Rating: 3 out of 5
Reviewed by Tali Budlender
If I had met 20-year-old Rachel Friedman at the beginning of her journey in a Dublin hostel, I would probably have faked sleep in my lower bunk. This novice backpacker, who sets out from the east coast of America to escape parental expectations and defer difficult career decisions, embarks on her journey with six hundred dollars and an oversized suitcase. But by the time she reaches South America, I would have inevitably shared a couple of pisco sours and exchanged email addresses; such is the personal growth she experiences.
Friedman chronicles her journey in The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost. A first-time hostel-goer, Rachel is shell-shocked by the mismatched mugs, loved-up day-old couples and heads buried in guidebooks. She soon moves from the Dublin hostel into a house in Galway and discovers one of the great truths about travel: that you will be thrown together with strangers from around the globe and that those friendships, bound by time and space, carry a depth that will intrigue you for years to come.
When Rachel touches down in Australia (my home country), I was ready to trade in the wanderlust of this virgin traveller for some adventure. But instead I was greeted by a half-witty account of meat pies and Big Things. Call it national pride, but I was a little underwhelmed by flippant descriptions of the Great Ocean Road, Fraser Island and other superb travel destinations. On the upside, we learn about the genuine connection she forms with the Sydney family of one of the ‘randoms’ she befriended in Galway. For the first time since her parents’ divorce at age fifteen, Rachel revels in a sense of home.
For me, the story really came together in South America. Challenged from the get-go by rugged scenery and extreme tourist activities such as anaconda hunting and bike-riding the world's deadliest road, Rachel takes a crash course in happiness: let go of your fears and learn to accept your own boundaries. We also encounter a more worldly Rachel, her imagination captured by history and tradition. Somewhere between the otherworldliness of Lake Titicaca and the bustling streets of Buenos Aires, South America empowers her to cherish the present moment.
In the end, most readers will identify with Friedman's soul-searching of her early 20s and be inspired by the medicinal quality of travel. While this book falls short of memorable travel literature, it makes an important case for the bravery of getting on the plane in the first place.
Tali Budlender is an Associate Publisher at Lonely Planet's Melbourne office.
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