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A personal adventure travel blog

The Lost Girls – reviewed

Christian Anderson

“Three friends, four continents” is the cover tagline of this rewarding, if lengthy, account of modern independent travel – our guides Amanda, Jen and Holly launch themselves several zip codes outside their comfort zones, then write it all down. The eponymous lost girls are three New York-based media sector worker-bees whose (frankly scary) ambition has perceptibly shifted into promotion and career success, but share a nagging worry that the corporate hamster wheel might not be the One True Path. It opens with the trio on a typical US-style vacation – equal parts of enjoying the travel experience and worrying if their employers might decide that workers who take vacation time aren’t what the business needs – Jen’s description of taking ten days off work as being like a “prison break” is something few Europeans but many Americans will understand. Captivated by their holiday pleasures, the age-old “what if this holiday never ended” conversation starts. The difference of course, is these girls actually followed through with the dream...

Unsurprisingly, cool travel tales abound – Amazonian jungle exploration in Peru, giving a little back at a Kenyan school, two very different sides of modern India (Goa’s party scene versus a month of ashram discipline), treading the well-worn South East Asian backpacker trail and adrenalin tourism in New Zealand all keep the narrative brisk. It’s not all cargo pants, dodgy toilets and rucksacks though – Jen, Holly and Amanda are definitely more Prada than Patagonia, so the nightclubs of Lima and Rio get thoroughly explored, along with the realities, disappointments, dangers and possibilities of the backpacker dating scene.

Thankfully, a healthy dose of self-deprecating humour just about counters the feelings of green-eyed envy their adventure will arouse in most readers – buying a copy of “How to Pack” in preparation for a round-the-world trip is a great idea, but actually taking it with you on the road? Epic fail Holly...

So, "The Lost Girls" could potentially have been a fluffy, skin-deep travelogue pitched solidly at the younger end of the soccer mom demographic - pure concentrated escapism denied to most by America’s “work is everything” cultural orthodoxy. But, what rescues this from such pleasant inanity is an acceptance of how a year on “holiday” isn’t all sweetness and light – we get an insight into the darker aspects – the sexual safety of women travellers, tensions between hedonism and credit card limits, and how to stay sane when long-term travelling with friends.

Holly, Jen and Amanda take turns at the book’s 30-odd chapters and each develops a clear authorial voice. Technically, Amanda is the most accomplished writer of the three, but loses brownie points for starting out as an annoying, career-obsessed machine who just can’t let go, an introduction which gives real depth and traction to the inner journey she then experiences during the year away. Her travel mates similarly relate how their characters and motivations are challenged and changed by their shared experience in a warm, but not excessively confessional tone - “Eat, Pray, Love” is the elephant in the room which is surprisingly easy to ignore.

Downsides? There’s a little too much backstory re: boyfriends back home / past loves, and intermissions back in the US prevent a clean narrative “voyage” from emerging. But, these are details – "The Lost Girls" is a likeable story of travel, friendship and personal growth which is well worth a read. The irony is, there’s one market this book won’t reach, and that’s travellers themselves - sorry girls, at 542 pages, it’s just too heavy for the backpack...