Travel Book Review: Wanderlust and Lipstick: The Essential Guide for Women Traveling Solo

Were I perusing the stacks at my local Borders, Beth Whitman’s Wanderlust and Lipstick: The Essential Guide for Women Traveling Solo (aff) would be the last book I’d think to pick up. And to think Mama always told me never to judge a book by it’s cover. But can you blame me? Sure I’m a solo traveler, but not of the female persuasion. My penchant for Burt’s Bees fantastic Carrot Body Lotion notwithstanding. Beth, however, was kind enough to send me a copy – handwritten note, genuine lipstick smooch, and all.

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But Whitman is no demur, delicate flower. With over twenty years and several hundred thousand solo miles of experience from which to cull her tales and travel advice, she knows of what she speaks. And it certainly translates well to her writing. As Madeleine Somerville was quick to point out in her review of WaL: “[Beth] doesn’t pander to chick-lit sensibilities with references to the dangers of chipped nail-polish.” Indeed. If Rolf Pott’s Vagabonding and The Rough Guide to First-Time Around the World were tossed in a blender with a dash of lipstick and feminine good sense and judgment, you’d have a spot-on recipe for WaL.

Solo Woman Traveler

The book assumes that the reader’s already been bitten by the travel bug, but doesn’t know where to go from there. Beth starts by answering one of the most important questions: should you travel solo? As both a reason to travel and, more specifically, a reason to go it alone, she had me at hello with this:

In his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi refers to flow as the time when you become lost in your actions, whether climbing a mountain peak, painting or playing soccer. The late actor Spalding Gray called it “the perfect moment”.

Call it what you will, but many find it in travel. It’s the peak experience or string of events you encounter when you’re open to new sights, sounds and smells. The universe works with you. The right people show up when you want to share the expenses on a tour. You’re invited to dinner at a stranger’s home just when you’re feeling the most homesick.

When traveling with others, peak opportunities don’t present themselves as readily, and/or you simply may not be as aware of these unique moments.

She goes on to elaborate in no uncertain terms that: yes, you can go it alone; the world is a much safer place than you (and your naysaying family) might think; and you just might come out the other side a better, stronger person for it. Throughout the book, Beth weaves a number of pertinent and personal anecdotes – many from solo female travelers with first-hand experience – to help bolster her case.

The title belies an otherwise excellent resource that will appeal to both seasoned and novice travelers of all genders – female, male, and [ahem] otherwise. It’s absolutely brimming with great advice, web links, offline resources, etc. that any traveler will appreciate. As a travel-obsessed web geek, I spend countless hours reading travel industry news, tips, and advice and still found a number of new and interesting gems, including:

  • “Carry an International Certificate of Vaccination, more commonly called a “yellow health card”, issued by your doctor, which includes an official stamp for all immunizations. You’ll need to show this upon entering any country with vaccine requirements.”
  • MedicalSummary allows you to store, retrieve and update your personal medical records online. It also allows you to print a card summarizing your medical information so that you can easily carry it with you. E-HealthKEY allows you to keep your medical records on a USB-supported keychain-like device, allowing healthcare providers to have immediate access to your medical history.” Incidentally, this makes a great addition to my list of traveler backup plans.
  • “A laminated, passport-sized folding card from Kwikpoint allows you to say it with pictures. It includes more than 600 internationally recognized drawings for easily getting across your message.” Brilliant!

My only minor sticking point is not with the book, but rather its marketing. I’d peg the female-centric content at roughly 1-2% of the overall book. So I think the publisher may be too narrowly promoting it with such a niche-market title. That’s my constructive criticism which Beth is welcome to – and if she’s any sense, will – ignore. After all, I’m not a book publisher, so what do I know? I suppose that rather than target the heavily saturated travel book market, it’s perhaps wise to set one’s sights on a more specific niche.

In the end, I found Wanderlust and Lipstick to be thoughtful, well-written, comprehensive (especially given the topic) and quite inspiring. Even for a dude like me. Beth’s words are more than enough to push even the most skeptical would-be traveler out the door and onto a journey of his her their own.

Founding Editor

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