Women flying ― or driving, or hiking ― soloAnyone who has ever opted to tighten her belt and skip dinner rather than ask for a table for one in a strange city knows the pleasure ― and the pain ― of traveling solo. She knows the freedom of changing her plans whenever and however it suits her. She knows the melancholy of sipping wine by herself. She knows the generosity of local residents, and she knows the fear of meeting an unfriendly face on a dark night. In “A Woman Alone,” a collection of travel essays, 29 women explore what compels them to go it alone.
“Travel intensifies the elements of a person’s nature ― both fine and toxic ― making them stand out more starkly than they ever do in the safe, regulated environment of home,” writes Susan Spano, in a passage that exemplifies the book’s emphasis on self-discovery.
From the Australian outback to Celtic country to a Turkish bazaar and a Saharan caravan, the essays range from impressive and inspiring to exaggerated and at times exhaustingly sentimental.
Although the spaces and circumstances these women find themselves in are as colorful as a Balinese sunset, the essays, compiled en masse, can start to take on the homogenous tone of a personal journal. Floridly descriptive passages show us that solitude indeed provides fertile ground for observation and analysis, though sometimes at the expense of an old-fashioned good story.
For my money, the book is worth buying if only for the exceptional contribution by Chelsea Cain, in which she expertly weaves humor and lighthearted wonder into an unlikely tale about her secret love of Las Vegas. “Vegas is the ultimate tease,” she writes. “It is the promise of all that can be yours ― after your number comes up.” In this soaring essay, Cain shows us that discovering one’s own culture can be just as thrilling and illuminating as traveling to the ends of the earth.
This collection is an honest window into the minds of adventurous women who manage to balance the romanticism attached to solo journeys by spilling the beans about their weaknesses and fears as well. Reading their accounts is sure to excite the travel bug and fire up the spirits of intrepid women everywhere.
“A Woman Alone: Travel Tales From Around the Globe,” edited by Faith Conlon et al.
Seal Press, $15.95
by Kirsten Jerch