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18th May
2011
written by Steph

Get lost and stay lost!

Like many people out there, Tony and I love to travel. I am always a little bit suspicious of people who claim to have no interest in visiting or seeing new places or ever leaving the country. I truly believe that travel expands the mind and provides a perspective that books and other media simply cannot offer. For my money, there are few things I can imagine that are a better investment than travel. In fact, for the past few years Tony and I have been saving up our pennies to take the ultimate adventure once I finish graduate school: a round-the-world trip that will last somewhere from 12 – 18 months.

Of course, because I’m a planner, I’ve spent tons of time researching countries and coming up with a rough travel plan. We’ve spent countless hours watching shows like Departures and No Reservations, trying to decide which parts of the globe we need to see firsthand. It’s nice to see the vitality captured through film and television, but of course I’ve spent a lot of time reading travel books and have been really interested in bulking up on my travel memoir reading as well. So when I saw that The Lost Girls was being offered on TLC Tours, I asked Trish if I could get my hands on the copy since it sounded like a book that would be great inspiration for my own.

The premise behind The Lost Girls is that friends Jennifer, Holly and Amanda are ladies in their late twenties trying to climb their way up various corporate ladders in New York City only to find that they’re burned out by the rat race and feel they’re at something of a crossroads both professionally and personally. Rather than putting life on hold any longer, the three women decide to take a year off to travel the world and achieve some of their lifelong dreams such as visiting and volunteering in Kenya, hiking the Inca trail and visiting Machu Picchu, and learning how to meditate at an ashram in India. I’ve seen a lot of travel memoirs that focus on a single country or region, but haven’t seen much mainstream literature that spotlights a truly global excursion, so I was really excited to read this novel, especially because many of the countries that Tony and I hope to one day visit were featured.

The Lost Girls is billed as Memoir/Travel on its back cover; I feel like the fact that Memoir comes first is more than just alphabetical happenstance, since unfortunately much of this book felt to me like I was reading someone’s diary that in many ways was independent of location. Too much time was spent on personal issues like career frustration or quarter-life crises and broken relationships rather than putting the travel at the forefront. So much of what was talked about felt like it was not only specific to living in Manhattan, but moreover was limited to these three women and that really made me feel like I couldn’t connect with their stories. I didn’t care that Amanda didn’t get her promotion at work or that Jen’s relationship of several years was going sour. I wanted to hear about travel and I wanted to hear about it in a way that made me feel like I was there, not hear some people moan about how their lives were only 90% perfect instead of 100% on track. I really think that my complete antipathy towards what these women were going through was exacerbated by the fact that even after reading 300 pages, I could barely keep track who was who. I wound up with a crib note caricature that was essentially “Jen = unhappy relationship; Amanda = workaholic; Holly = happy relationship”. I feel like after that much time they should have been better developed than that. Plus, even though individual chapters were apparently written by only one of the women at a time, they all had the exact same narrative style that in some ways I almost wished that this was like one of those Baby-sitters Club Super Special Editions where each chapter was written in different handwriting to help clue you in to who was writing what. And again, I feel like you don’t want your book to inspire feelings of longing for a BSC novel in a 28-year-old woman, so consider that a fail.

Even when the book finally departs from the United States I felt like insights into the countries that were visited were really lacking and underwhelming. Each chapter generally focused on one country (with the exception of Kenya which got four chapters), and most of these chapters just revolved around a single anecdote or adventure rather than attempting to give a feel for the country for those of us not lucky enough to have been there. There was no discussion of getting from one country to the next, which I think is a huge part of travel, so it was a bit disappointing to just find myself plopped down somewhere new and then to have the focus be on hooking up with some hostel hottie in Laos or taking ecstasy while in Goa, which quite honestly are not things I am interested in terms of travel. Visiting Angkor Wat (one of the wonders of the world!), which just happened to be one of the girls’ lifetime goals to boot, got summed up in less than a sentence (something akin to “After spending a few days cycling around Angkor Wat, we made our way to…”), while the Taj Mahal got about three sentences. I understand that the lens through which we see the world is necessarily personal, but I feel like good travel writing transports readers elsewhere and gives us the sense of being there. I think there is a place for personal anecdotes as a means of distilling the vibe of a place, but so much of what was written about could literally have happened anywhere on earth. The focus was always on Jen, Holly and Amanda, and the countries they were in just happened to be backdrop to whatever they happened to be doing next. I didn’t really feel like I learned anything new about the places they visited, and it didn’t really provide me with any insight or tips into planning my own trip. The whole thing just felt so self-involved and like it was written for the three authors alone.

