Anne Mustoe: Lone Traveller

March 19, 2016

51zJDORQF9L._AA160_Anne Mustoe was the head of a private school who took early retirement to pursue her desire to cycle around the world, which she had done twice when she wrote this book; there are many others about her previous and subsequent wanderings.

This is a travel book with a difference: she does not narrate a specific journey but reflects on the experience of being a solo traveller from a number of different perspectives; she writes both about her own travels and the art of travelling. It’s a book that speaks to me, as I have always done a fair amount of solo travelling, both in my student days and currently, although I am nowhere near as adventurous as she was. Sadly, the maps are very cursory.

She comes across as a very practical, no-nonsense woman when she writes about the whole range of problems one encounters whilst travelling, and how she overcame (most of) them. She considers the advantages and disadvantages of solo travel; as I have found too, there are the chance encounters and companionships one would not meet if travelling with someone else, as well as the pleasure of being completely in control and able to make all choices and decisions to suit oneself, even to indulge oneself at times…

Mustoe writes well: a teacher and classicist, she begins each chapter with a suitable epigraph; she writes fluently, entertainingly, and shows a thoughtful attitudeĀ to people, places, customs and behaviours: a friendly attitude is usually guaranteed to elicit a friendly response. She understands and explains some interesting cultural differences she came across – the concept of ‘face’ in China, for example, and how important it is not to lose face. Only occasionally does she slip into rather jarring generalisations about politics.

The excellence of the book comes from its not focusing on one particular voyage, though she does write about some of her travels and adventures in some chapters, by way of illustrating her more general points. I enjoyed it in the same way as I have enjoyed books on the Grand Tour, and on travelling in the Middle Ages, for travelling itself is a pleasure, never mind the destination. A breath of fresh air here!

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