Lose The Manolos, Ladies: Travel Writer Has Questionable Tips For Women

In an interview with the Times's Frugal Traveler, travel writer and tour leader Beth Whitman offers some pretty annoying advice for women traveling alone.

I don't love her take on the best places for women to travel:

I'm 5 feet 2 with blond hair, and I stick out like a sore thumb in Asia - I'm tall and fat! But someone else with darker hair and features isn't going to stick out as much, and the same goes for places like the Middle East. I've got a friend who's traveled all through the Middle East, and she just loves it. But for me, it would be a really difficult place.

Are the best places to travel really the one where you don't stick out? If I followed this logic, I'd never leave Iowa. And isn't part of the point of travel to expose yourself to new situations and people who may be different from you, including physically?

But far more obnoxious are Whitman's tips on luggage. When Frugal Traveler Matt Gross promised that Whitman would address "luggage dilemmas," I was psyched. As a small woman with a history of back injury, I often struggle with lifting and carrying my luggage when traveling alone. But here's Whitman's advice:

Gosh, I think that there's a mind-set that most women grow up with, that you have to have all of your shoes, and you have to have all of your nice clothes, and you have to stay in an expensive place to be safe. And so those are factors that require a lot of luggage, so you might think you need a couple of bags to travel around with, and if you're traveling on your own, it's hard to maneuver all that stuff.

Sorry, but Manolos are not my problem! Whitman seems to think that all women's luggage woes stem from frivolity, but you can be a really smart packer and still have trouble getting your bag into the overhead bin. When women travel on business, they may actually need more clothes than men because they can't get away with wearing the same suit every day. And most of my luggage troubles in the past have been caused by things like a laptop or books, not cases full of fripperies. I would've really appreciated some tips on the awkward situation of getting a stranger to lift your bag for you, or even some thoughts on how airports and train stations could be better designed for people with less upper body strength, but all Whitman offers are lame stereotypes about women acting princessy.

There's more to hate here, including some dubious claims about women's intuition, but one good thing about Whitman's Q&A is her assertion that neither gender nor money should stop women from exploring the world. She says that a bigger budget doesn't necessarily make travel safer, and that what really matters is "preparation in advance and learning those safety techniques." She also says she's never been in a travel situation where she wished she was a man. It's worthwhile to remind women that as long as they do their homework and practice common sense, they can travel alone safely and joyfully. And it's good to hear Whitman bust the myth that this is a big bad world and women need to hide themselves from it — or take shelter under the arm of a man. Still, she would be a much better myth-buster if she didn't buy into so many myths herself.

Q&A With Beth Whitman, A Woman's Perspective On Solo Travel [New York Times]