Make the most of your next vacation with tips from 'Wanderess'
By Chadd Scott
Nikki Vargas, Author of “Wanderess: The Unearth Women Guide to Traveling Smart, Safe, and Solo” | Photo Courtesy of Nikki Vargas
The West must be experienced to be fully appreciated. All the Western artwork, books, TV shows and movies produced over the last 100 years don’t compare to seeing a wolf pack chase an elk in Hayden Valley. The expansive view from a hilltop in San Francisco looking out over the Bay from left to right with the open ocean, Golden Gate Bridge, Tiburon and Sausalito, Alcatraz and the TransAmerica Pyramid imprinting on your mind. The green of the pine trees in Washington. The blue of the water in Crater Lake. The silhouette of Saguaro cactus. Gasping for air atop a 14er in Colorado.
A new book co-authored by travel expert Nikki Vargas equips visitors wanting to experience the West – and everywhere else – to be more prepared, confident and rewarded by the destinations they pursue. That’s been done before. Where “Wanderess: The Unearth Women Guide to Traveling Smart, Safe, and Solo” explores new ground is in its particular interest assisting female solo travelers.
Vargas knows firsthand how harrowing that can be.
“The very first time I solo traveled was to Buenos Aires; I was in my early 20s and I was on the brink of getting married – which I was terrified of – and on a whim I booked a trip to Argentina to just kind of clear my head and get some space,” she remembers. “I was so scared because it's very daunting to arrive in a country where no one in the entire country knows who you are, cares who you are, or has any regard for your safety. That's really scary. You're the only person in an entire country looking out for yourself.”
Scary, yes. Rewarding, more so.
“It was a transformative trip in a myriad of ways, not only for a personal perspective that gave me this newfound strength and perspective that I was missing in New York, but it also gave me the fortitude needed to go back to New York – I called off my wedding like a week before the date – and I really credit solo travel and that trip in particular to putting my life on course,” Vargas said.
“Wanderess” reads like a how-to manual as Vargas, her co-author Elise Fitzsimmons, and an all-star cast of contributing female writers empower readers to master the basics – packing in one bag – and peculiarities – how to adopt a pet outside the country – of travel. All the advice, tips and hacks come from the perspective that travel is among the most enriching pursuits anyone can undertake over the course of a lifetime, and that an individual’s travels can generate change.
“I have this belief that travelers are uniquely positioned to make a positive impact and support women, especially worldwide,” Vargas explains. “That is through how we choose to spend our money when we travel. We can either shop, eat and stay at places that line the pockets of corporations, or we can make decisions with our money that stimulate the local economy and support female entrepreneurs and BIPOC entrepreneurs.”
Additionally, “Wanderess” candidly acknowledges and confronts the differences between traveling as a woman and traveling as a man.
Nikki Vargas doing cartwheels in Iceland | Photo Courtesy of Nikki Vargas
“There's this idea that travel is a one size fits all experience and I think historically, when you look at travel media and books, it focuses on destinations, but doesn't focus on the nuances of different travelers and their needs,” Vargas said. “That's a real disservice because the needs of a man traveling versus a woman traveling with menopause versus a new mom versus someone with disabilities versus a person of color versus a member of the LGBTQ community – those are all very specific needs, specific challenges and specific concerns.”
“Wanderess” addresses the subtleties of traveling as a woman. Safety, particularly when traveling alone. Traveling when pregnant. Safe sex on vacation.
“There's so many considerations and it all just comes down to this concept of traveling is not a one size fits all experience,” Vargas said.
Vargas’ travels have taken her to Iceland, Kenya, India, across Asia, her native Columbia and throughout Central America and Europe. And the U.S. West.
“When I was 17 or 18, my family did this beautiful trip down Highway 1 and Big Sur,” she recalls fondly. “I still remember that trip because it was absolutely gorgeous. We went camping, we saw whales, we went to all of these beautiful little coastal towns.”
With international travel tricky – to say the least – since COVID, Vargas interrupted her globetrotting for a return to the West Coast this past summer, the Oregon coast, a trip she chronicled at Fodors.com where she’s an editor.
“I fell in love with the Oregon coast because I feel like it's just so moody and intense,” Vargas remembers of the trip she took with her boyfriend. “We traveled to Cannon Beach and we stayed at this beautiful resort called the Surfsand Resort which is right on the beach, right in front of Haystack Rock which is that famous rock of ‘Goonies’ fame and it was absolutely gorgeous – raw, unbridled natural beauty.”
Memories only travel can provide. Memories that shouldn’t be put on hold waiting to find a travel partner. For women travelers intimidated by going it alone, find a copy of “Wanderess” and let Vargas and her fellow female adventurers be your companions.