Travel Reads: ‘Eighty Days’ By Matthew Goodman

It is easy, without historical context, to mistake our own travels – and the documentation thereof – as some kind of bold act. We think ourselves grand for going around the world and we think our stories worthy of sharing merely because we can. But 150 years ago, this was just not the case. Travel was a big deal, women traveling an even bigger deal and women traveling solo, if not quite unheard of, certainly a long way from standard practice.

It was the Victorian age. Men – mostly men – traveled by steamship and rail. As for documenting said travels, that was the territory of men as well. Women were as unwelcome in the newsroom as they were in the pages those newsrooms produced, relegated to fashion and housekeeping and maybe the arts.

In to this landscape two bold women took it upon themselves to race one another around the world. One, an elegant and cultured arts writer – Elizabeth Bisland – the other, a scrappy go getter news hound in a checkered jacket – Nellie Bly.

Eighty Days” is the story of their adventure not just to succeed as great travelers, but to become well known and respected journalists as well. Off they go, propelled by their own will, two very different women on mirrored journeys. Nellie Bly invented the trip; Elizabeth Bisland was convinced to participate. Ms. Bisland packed for propriety and style, Ms. Bly anticipated the carry-on only traveler by over a century by insisting on taking nothing more than she could manage herself, lest she be delayed while waiting for her luggage.

They were both determined, bold, articulate and so brave. Looking back through history only magnifies the unusual nature of their travels.

The book is a terrific read, full of compelling characters – newspaper men, suitors, handsome sailors, exotic foreigners, missed communication, hunger and frustration – in short, all the stuff that makes up a good travel story. And it’s impossible not to admire these exceptional women, racing against time and against the standards of the day. Matthew Goodmans brings a heroic Nellie Bly to life in the first pages and Elizabeth Bisland’s grace and unexpected nerve are made real next. It’s impossible to decide whom you want to win. And finally, when one of the women does win, it doesn’t matter – the adventure has been completely worth it.

Hotels Celebrate International Women’s Day

dukes st. jamesMany travelers might not know that today, March 8, is International Women’s Day. The holiday honors female achievement around the world and is celebrated in countries from Afghanistan to Australia.

But it’s not too late to celebrate. These worldwide hotels will honor great women with a series of special promotions and perks.

Dorchester Collection Principie di Savoia
This luxury hotel will celebrate International Women’s Day with a “Women in Wine Road Trip” event at the hotel. Here, the sommelier will compare vintage and recent wines with two wine selections from American, French and Italian wines while inspiring lively discussions on hot topics, trends and being a woman in an industry dominated by men. Female guests staying at the sommeliers’ hotels during this time will also receive a 10 percent discount on select spa treatments and a complimentary glass of champagne during lunch.

Sorrel River Ranch Resort & Spa
This Utah ranch will host a reception today inviting in-house female guests along with women leaders from the local community to celebrate International Women’s Day. Selections of regional wines and local beers will be served, including Sorrel River Ranch’s own Nano Brewery Beers. Signature garden-inspired tapas from Chef Richard Potts will also be served at the event, along with a selection of local Utah Cheeses and Honey. The hotel is also offering a 25 percent discount to anyone who books spa treatments for women on March 8.Dukes St. James
This posh London hotel is celebrating their female guests staying in their Duchess Rooms with special amenities, including complimentary fruit and chocolates, fresh flowers and a personal welcome card from Debrah Dhugga, General Manager. The hotel’s Duchess Rooms are specifically designed to pamper solo female travelers with amenities that include a female staff member to escort guests to their rooms and handle all room service requests, a makeup mirror and hair accessories, a pair of cozy slippers, a choice of glossy lifestyle magazines and a quiet corner table in Thirty-Six by Nigel Mendham, should the guest wish to dine alone.

Hyatt Regency Atlanta

This Hyatt is celebrating International Women’s Day by celebrating female guests and employees. Female guests checking in on March 8 will receive a special gift upon arrival along with information on fighting domestic violence and supporting youth education in women and girls. At the same time, Hyatt Regency Atlanta will honor the hard work and contributions of their 300 female employees with corsages and a special “thank you” reception and information session highlighting Atlanta-area charities that support women and families.

Hyatt is also known for recently conducting special research on the needs and preferences of the woman traveler.

What do you think, readers? Will you be making a special trip out for any of these events?

[Image Credit: Dukes St. James]

Intense National Geographic Series, ‘Locked Up Abroad,’ Documents Inept Travelers

muleLast week’s arrest of diaper-wearing cocaine smugglers at JFK proved more laughable than horrifying to those not directly involved. Drug busts are in the media so often, we rarely pay attention to them. They’re certainly not something I care about.

Yet, I’ve recently become obsessed with a National Geographic show called “Locked Up Abroad.” I don’t recall hearing about this harrowing documentary series when it first aired in 2007, but it caught my eye about a month ago, during a late-night Netflix bender. It’s now in its sixth season on the National Geographic Channel.

Each episode profiles one or two subjects, most of whom have been imprisoned in developing nations. While a few episodes detail hostage and other kidnapping situations (Warning: if you’re at all easily disturbed, please don’t watch … nightmares are almost guaranteed), most involve drug smuggling gone awry.

