is “Pack it Up”. There’s a list in there of handy first aid supplies, and honestly, I 100% forgot about a first aid kit. I don’t usually bother with band-aids and antibacterial stuff. But I got hellaciously ill for a week while in London and if taking a dose of Nyquil and eating a cough drop will keep even half of that kind of sickness at bay I’ll fucking take it. I know I’m going to get sick, it’s inevitable as I’m being introduced to radically new environment with new bacteria and whatnot, so anything I pack to keep me ahead of the game is a win. There’s also a general packing list for clothes, toiletries, and accessories/documents. Again, really helpful if you need a jumping point on what to pack or just a list of reminders for obvious everyday things. I almost forgot to throw deodorant in my packing box.
I thought this book was pretty thorough on dealing with language barrier and culture shock and ways to work through it. The language barrier, of course, is to purchase a phrase book beforehand and practice a little so you’re used to the language. Or, you can do like I did and download a language learning app and practice a couple hours a day. Memrise is the app I have and of the free apps it has the most languages ranging from French to Icelandic. As for culture shock, you just have to know it’s coming. I didn’t get it too bad on my trip to Europe, but I wasn’t dealing with an unknown language and I had a professor who from day one explained some of the differences in culture. This time I’m a bit more anxious because I’m heading into two unknown languages and two very different cultures both from each other and from my home culture. So I’m certain the “shock” will hit me this time, but Whitman gives a list of common culture shock symptoms and the best ways to ease yourself through them.
In one of the final chapters “Coming Home” she also deals with reverse culture shock. That I can attest to experiencing. I spent three months in London and after a couple weeks of being back on US soil I was patently irritated with the “odd” way people spoke, the way people drove—although that could be my road rage—and I was irritated with how far away everything was. I could walk everywhere in London or catch a bus. Here? Maybe if you live in a big enough city. So I’m glad this book mentions reverse culture shock because I feel like a lot of travel books forget to mention that part of coming home. Yes, it’s nice to see your pets and sleep in your own bed or eat your favorite food, but there will still be an adjustment period where you have to reorient yourself to home culture.
Another great chapter that I don’t think a lot of general travel advice books mention is “Responsible Travel”. It gives tips and sites that help you do low impact travel both on the flora and fauna but also on the native cultures you might be going into. Remember, if you’re going to visit a little town or village no matter where it is, these are people you’re meeting, they’re not zoo animals for you to gawk at. Also avoid taking pictures with exotic animals such as monkeys, tiger cubs, etc. Often these animals are taken from their parents—or their parents are killed—and their teeth and claws are removed so that when they try to snap and bite when frightened they don’t harm the paying tourists. They’re often not kept in humane conditions and once they’re too big or wild to be cute they’re sold or killed.
The only chapter that’s a real bust is “Gadgets and Gizmos”. Technology has come a long way in eight years and when this book was written it would have been prudent to choose between phone and laptop if you were backpacking across Europe. But now, we have smartphones, tablets, and featherweight laptops. All of which you can download a compass onto or already have one installed. Buying an international phone isn’t really worth it when you can just upgrade your phone plan to an international one. And packing a camera is up to you since the phones you can get now take excellent pictures.
Overall, this is a quick read with a lot of great information streamlined in the chapters to make it easy for you to either read cover to cover or to pick and choose the sections you want/need at that moment. If you’ve ever wanted to travel, I highly recommend Beth Whitman’s book Wanderlust and Lipstick.