The beauty of being a lady traveller

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Copy of Kate Turkington 2008

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Travel writer Kate Turkington travels solo.

An 1880s travel guide, Hints for Lady Travellers, was recently reprinted by the Royal Geographical Society.

It gives some practical advice for women travelling on their own in foreign countries. Apparently an essential item for Victorian ladies was a portable bath “disguised as a suitcase”. (Huh?)

And in case the frailer sex ran out of money, author Lillias Campbell suggested a small incision in a leg or arm in which our meandering maiden could insert a few diamonds in case of an “economic emergency”. No mention of who would give the required surgery if funds ran low.

I have some added suggestions for today’s lady travellers. A grey or white wig will give you instant respect, and if you add a walking stick and a bit of a hobble, you should get preferential treatment – especially in the Far East. Remember that in Japan, you are considered a national treasure if you make it over 80.

Anywhere in Africa a fistful of dollars should suffice; in the US blonde curls, big blue eyes and a Bible under your arm will do the trick – especially in the Wheat Belt. In the Middle East you should be safe in a niqab and in India the bearing and accent of the British Raj always hits the spot.

I once halted The Palace on Wheels in the middle of Rajasthan with an imperious “Stop!” and a sharp tug on the emergency cord. I had just sighted a pair of rare Siberian cranes in the middle of a field. The train stopped, the train manager came to see what had happened, and as it turned out that he was a birdwatcher too, we delayed the train for several minutes without causing a derailment. And he gave me a cup of Earl Grey tea and a mini model of Ganesh for good measure.

Nothing will help lady travellers in Russia unless you acquire a Stalin lookalike from Georgia to shepherd you around. It doesn’t help to be blonde and beautiful either, because nearly all the beautiful blondes in Moscow and St Petersburg are Ladies of the Night (or Day).

In Australia, no matter what your hair or eye colour, the fact that you are female instantly labels you as a “Sheila” and therefore a second-class citizen. Once, at a wooden wayside bar in the heart of the Northern Territory, I rashly asked for a glass for my beer. I was blown away by abuse for trying to be better than the flock, and “Who did I think I was anyway?” The barman’s attitude was not improved when he learned I was from South Africa, where we had just won the Rugby World Cup.

Unless you are mega-gorgeous – really mega-gorgeous – nobody will bother you in South America because the local girls are so out-of-this-world beautiful you won’t even get a second glance.

Any woman under 40 will still get a harmless wolf whistle in the UK, and in Ireland if you buy any bloke a pint of Guinness, he’ll protect you until your money runs out.

I don’t suggest you stay at home – life’s too short not to travel. I suggest a pepper spray in your bag, and maybe some body piercings with real diamonds? - Sunday Independent

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