I admit it, I gave up on this book about 400 pages in because I just didn’t care about these people and felt like I couldn’t take being disappointed by their world travels any longer. I wanted to hear about the world and all that it contains, but instead I got to spend a lot of time with three people that I don’t think I’d care for very much in real life. I admire that they took the leap to travel around the globe, but I just have to assume that there was more to their trip than they shared and unfortunately the bits they chose to highlight were of little to no interest to me. Maybe it’s ambitious to hope for this but I feel like really good travel writing and really good memoirs say something that is both personal and universal so that anyone can find something to relate to in it. They should help us better understand ourselves and the world around us, but unfortunately this book just focused too much on the authors and not enough on the journey itself.

I suppose the one good thing is that I found this book so unsatisfying that now I really can’t wait to go out and experience these countries for myself so that I can really know what they’re all about. So thanks for that, I guess.

Rating: 2 out of 5

For other views, check out some of the other stops on The Lost Girls tour:

Tuesday, April 26th: Book Journey

Wednesday, April 27th: A Bookish Way of Life

Monday, May 2nd: Book Club Classics!

Wednesday, May 4th: Reading on a Rainy Day

Thursday, May 5th: Write Meg

Tuesday, May 10th: Books in the City

Wednesday, May 11th: Good Girl Gone Redneck

Thursday, May 12th: My Reading Room

Friday, May 13th: Amused By Books

Saturday, May 14th: 2 Kids and Tired Book Reviews

Monday, May 16th: The House of the Seven Tails

Tuesday, May 17th: Books Like Breathing

18 Comments

  1. 05/18/2011

    “I think there is a place for personal anecdotes as a means of distilling the vibe of a place, but so much of what was written about could literally have happened anywhere on earth.”

    This is especially relevant for books which are marketed based of the travelling part. Was there any interaction with local people?

  2. 05/18/2011

    Oh, this book sounds as if it could have had some awesome potential, but failed miserably. I also wouldn’t like to read a travelogue that focused so much on such plebeian aspects of jobs and boyfriends, so I don’t think I will be reading this one. By the way, your plan to travel sounds marvelous, and I am just a wee bit envious that you will be able to do that. I am hoping that you will post all about it, when it happens!

  3. 05/18/2011

    Steph, I totally get where you are coming from with regards to this book. I think that the reason I enjoyed it so much was because I could relate to some of the issues that the three women were dealing with – so I didn’t mind reading about it. As far as the travel portion, it was lacking and I’m not into taking X and hooking up with random guys either, so I didn’t really care much for those tidbits – it was a bit too college spring break-ish. However, I did enjoy reading about the various places they visited only because it reminded me of when I backpacked around Europe after grad school and got me to thinking about how much more of the world I would love to see. The book is far from perfect, but I suppose I didn’t expect much from it – which is why I enjoyed it. The writing was rather singular in its tone and did make me wonder how it could all sound the same. I suppose I just liked the idea of the book more than the actual book – does that make sense? I liked the idea of taking off a year of work in order to travel and discover more about myself. I really did enjoy your post though – it was honest and now has me itching to read a real travel memoir. Thanks, Steph!

  4. I’m sorry this wasn’t the book you hoped it would be. It certainly does seem to be more memoir and less travelogue. Hopefully your next travel book will give you the location details that you were hoping for here.

    Thanks for being on the tour.

  5. 05/18/2011

    I’ll be skipping this one then, as I like a bit more travel in my memoir as well. I’ll just wait for you to write about your adventures, instead!

  6. 05/18/2011

    I think these girls also have a website, don’t they? Maybe that’s better than the book… Sorry this one didn’t work out so well, but that just means that if you and Tony take a nice long trip together, you can write an awesome book afterward!

    I am also suspicious of people who don’t travel much, or profess not wanting to travel anywhere. But I’ve always loved visiting new places, so maybe I am just not wired to understand them.

  7. Oh, boo! This looks like such a great concept. Sorry it was a flop. You’re right, though, in comparison your travels almost have to be better. ;O)

  8. 05/20/2011

    @ Alex: There is definitely some interaction with locals (especially in the Kenya section), so I did appreciate that, but even in that respect I felt it was somewhat lacking. A lot of time was spent caught up in the girls’ heads (if that makes any sense) and much of their interactions had to do with other backpackers… I think one of the problems with writing about such a huge trip is the tendency to just focus on surface issues, which was why I think I found this so unsatisfying.
     
    @ zibilee: I think that because this topic is one that I obviously am very passionate about that it was all the more disappointing that it didn’t live up to my expectations. I think the girls didn’t focus enough on the fact that their trip is what made them interesting and not their own personal lives!
    And I am soooo excited for my own big trip! It is the carrot that keeps me moving through grad school, for sure! ;)
     
    @ Nadia: I think you wrote a totally fair review of this book and you’re right that it’s not a complete write-off. I can absolutely see how some people would find the “life issues” interesting or enriching, but I was in this for the travel aspect and as you point out, that part of the book was rather flimsy in its description.
    But I totally agree that I love that these women took the time off to travel and grow, even if I personally didn’t get as much out of their experience as they did! I think it was clear to me that the book was an afterthought (obviously written many years later)… I think if they had perhaps set out with the possibility of writing this in mind the travel portions might have been more richly detailed.
     
