Book Review: "No Strings Attached"

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait until the other is ready.

- Henry David Thoreau
Like the first of the Go See Run Eat Drink book reviews, this was another Christmas book. It's one that I'd seen in a book store before Christmas, and was quite keen on. Keen enough, in fact, that I made a point of dropping blatant hints about it with potentially generous family members, and they came through!

"No Strings Attached: The Savvy Guide to Solo Travel" was written by Leslie Atkins, apparently an award winning travel writer who has been published by the Washington Post, USA Today, the Baltimore Sun, Car and Travel, AAA World, US Airways Magazine, and who wrote for Oprah Winfrey.

Of course the title is what drew me to the book, and the few sections I read while standing in the store made me really excited to dive in.

Unfortunately, "No Strings Attached" didn't end up living up to my expectations. I think that, despite the title, I am not the target demographic for this book. In fact I found tone of the book kind of ... tame. Perhaps I'm being ungenerous, but I think Ms. Atkins is not writing for people about to embark on a months-long backpacking style trip. She spends a bit too much time talking about when to splurge on room service and how to get the most out of your concierge to really have a lot to offer someone contemplating 12 months of hostels and peanut butter sandwiches. She's clearly a very different kind of traveler.

Who is this book for? Apparently it's for people who need to be told that it can be ok (or even fun!) to go out for a meal in a restaurant by yourself, or even to attend a movie or play alone! (Seriously - there's a whole chapter titled "Dining Alone"). For me - someone who has spent the greater part of her adult life single - these suggestions were a bit much. I think she's addressing a lot of her writing to people traveling domestically within North America, maybe alone for the first time, hopefully with an expense account.

Having said this, though, she did have some good things to offer. For instance, there's a reasonable section on packing light. There wasn't anything new for me there, but I'm a bit of a Packing Light Zealot, so it's unusual for me to run across a truly new tip in that area. But for those just starting to contemplate leaving behind the 30" Samsonite, it's a good beginning.

There's also a good bit about not being afraid to ask for help. Atkins makes this excellent observation: "Trips are invariably too short. I like wasting time... in a café... or a shop... or people-watching on the Las Vegas strip or the Champs Elyseés in Paris. But I don't like getting lost or missing a beautiful cathedral because I'm... hesitant to ask what hours it's open." Good point.

Overall, though it wasn't the book I was hoping for, "No Strings Attached" had enough to offer that I'm glad I read it. It's not a solo RTW backpacker's Bible by any stretch of the imagination, but there are bits of useful information scattered in among the tips on how to get a late check-out time and maximizing your use of the free hotel limo.

And if nothing else, she does toss in this excellent tidbit:
"How far we go is not as important as how much it affects us. The great gift of travel is qualitative rather than quantitative. This is not a numbers game - it is transformational."


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