Beth Whitman, author of "Wanderlust and Lipstick," provides enlightening answers to some sticky travel questions:
Q: Describe a confident traveler?
Whitman: A confident traveler hopefully has a combination of two traits. The first is being able to "appear" confident (whether she is feeling it or not) so as to avoid hassles from opportunistic thieves looking for weary or wayward tourists. A confident traveler is also able to follow her sixth sense and know when it's safe to walk down an empty street or to accept an invitation to have dinner with a fellow traveler or a local.
Q: What's the best season (time of year) for the female traveler?
Whitman: It depends on where she's traveling. I recommend traveling during the shoulder season (an abbreviated season that falls between the high and low seasons and offers rates between the two) for any destination in order to save on airfare and hotels and to avoid large crowds at popular destinations.
Q: What is the most popular travel destination for women traveling alone?
Whitman: I can't say what THE most popular destination is but I can say that women tend to be most comfortable when they can travel easily without a lot of hassle from men. Western Europe, Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand all come to mind. Places that are not so popular (although plenty of solo women DO travel to these places) include the Middle East and some women aren't comfortable where machismo is king – Central America, Italy, Greece, etc.
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Q: What is the most popular mode of travel for solo females (auto, plane, ship, etc.)?
Whitman: Wow, we're all so diverse, I'm not sure. I will say that ships tend to be a bit isolating for solo travelers as so many cruises are geared towards couples and families. Planes are quick and are usually necessary for traveling abroad. Driving can be great fun when you're traveling on your own since you have so much flexibility on where and when to go. But I wouldn't leave out trains, particularly in Europe and India where train travel is super easy.
Q: What mode of travel do you most prefer?
Q: What aspect of travel presents the greatest danger?
Whitman: As a solo traveler, it's probably the actual getting from one place to another. You have to move around with your luggage, keeping it and yourself safe all the while. In addition, you have to be aware of where you're going and be alert to others around you in order to thwart a would-be thief. It's easy once you get used to having to be so aware but it's intimidating at first.
Q: Name the one most important item a woman shouldn't leave home without?
Whitman: There are actually two items that are a must when I walk out the door on a trip, cash (or access to cash) and my passport. Other than that, I would suggest one creature comfort that reminds her of home; a good luck charm, a photograph, a piece of inexpensive jewelry.
Q: What advice do you have for the woman who always packs too much?
Whitman: Please, leave it at home, for your own safety. Think of it this way: if your bag is too heavy or awkward to grab quickly enough to get out of a potentially dangerous situation, you shouldn't be carrying it. I carry one small personal item (a day pack for snacks, camera, book) and a carry-on with very few items. I never check my baggage. On my last trip to India, I literally had only the clothes on my back and purchased clothes the first day I arrived.
Q: You seem to be very open and flexible when traveling. You aren't overly picky when finding a place to lodge. Is there any place you wouldn't stay?
Whitman: Sure! There was a backpacker hostel I stayed in about 15 years ago in Bangkok for about $2/night. It was a brick cell with a bed, mosquito net and fan. You won't catch me there again. However, on that same trip, I stayed for a week in a little bungalow for about $2.75/night in Ubud, Bali. Breakfast was included and it was a lovely place. A low cost doesn't necessarily mean a frightening guest house.
I do draw the line at dirty sheets and bugs but realize that sometimes it's unavoidable. For example, I found myself with hundreds of bed bug bites on a trek through Nepal – there were few options of where to stay in the Himalayas but I'd go back in a moment as it was so spectacular.
Q: What form of study should one pursue when future travel presents language barriers?
Whitman: Being nice and having a sense of humor. You don't need to speak another language to communicate. You just need to be open to trying out the language and being OK with making a fool of yourself.
Q: What bit of advice can you pass on to those women who have never traveled (alone or otherwise)? How do they conquer fear of travel?
Whitman: The best way to do it is step by step. On her next trip with a friend or family member, I'd recommend spending some time alone, perhaps taking a walk to discover something new and interesting or just sitting in a coffee shop for a few hours. You can do this at home, too. Lots of people are uncomfortable eating by themselves. I recommend driving 30 minutes outside of your home town to where you don't know anyone and treat yourself to lunch or go to a movie. Slowly but surely, you'll become more comfortable with being on your own.