As a die-hard adventure traveler, I find “Locked Up Abroad” absorbing (that’s not an intentional diaper pun) because it’s a real-life dramatization of my worst fears. As a solo female wanderer, I can’t help but worry sometimes about kidnapping or becoming an inadvertent drug mule, no matter how self-aware I try to be. Many of the episodes on “Locked Up Abroad,” however, involve people with the intellect of dead hamsters, and it’s hard to feel much in the way of empathy, given their greed and gullibility.Still, it’s hard to resist a good prison story, especially when it involves South America or Bangladesh, and pasty, bespectacled English blokes or naive teenage girls from small-town Texas. The psychology behind why these people take such enormous risks, and how they manage to survive in inhospitable and downright inhumane conditions is fascinating.

Perhaps I’ve just watched “Midnight Express,” “Brokedown Palace,” and “Return to Paradise” one too many times, but I’ve often wondered how I’d fare in such a situation, and I hope I never have to find out. But documentaries like “Locked Up Abroad” are more than just sensationalism. They’re a window into our desperate, greedy, grubby little souls, as well as testimony to the will to survive.

For some reason, YouTube and National Geographic Channel video links are disabled or broken, so if you want to check out some footage, click here.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Svadilfari]

Five things (most) women should pack when traveling to a foreign country

women's pack listI’m not one to whine about the hardships faced by solo female travelers. Sure, some things are frustrating, but in general, I much prefer to travel alone, and the more challenging the destination, the better. I don’t go out of my way to attract trouble or visit sketchy places, but I’ve had my share of close calls and situations that set off alarm bells.

For the most part, however, I’ve been treated with generosity and kindness while traveling alone, and had my most rewarding travel experiences. That said, there’s a few things most women should bring on trips to foreign lands, solo or no. Guys, you got it easy.

1. Appropriate attire
More than just practicality, wearing the right clothes is important from both a cultural/religious respect and personal safety standpoint. Showing too much skin or your hair is definitely not cool in much of the Middle East or Muslim world, and skimpy attire or sunbathing topless is just plain disrespectful, not to mention dangerous, in many countries.

Remember that we’re incredibly liberal here in the U.S. (too much, in my opinion) when it comes to public dress code…or lack thereof. Don’t make yourself a target for crime or unwanted solicitation. You don’t have to go all Victorian, but use good judgement.

2. Tampons
It may come as a shock, but to most of the world–including much of Europe–tampons are a foreign concept or a luxury/exorbitantly expensive. If you’ve ever tried to find tampons in Latin America, you know what I mean. Whether the reasons are cultural, religious, or geographical doesn’t matter. If you’re not down with wearing the equivalent of a diaper, BYOT.

[Photo credit: Flickr user fisserman]

Solo Travel Tips For Womenwomen's pack list3. Prescriptions for UTI’s, yeast infections, morning-after pill, etc.
There’s no better teacher than life. Let’s just say that enduring 14 hours of rutted highway on a janky Mexican bus while suffering a raging bladder infection is not an experience I care to repeat. These days, I travel with a full-on portable pharmacy, but at the very least, bring these basic Rx’s.

As for the morning-after pill, better safe than sorry. Don’t assume you can get an Rx filled overseas, so bring the actual dosage in its original packaging, and scan and email yourself copies of all prescriptions. And speaking of the morning after…

4. Condoms
You never know when you might need them, and purchasing them from a vending machine in a bar in a developing nation (not that this happened to me) because they’re not available elsewhere is just asking for trouble. Don’t trust foreign condoms–they’re not subjected to the same FDA testing and safety standards as American brands manufactured domestically. And please: if you’re having a foreign (or any other) fling, no glove, no love.
women's pack list
5. Hard and email copies of important documents and contact information
Email yourself, family members, and a close friend your itinerary, contact numbers (if applicable), emergency contact numbers (including bank and credit card companies), and copies of your passport and medical (and travel, if applicable) insurance card. If you’re going somewhere prone to natural disasters, civil unrest, or general sketchiness, it’s not a bad idea to register with the U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).

Oh, and one more thing you should always bring with you:Common sense.
Don’t be lulled into complacency: always walk with a sense of purpose, and keep your wits about you. Same goes for partying: the only one responsible for your personal safety is you, so go easy on the beer or local libation. If you’re going to hook up, better to go back to your accommodation, and make sure an employee sees the two of you together or openly text a friend of your whereabouts and who you’re with. And please, don’t be tempted to use or buy illegal drugs: besides the stiff penalties for getting caught (life in a Thai prison or death isn’t a good way to end a holiday), you may also find yourself the unwitting victim of a set-up. Just say no.

[Photo credits: pills, Flickr user michaelll; luau, Laurel Miller]

Traveling women are Facebook addicts

A new study of female travelers indicates that close to half can’t let go of Facebook when they’re on the road. Unsurprisingly, Facebook is the social network of choice for women on the go.

Ninety-three percent of women who have had an overnight trip in the past month, according to Women on Their Way, have Facebook accounts, and 68 percent of them use it for travel purposes. What do they like to do most? Share multimedia! Fifty-seven percent engage in that activity. Status updates and commentary about the trip are next (38 percent), followed by Facebook Places check-ins (13 percent).

While these activities can happen before or after the trip has come to a close, 46 percent of respondents said they use Facebook while actually traveling, and 77 percent connect to the social media platform via a laptop.

So, if you see some hottie in the hotel bar and want to know if she’s interested in doing something regrettable … well, it helps to be “friends” first.


[photo by Andrew Feinberg via Flickr]