Trip Coach: July 24, 2007
Beth Whitman, author of 'Wanderlust and Lipstick: The Essential Guide for Women Traveling Solo,' answered your questions on solo travel.
Beth Whitman: Welcome world travelers! This is Beth Whitman here. I'm eager to share my solo travel tips and information with you in order to get you started in your travels. There's a whole big world waiting out there for you so let's get going!
Fairfax, Va.: I am a young women who loves to take backpacking trips and I am always looking for the perfect multi-use items. Is there one thing you always bring when you are traveling? And which Asian country do you think is safest and most friendly to single female travellers?
Beth Whitman: I always say that all you REALLY need to travel is your passport and (access to) cash. Of course, we all have creature comforts and must-haves beyond those two items.
I carry an eye shade with me so that I can sleep on a long flight while my seatmate has the overhead light on or in my hotel room when the shades won't close all the way.
Also, I insist on traveling light. I pack my small amount of clothes and accessories into a combination roll aboard/backpack. This allows me to throw my bag over my shoulder to climb stairs or make my way over uneven streets. And it allows me to pull it behind me in the airport. I don't check baggage unless it's when I'm coming home and I have too many souvenirs to fit in my carry-on!
I'm partial to Asia and believe that all countries there are safe and friendly for women travelers. I've been to Vietnam seven times if that's any indication where my heart is.
West Harwich, Mass.: I am meeting some friends in Paris the first week in November. We signed up for a week at a bargain price. However, after a week, my friends leave. I want to stay on for another ten days and do some exploring since I have never been to France. Am I better off renting a car and just going off or taking a train and exploring a destination as yet unknown, but for the sake of this question, say Provence? Thanks.
Beth Whitman: If it were me, I'd rent a car and explore rather than taking a train. But, there are pros and cons to both methods of travel.
If it fits your budget and you're comfortable driving in a foreign country, by all means rent a car and just begin exploring. You might find this type of travel a bit insulating unless you make an effort to stay in pensions or hostels where you can easily meet other travelers, many of whom might enjoy tagging along with you (and sharing expenses).
Taking the train will remove some of the stress out of your travels but you'll be beholden to the schedule of the train system and you won't have the flexibility of stopping in small towns along the way.
South Windsor, Conn.: I am a 41-year-old woman planning a 3 week solo adventure to Australia/New Zealand next fall. My first instinct is to go the tour group route since I have enough time to save for it (approx. budget-$8000). Having taken a few solo trips already, I am not afraid of the unknown but with all of the information out there, my head is swimming. I guess what I need at this point is some advice on how to decide which route will work for me--drive yourself, tour group or perhaps a mix of the two? Any suggestions would be most helpful. I am halfway though your book--it has lots of great tips!!
Beth Whitman: So glad you are enjoying the book! Thank you!!
You have a big budget for a 3-week journey but don't feel like you have to spend it all--you don't! Australia and New Zealand are both very easy countries to travel around and a full-on tour is not necessary. However, to experience some of the diversity of these countries, I would suggest taking a shorter tour here and there in order to see things you normally couldn't experience on your own.
For example, get out to the Great Barrier Reef with an eco-friendly tour, either to scuba dive or simply snorkel. It's amazing and really can only be done with a tour. Kakadu National Park, in the northern part of Australia, is another area that can only be visited with an organized tour and there you'll see 40,000 year old rock art paintings and unique wildlife.
Many of these tours you can book once you arrive in-country.
As for New Zealand, I'd recommend renting a car and driving around the countryside on your own. Again, there may be areas you'll want to visit that can only be seen with an organized tour but the country is small enough that driving yourself is an excellent option and once there, you can book a tour depending on your interests.
Atlanta, Ga.: I have plane fare to Mexico or the Caribbean and need to know what a good bargain is for a single older woman--I would like a bargain in an upscale resort or hotel.