    @ Heather: Yes, I think the problem is that there was too many memoir elements here for my liking and while I wasn’t necessarily expecting a travel guide from this book, I was hoping to get a better sense of what being on the road for a year would be like. I’m certainly not sorry I got the chance to try the book, however, as in many ways it has fueled my own passion for travel even more!
     
    @ softdrink: We definitely intend to keep this site going when we embark on our global trek so you’ll have plenty to read!
     
    @ Aarti: Yes they do have a website and it does seem to be a better resource for the kind of thing I was hoping for than the book.
    And what is up with people who don’t like to travel? Tony works with someone who didn’t even leave her home state (not even for vacations!) until she got married!
     
    @ Pam: The concept really was so great and unusual for most travel books that I really was disappointed in the overall execution. So much promise… I guess I’ll just have to do it better! :D

  9. 05/20/2011

    I have some friends of friends who traveled around the world as their honeymoon. They diligently kept a blog of their travels, which I kept up with to make my 9-5 desk job day seem more interesting. They have good advice/travel tidbits if you’re looking to plan a similar trip!

    http://nohurrycurry.wordpress.com/

  10. 05/23/2011

    I am so jealous of your planned trip! I went travelling back in the early 90′s but I would love to do it with my husband – it’s our dream too but I think I would need to win the lottery first :(

    I, too, love travel books so thanks for warning me away from this one.

  11. 05/23/2011

    All I can say is thanks for the warning. Chick Lit isn’t my thing and that is what this sounds like to me. I love to travel and would also enjoy a memoir that details the places traveled and not a focus on personal lives and issues.

  12. 05/24/2011

    @ Kari: Oooh, thanks so much for that link! I’ve taken a quick peak and it looks like exactly the kind of travel blog I do enjoy! I can’t wait to read through it in more detail!
     
    @ The Book Whisperer: I did a shortish jaunt between undergrad and grad school for 7 weeks where I went through Western Europe and the UK with a friend and it was amazing. Taking so much time off to travel the world isn’t a decision to be made lightly but my husband and I both agree that it’s worth it so we’re pinching our pennies and doing the best to save as much money for our travel fund as possible.
     
    @ Kathleen: This definitely had a bunch of chick lit elements that I don’t much care for either. It sort of seemed like it might have been trying to capitalize on the whole Eat, Pray, Love thing, which is a book I have no interest in reading.

  13. 05/24/2011

    Wait you *stopped* at page 400? How long is this book?? I got really excited as I read the beginning of your post, but then I quickly realized I’d be as disappointed as you. I kind of felt some of those ways about Eat, Pray, Love at times.

  14. 05/25/2011

    Oh, I am so excited about your global trek. I am sure you will have some wonderful and exciting travel adventures to share with us.

    I used to love travelogues. But nowadays, I feel just as satisified reading travel blogs…some of them are really well-written personal anecdotes, and feel just as in-depth as a book might be.

  15. 05/25/2011

    @ Erin: Ha ha! I know, right? Stopping at page 400 sounds insane, but this book is almost 600 pages! I was really excited for the stuff on South East Asia and India so that’s why I kept reading… in the end, I followed the girls to Vietnam (which I’m really interested in!) and then gave up. I just couldn’t take it any more!
     
    @ Nishita: Do you have any travel blogs in particular that you enjoy? I had been following a few but most of those people are now done their traveling and so their blogs have kind of wound up in hibernation mode!

  16. 05/27/2011

    I am currently living vicariously through these blogs:

    http://wanderinground.wordpress.com/
    http://www.ricksteves.com/blog/
    http://theplanetd.com/ and

    Enjoy!

  17. oh, thanks for saving me on this one! i actually espied it on edelweiss a few months back and jotted it down for my TBR pile. like you, we’re all about travel here. i think when a book is billed a travel memoir, it should include equal parts discourse on travel AND relationships, etc. bill bryson balances info about the locales with his own personal interjections and anecdotes and i love his style. sorry it didn’t work for you but you did give it a fair review. can’t wait to see an itinerary for your globe-trotting adventure!

  18. 05/31/2011

    @ Nishita: Thanks for the recommendations! I’ll be sure to check them out!
     
    @ nat: I really don’t mind people sharing personal anecdotes and ideas in their travel writing, but I feel like these bits should be informative and somehow illuminate something larger than just this incident that will only mean something to the person doing the telling. I haven’t actually read any Bill Bryson, but my feeling is that his stories help you understand where he’s coming from (or at least amuse you!) since you can’t be there with him to experience everything firsthand.

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