A little over two years ago, I read and reviewed my first travel book aimed squarely at the female population. Despite having “lipstick” and “women” in the title, I found it to be perfectly suitable for men as well.
When I was offered the chance to review Chelsea Duke's first book, High Heels and a Head Torch: The Essential Guide for Girls Who Backpack, I figured why not? Since I'd learned with the lipstick book to take titles with a grain of salt, it wasn't Duke's cover which tipped me off that this would truly be a book geared for women. Nor was it the feminine, cursive typography sprinkled throughout the text. Not even the little pair of illustrated, strappy high heels underneath the page numbers gave me that ah-ha moment.
It was when I started chapter one, “First Things First,” which details putting one's kit (or backpack and belongings) together, that I realized I'm in for a steady dose of the female perspective. I noticed there was an inordinate amount of time spent on clothing and accessories, and not just which items to bring, but how to ensure maximum opportunities for coordination. I learned, among other things, that make-up can melt and make a mess in hot weather.
Sure, guys think about what clothes to take, but I've never seen so much time and care devoted to the topic in a backpacking guidebook. Perhaps most writers, even the female ones, assume femininity is sacrificed on the backpacker trail. Chelsea Duke disagrees. For example, she suggests women “take a skirt and/or heels and/or make-up – something to make you feel a bit girlie and sexy.”
As I continued to read, I started to realize that while a man can effortlessly build a rugged persona during a backpacking trip, a woman has to be creative in order to maintain her sense of sex appeal (which we all know is required to attract a man – a fact not at all lost on Duke given the number of condom and safe sex references). I also learned women have built-in money belts in the form of their bras. Duke regularly recommended stashing stuff there for safekeeping.
I appreciated the author's tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, and could clearly tell she was passionate about sharing her lessons learned from a trip around the world. Duke weaves plenty of anecdotes from her adventures in Asia, Australia, Africa and South America into the book, offering lists of Do's and Don'ts at the end of every chapter to sum up her best advice.
She covers the typical budget travel stuff like managing a good night's sleep in hostels, and how to meet new people. In addition, she humorously touches on topics you'd be hard-pressed to find in other guidebooks, such as tricks for ensuring you can use squat toilets effectively, and how to go about bush peeing without making a mess.
I imagine reading High Heels and a Head Torch: The Essential Guide for Girls Who Backpack would be like reading a backpacking column in the pages of Cosmopolitan. Perfect for women, but guys best look elsewhere.
High Heels and a Head Torch: The Essential Guide for Girls Who Backpack by Chelsea Duke is currently available in UK bookstores and via Amazon.com UK for £4.94. Plans are being formalized for its release in the USA as well.