Book review: The Art of Solo Travel

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First published 20th June, 2010

For some, heading off to travel alone can be at once a thrilling and daunting prospect. On the one hand, there's the excitement of the unknown combined with the perhaps more secret pleasure of getting away from everyone, and with that the chance to reinvent yourself. The flipside however, can be a fear of loneliness, worries about security and simple questions about the logistics of it all (how do you decide where the best spot to sit on a plane is?)

Thanks to Craig at IndieTravelPodcast for providing a complimentary copy of the guide to review.

Stephanie Lee's scrumptiously designed and clearly written 48-page e-book is aimed at encouraging and reassuring women considering a trip on their own, taking into account their particular concerns. The book is divided into six parts: i) Why travel alone? ii) Preparing to go iii) Travel more, spend less iv) Flying, sleeping, eating, living v) Men, women and other stuff vi) Resources.

While I'm reluctant to admit it, there are issues specific to women when planning a trip or travelling, and this book gives advice in relation to them. For instance, get rid of unwanted attention by learning to say "no thanks" in the local lingo and heading to a hotel concierge; read up on self-defence; and don't bother taking your high heels.

The Art of Travel by Stephanie Lee

This book, however, is really quite useful for anyone who harbours a dream to travel but requires a little bit of a push and a touch of reassurance. Most of the information is just as useful to the cautious male traveller as the female version, so I'm not sure it was a good idea to market this book to only half the population! Perhaps targeting it towards the first-time solo traveller would have seen it garner more readers, because they would all certainly learn something here.

The Art of Solo Travel isn't a book targeting seasoned travellers, with a lot of the information very basic, and Stephanie's own experience woven heavily into the advice she presents. Nevertheless, despite being a somewhat seasoned traveller I did pick up a few useful tips: I'm not really a Google fan, but I like Stephanie's idea of setting up an iGoogle page with all the information you'll be using on your trip regularly located in one spot. Carrying an empty water bottle to get through airport security quickly is another fine tip I'll be using in the future. And I had also heard mixed reports about "couch-surfing", but Stephanie's tips make me think that if I was to travel alone again, I'd definitely consider it as a cheap and interesting way to go. I liked her tips about how to be a good guest, too.

The book is perhaps a little on the conservative side, though maybe I'm just getting old. Planning for six to 12 months to go on a trip seems a tad over-the-top, while I don't know if I always agree that "for girls travelling alone, it's usually a good idea to have your own room for security and privacy" (that may depend on what country you're travelling in). Advice to "just go to a Starbucks" to get free WiFi if you're doing the hard yards in say Laos or are off the beaten track in Cambodia, is not going to be very useful, making this guide more appropriate to those planning to stick to more of the well-beaten urban path.

I'd also give Southeast Asia a more glowing recommendation when it comes to travelling solo as a woman and probably not recommend Australia, as Stephanie does. I find the overly macho culture in the latter means travelling on public transport can be intimidating, while I have rarely felt under any sort of threat travelling across Southeast Asia. One or two tips I don't necessarily agree with make an appearance, too, such as leaving your passport in your room, unless your room has a safe (budget rooms usually don't have one). Always, always, I would say, leave your passport at the reception of the guesthouse you are staying at in case of theft. Credit cards too, are not always practical travelling somewhere like Indonesia, where the maximum withdrawal is so small -- sometimes just over US$100 -- that the fees you incur actually still make travellers cheques worthwhile using. But this is nit-picking really, and I do agree with a lot of the other very practical advice, such as eschewing a laptop and just taking along a WiFi-enabled or smart phone instead, making sure you eat well, and not carrying more than 15 kg worth of luggage.

If you've got the time to surf the net, you can probably find much of the information provided in The Art of Solo Travel online, while some of it will also be tucked away in a guidebook somewhere. But the beauty of this neat little book is that it's specifically geared towards first-time solo travelling women and all the work's been done for you. Stephanie's experience and voice is encouraging and supportive for new travellers who may feel a little intimidated by the thought of going it alone. And as a bonus, the design of the book, with its line-print feel and look, is lovely.

Read more about The Art of Solo Travel and pick up your copy here.

About the author:
Stuart McDonald co-founded with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.

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