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Book Review: Smiling At The World

by Madeleine Somerville Feb 7, 2008

Joyce Major has accomplished one of the things I’ve been dreaming about my whole life (well, two if you count the whole writing a book thing).

This intrepid woman rented her house, quit her job and took off for a year of volunteer tourism around the world.

Major’s travels provided a much-needed break from the rigors of “real life” and eventually provided fodder for her book Smiling at the World, which chronicles her year abroad and the experiences she encountered in her search for adventure and love.

Smiling at the World is a cheerful, wonderful read.

We meet Major as her life is coming to a crossroads, that do-or-die moment when the solitary traveler packs her bags to embark upon her journey, plagued – as I think all travelers are at some point – with nagging doubts and second guessing her decision to take a year off.

From Dream To Reality

Obviously Major decided to take the plunge, and in doing so, proved that there exists a vast difference between merely talking ad nauseum about a dream and actually taking the steps to make it a reality.

After all, who among us hasn’t idly speculated about leaving it all behind and going on an adventure, traveling the globe in search of new people, new places and new experiences?

Major however, took these idle thoughts, sat down and tailored a year-long adventure to suit her own personality.

Active Tourism

As you get further into the book, it becomes abundantly clear that this is a woman who knows herself well.

It becomes abundantly clear that this is a woman who knows herself well.

A relaxing stay at a beach resort might sound fantastic to some, but Majors knew that the appeal of sand and surf wouldn’t be enough for her inquisitive mind and active lifestyle.

Being passionate about animals and the environment, the Seattle-based real estate agent sought out opportunities for voluntourism, a rapidly growing sector of the travel industry where you have the chance to volunteer with non-profit organizations across the globe.

These types of trips offer much needed skills and volunteers to needy organizations in wildly diverse locales, while allowing the volunteer a connection and a base in a new environment.

Lesbian Wildlife?!

A few of Major’s selections for her year-long saga of growth and experience included a short stay at a Lesbian wildlife hospital (seriously), a stint as a volunteer at a monkey sanctuary and a few weeks as a newspaper reporter.

The variety of experiences makes “Smiling” an engaging and exciting read, not to mention the fact that it will open the eyes of many to the diversity of options at hand when planning a trip.

I have no doubt that the organizations Major visited and wrote about have loved the increased exposure, and their various causes will benefit from the publicity.

An Honest Story-Teller

Despite its sunny title ‘Smiling at the World’ is not a pollyanna-esque story where all is sunshine and rainbows.

One of the best aspects of Major’s book, and the part that makes reading it a real pleasure, is the honesty with which she relates her experiences.

Despite its sunny title Smiling at the World is not a pollyanna-esque story where all is sunshine and rainbows. Major does not embellish or gloss over the lesser delights of traveling; bed bugs, unpleasant hosts and travel mates, frustrating language barriers and the inevitable loneliness that afflicts a solo traveler.

Rather than lamenting the unfortunate episodes of her journey – experiences that don’t turn out as planned, personality conflicts and relationship drama – Major approaches hurdles with characteristic introspection and pragmatism. Not one to wallow, she pursues other options and cuts her losses when necessary.

It is inspirational to see another woman tackle life with such a focus on personal growth and optimism, and to walk away from a situation (positive or negative) with the question, ‘What can I learn from this?’.

This book offers a human perspective, a spiritual perspective, something bland guidebooks are sorely lacking.

Farewell To A Friend

Near the end of this book, seasoned travelers may experiences the familiar sensation of saying goodbye to a travel buddy you picked up a few towns back. Having grown intimately close in a short period of time, as is bound to happen while traveling, you feel inexplicably attached to their quirks and characteristics, becoming reluctant to see them go.

Through the pages of this delightful and engrossing travel diary, Joyce Major adeptly conveys her warm, loving and energetic personality. In saying farewell to her as a travel partner, one can only wish her luck and hope to hear about her next adventures.

Buy Smiling at the World on Amazon here.

Madeleine Somerville is a big city girl living in small city British Columbia, where she works as a newpaper columnist. She has travelled to Thailand and Japan and most recently came back from a few months of sun and sand Down Under.

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