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BOOK REVIEW

Women solo need not be solitary

Email|Print| Text size + By Diane Daniel
Globe Correspondent / April 15, 2007

While the tourism industry's marketing of "girlfriend getaways" is not likely to sprout a subset of "girl-alone getaways," two new books offer female travelers roadmaps to the world of solo travel.

Despite its goofy title, "Wanderlust and Lipstick " by Beth Whitman fulfills its "essential" claim. Readers armed with those essentials should be ready to conquer some of the destinations in "100 Places Every Woman Should Go " by Stephanie Elizondo Griest.

While Griest, an oft-solo world wanderer and writer from Corpus Christi, Texas, doesn't focus on independent travel, she does advocate taking at least one trip alone on "Mother Road," as she calls travel in her introduction. "Be forewarned that she will push you to your physical, spiritual, and psychological limits -- then nudge you a few steps further. But at the end of the journey, you'll be more self-reliant and self-assured, and ever more the woman."

If you are thinking, "That sounds fun! When do I leave?" you probably don't need "Wanderlust and Lipstick." But if all that talk of solo traveling and limit-stretching makes your palms sweat, let Whitman be your guide and cheerleader.

Do women really want the kind of hand-holding Whitman offers? I think many do. I have traveled alone for three decades and during conversations on the road, the comment I hear most often from women of all ages is "You're so brave." I don't feel brave, but the lessons I have learned from traveling on my own have spilled over into every area of my life, and I am sure any solo traveler would say the same thing.

Whitman, who lives in Seattle, is well qualified to coach women on their journeys. For 15 years she has offered workshops and runs the website forwomentravelingsolo.com. She also leads tours and blogs about travel for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper. "Wanderlust and Lipstick" is not the first book about women traveling solo, but it is the latest, which means its information and resources are the most up-to-date.

To Whitman , the greatest rewards of traveling alone are the freedom it affords, the strength it fosters, and the people you meet. "As a solo woman, friendly encounters with other travelers and locals will abound," she writes. "As a result, solo travel is rarely lonely."

She counters a host of common excuses with practical options. For women who say they don't like eating alone, for instance, she suggests eating in their rooms or dining out with a book. For those who feel they are "too old," she advises them to lighten their luggage and their itineraries.

I like Whitman's strategy of taking baby steps, such as eating alone in your own city, driving to a nearby town to shop and practice chatting with strangers, or taking an overnight trip within an hour of home. Some of those also could be done alone as a side excursion while traveling with a companion.

The nuts and bolts here are pretty standard, such as choosing your trip, mapping out details and perhaps an itinerary, securing passports, choosing lodging and transportation, and packing. There is women-specific information thrown in here and there, and she includes a chapter on safety issues.

What I found annoying were random quotes throughout the book from random people who I suppose exist, but who knows? For example, "Marion travels regularly for her business and believes traveling is what helps her stay young at heart." Who the heck is Marion, what does she do, and why aren't we told her full name?

Whitman's "hot tips," which are broken out in each chapter, are useful, such as "carry a sleep sack and pillowcase to use at any accommodation with questionable bedding" and "most cars available for rent outside of North America are manual transmissions."

The chapter titled "Travel Idea Generator" is a great overview of all the types of travel available, including women-only tours, which give the solo traveler immediate company. But if you prefer more concrete destination options, and especially if you are looking for a female slant to your journey, you will find more than a lifetime of ideas in "100 Places Every Woman Should Go."

Categories include places of adventure (the Amazon River basin), purification (an onsen or Japanese hot springs or bathhouse), indulgence (famed chocolate sites), celebration and womanly affirmation (belly dancing sites), struggle and renewal (New Orleans), and inspiration (Bhutan).

The most women-centric trips are in the chapter on powerful women and their places in history, from sites of Madonna sightings in several countries to Sappho's home in Lesbos, Greece. Lesser-known spots include County Mayo, Ireland, to follow in the footsteps of pirate queen Grace O'Malley, and a tour of the "lady ghosts" of Savannah, Ga.

While you are out and about, writes Griest, "return the Good Sister Karma. Be nice to female travelers you encounter at home, and try to help out your local sisters abroad." Especially, Whitman might add, if they are alone.

Diane Daniel, a freelance writer in North Carolina, can be reached at diane@bydianedaniel.com.

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