I can probably count on one hand how many non-fiction books I have read voluntarily, my favorite being Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman. To that list I can now add The Lost Girls by Jennifer Baggett, Holly Corbett and Amanda Pressner, a 500+ page (and they cut it down significantly) account of three New York gals’ one-year jaunt around the globe.
You’d think this book would bring to mind one thing only: my semester abroad in Rome. It did, but not how you might expect. See I, being the very self-aware person that I am, fully recognize that studying abroad is a very sheltered, sort of pre-canned way to “see the world” and not many people can afford it or have the chance to do so. I believe I learned a lot about myself and the world, or Europe at least, but I know I had it pretty easy in terms of where I stayed and how much money (mine and my parents’) I had to spend. Ergo, I am always amazed by people who just take a few months to a year off to travel, whether alone or with friends, before or after college, with no set plan and not much money and to areas not many people would think to visit. Which is precisely what these girls did.
The idea for their trip began when they were on vacation together and the route they planned is not one many people would take these days (I think the trip took place in ’04-ish because while away they got requests for “some new website called Facebook”): South America to Africa to Asia, third-world sections only, concluding in New Zealand and Australia. They hiked the Inca trail, volunteered at a school in Kenya and attended a yoga retreat for several weeks, among countless other things, and none of this was really planned before they went. They would be staying at a hostel and meet other travelers and hear about this cool camping thing a couple hours away and just hop up and do that for a few days. And, perhaps most impressive to me, they lived out of ONE BACKPACK EACH. They had, like, six things to wear at any given time!
One part of this story that appealed to my current state of being was the fact that they all worked at media companies and lived in Manhattan, and they planned the trip because they were tired of their city routines and tiny apartments and long work hours and the same happy hour over and over again. I have to say, I’ve only worked here a little over a year and only lived here a little over four months, but I get how this place can affect people. NO ONE says thank you when you hold a door open for them, NO ONE is ever moving fast enough when you have to get somewhere, and EVERYTHING smells. I actually never thought I would work or live in New York City, in fact I never really wanted to, but life gets in the way when you’re making plans and this is where I ended up. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I get to experience it for a while, but I am definitely not a New Yorker for life.
Yet another part of the story I really identified with was the end of the trip. They spent their last 8 weeks or so in New Zealand and Australia but those weeks were tainted by their looming return to the states and none of them knowing what they were going to do with themselves. During my semester abroad the US dollar was doing so poorly versus the euro that our program was cut short, and by the time our spring break rolled around at the end of March people were already preparing to go home. I was one of few who stayed an extra two weeks to travel after our classes ended, but for about four weeks the thought of getting on an plane back to Newark was nauseating to say the least. In fact I’m pretty sure I was very nauseous when I finally landed on April 23, 2009. I wanted to find a reason to stay in Italy and never come back, something I now feel very guilty for given that I (unknowingly) didn’t have much time left with my dad.
What surprised me most about this story was that almost no boys were involved. Two of the three girls left boyfriend situations at home so those guys were mentioned semi-often, but the trip was not at all about finding and hooking up with hot foreign boys. Or if it ever was they left it out of the book, which I really respect. They focused on just meeting and befriending people they never thought they would, hiking up beautiful mountains and eating strange things and dealing with the hecticness of foreign city life — traveling for the pure sake of travel. My only complaint is that the girls seemed only to portray the best possible versions of themselves; I find it hard to believe that three females traveled together for a year and didn’t get into a few more bitchfests. It would’ve been great if one of them had actually written “Amanda is being so cranky today and I’m really annoyed” because that’s more honest than “I know she was dealing with a lot and I was trying to respect that and…”. I was impressed by their memory and attention to detail, though; I couldn’t sit down today and write a comprehensive book about Rome (which was a heartbreaking THREE AND A HALF YEARS AGO) and have it make any kind of chronological sense. But perhaps I too would write a better version of myself than actually exists.
In conclusion I truly envy these girls for the experiences they had, many of which I will probably never get to, on this year-long adventure, and I believe they are probably all the better for it.
Next up: The Gatecrasher by Madeline Wickham — I had to go back to some real chick lit/beach reads after all these serious books.