And not just because it’s pretty.
hen I was a teenage girl, I was gifted a travel book called The Bad Girls Guide to the Open Road, which was written as a cheeky manual for ladies who would road trip. Armed with a new driver’s license and thirsty for adventure, the only thing I knew for sure about my future was that I wanted it to involve extensive traveling. The pages of the bright pink guidebook held more than just inspiration and suggestions. Reading examples of how women travel safely and solo showed me that ladies can explore the world on their own terms, and empowered me to recognize that I could too.
Fast forward: I’m an adult travel writer locked down at home in a worldwide pandemic, desperately counting the minutes until my two-year-old daughter gets a vaccine and I can return to the greater world. My expertise could use a tune-up. And so I picked up the guidebook Wanderess: The Unearth Women Guide to Traveling Smart, Safe, and Solo, co-authored by my phenomenally talented colleague Nikki Vargas and her creative collaborator Elise Fitzsimmons, hoping to find some updated advice on getting back on the horse after a few years stuck at home. Practical suggestions aside, Wanderess offers something greater than just lessons in getting out there. Once again, I was reminded how all sorts of women, under all sorts of circumstances, embrace travel adventures in a safe, practical, and fun way.
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Traveling as a solo woman poses different risks than traveling as a solo man. Wanderess speaks to those particulars, but goes beyond the practicalities. The book offers a range and depth of guidance aimed to empower solo women travelers: everything from macro-level issues (how unfair discriminations can create extra obstacles in travel) to very personal, practical options (like how to skip your period with birth control). Quotes and interviews with a diverse range of women and their experiences fill the pages, reminding women that no matter who they are or what their situation, we can travel well in this world.
The information is also decidedly modern. While Bad Girls Guide, published in 1999, offered spunky, often hilarious tips and anecdotes about safety, hygiene, finances, and entertainment, it breezed over (or failed to address at all) the greater responsibilities and impact of travelers, as well as issues of identity that make traveling as a woman an undertaking that’s anything but monolithic. Wanderess specifically addresses travelers of color, LGBTQIA+ travelers, pregnant and mommy travelers, and other intersecting identities. It asks readers to consider the idea that travel is not purely a passive leisure activity, but an active endeavor and privilege to connect with the world. From sustainable travel to volunteering abroad, Wanderess does a remarkable job considering the impact of travel both good and bad, and encourages readers to make positive, informed choices on everything from sexism to social media.
That’s not to say Wanderess is all business. Super stylish and colorful in design, its stunning illustrations and graphics compel readers to keep turning pages. The layout is more than just good looks, it functions as a warm invitation to travelers of all levels and backgrounds to both study and skim its substantial content.
Even this travel professional picked up tons of great suggestions included in each section. I realized I was missing out on more than a few apps that I should be using–everything from paying for flights in installments to safety tracking for friends and family back home to weather apps that incorporate packing suggestions. It also dawned on me that while highly practiced, my travel routine could use an upgrade–the section on managing anxiety while traveling even had me dog-earring pages to refer to in my everyday life. Just the sheer acknowledgment of how patronizing the standard old mantra “just breathe” can be made me realize how utterly relevant these recommendations are.
There are so many products devoted to making travelers’ lives easier, from packing cubes to water bottles, but a guidebook geared specifically toward the needs and cares of women travelers does way more than just provide material solutions for would-be wanderesses. It’s a reminder and an inspiration to novices and experts alike that all sorts of women have ventured out into this great big world before and can do it again, all while staying smart, safe, and solo. For lady travelers, a pretty pink guidebook might be just the thing to get us wandering.
‘Wanderess: The Unearth Women Guide to Traveling Smart, Safe, and Solo’ by Nikki Vargas and Elise Fitzsimmons (published by Clarkson Potter) is available now.