I began reading Wanderlust and Lipstick for Women Traveling to India with both hope and apprehension.
I’m generally skeptical of travel resources aimed specifically at us gals; all too often, they play to tired stereotypes (“How to Pack ALL Your Shoes! Bring Travel-Size Make-up! Let’s Shop Up a Storm!”), and when it comes down to it, I’m simply not convinced that men and women travel all that differently.
And yet, I thought as I opened the book for the first time, if there was ever a country that demanded a female-specific guide, wasn’t it India?
I visited the country myself as a solo, inexperienced 22-year-old a few years ago, and struggled to adapt throughout the trip. I was curious to see whether author Beth Whitman would offer the sort of advice I wished I’d had.
The book follows an unconventional guidebook structure: it’s divided thematically rather than geographically (with subject areas like “Getting Around,” “Feasting” and “Your Health”) and is spliced with anecdotes and testimonials from an array of women who’ve traveled to India.
I was immediately impressed by “Follow Your Passions,” a chapter surveying the range of activities available to visitors. It went well beyond the usual lists of yoga studios, trekking companies and shopping bazaars.
In the planning section, Whitman was blunt (in a good way) about how much ground you can actually expect to cover, and offered helpful trip-planning strategies and resources to get the reader started.
A pre-guidebook guidebook, you might ask? Again, if ever there was a country that required one, it would be India. The transportation section was equally thorough and useful.
Much of the advice offered in Wanderlust and Lipstick could actually apply equally to both male and female travelers, but plenty of practical woman-only tips are woven throughout.
The sections on health, safety and packing are especially female-focused and well done, with the safety section including a blunt-spoken couple of pages on the near-inevitability of sexual harassment and how to handle it.
The only real disappointment, for me, was the brevity of the “Feasting” chapter. I could have used more detail, especially regarding regional varieties and signature dishes to keep an eye out for. But I suppose you could write an entire book on the Indian culinary experience alone!
To be clear: Wanderlust and Lipstick for Women Traveling to India is aimed squarely at a general audience. It covers all spending levels, and assumes no previous Third World travel experience in its readers.
The jaded backpacker set may roll their eyes in parts — at the introduction to squat toilets, for instance — but the reality is, India is a universe all on its own, and a particular challenge for female travelers.
This earnest primer would be a useful tool for any woman contemplating a visit to the subcontinent.