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Adventure Blog

Tips for Women Traveling Alone

Buzz Poole
06/21/2011 - 00:00

In 1889, Lillias Campbell Davidson wrote Hints to Lady Travellers at Home and Abroad, a travel guide for women. On the occasion of the Royal Geographic Society’s re-issue of this book, Veronique Mistiaen has penned a review for More Intelligent Life, identifying how it was a true first – “Before the age of Lonely Planet, Rough Guides and destination websites, her book was a rare source of definitive advice and a must-read for solo female voyagers” – while also considering how some of the advice still resonates today.

Bicycles, ocean liners and trains made it easier for women, especially women of financial means, to travel alone, to set out and explore the world the same as men had been doing for centuries. But there is no doubt that a stigma hovered around women with wanderlust, which is what inspired Campbell Davidson to write her book. Organized into fifty-nine alphabetical chapters, ranging from “accidents” to “sea bathing” and “tea,” the commentary balances between bringing a bit of home with you but also making sure female travelers make themselves comfortable in new environments in order to best appreciate them.

Mistiaen writes that the book “dispenses shrewd advice . . . [b]esides the caveats about not forgetting travel insurance, labeling all luggage and avoiding large quantities of cash, Campbell Davidson offers some timelessly handy tips: pack dark-colored petticoats (which don’t show the dirt), and negotiate taxi fares before setting off.” But further advice about letting your maid travel with you in the same railway car and when hiking “skirts be as short as possible—to clear the ankles” indicates that the societal position traditionally assigned to women, by men, was evolving.

Clearly, much has changed since the days of Campbell Davidson’s globetrotting. I know plenty of women, including my wife, who have traveled alone all over the world. But even the most assured ones who have been everywhere and done everything can’t deny that there have been moments when being a woman on her own, or even with another woman, has attracted unwelcome attention. As a man, I won’t say much more about this other than it is an unfortunate and unfair reality of the world, no matter what country you visit.

Ultimately, however, the transformative power of travel trumps inconveniences, rudeness and lack of respect, which is what inspired Campbell Davidson, and inspires all travelers today: “From the first moment when the traveler sets foot upon foreign soil, and sees the strange surroundings, the quaint dresses, and curious habits of the natives, enhanced by the clear air and brilliant sunshine, she experiences all the effect of having entered into a new life.”

Do any women readers have stories or suggestions to share about traveling alone?

Bonus link: BBC 4 radio broadcast about Lillias Campbell Davidson.

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