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