'The Lost Girls' Find Their Way

by Christine DeSadeleer Jun 28, 2010

The Lost Girls

Three NYC gals decide to quit their stressful careers in journalism to take a trip around the world for a year. Only then do they realize what they’re really made of.

I’m betting the Lost Girls got a lot of “you’re so lucky!”s when they first broke the news to friends about plans for an around-the-world trip. Thing is, this kind of “once-in-a-lifetime” travel sounds glorious until you actually have to, you know, plan it and do it.

Of course the ladies had their ups and downs on their year-long adventure, as expected. Their latest book tracks the literal mountain-high moments to the mishaps. But in dealing with the quarter-life crisis of questions about career, relationship, and self, their approach – experiencing what is out in the world, all over it – provided less of a definitive answer, and more of an acceptance of feeling lost.

Here’s a few questions the trio kindly answered for BNT:

BNT: In a nutshell, what do you think this year-long backpacking trip taught you most about yourselves?

LOST GIRLS: I think when we set out on the trip we expected to have these earth shattering epiphanies that would somehow help us discover exactly what we wanted out of life and who we wanted to be as women. But in the end, the journey really wasn’t really about “finding ourselves”, but rather it was about learning to embrace being lost.

Because it was those feelings of uncertainty that prompted us to take such a big risk to leave everything familiar behind to travel, which in the end, was absolutely the most rewarding way we could have spent that year of our late 20s.

And while the experience didn’t magically dissolve all of the pressures we felt about careers or relationships or the future, it definitely taught us that we can’t make decisions out of fear or stay in a stagnant situation because it’s the safe choice or it’s what we think we should do.

You each had a partner that you left behind for the year. I think this is one thing that stops some people, especially women, from embarking on any type of long-term travel when they are not yet married, but are “supposed to be” heading in that direction. What advice would you give to people dealing with this issue, besides the old “you’re only young once” or “do it while you’re not tied down”?

The Golden Ticket

While we were each in very different relationship situations, we were at a point in our lives where boyfriend or no boyfriend, we didn’t want to have any regrets or feel like we’d given something up to settle down and get married.

And we were fairly certain that passing up the chance to take a round the world trip with our two friends would have qualified as a pretty big regret.

Not that it wasn’t really difficult to leave, but I think we always believed that if we stayed true to ourselves and followed this big dream of traveling for a year that it would make us stronger and more resilient women – and ultimately better partners for the men we choose to spend the rest of our lives with.

Did the place you most anticipated being “life-changing” live up to your expectations? And which place surprised you with being more positive than you thought it would be?

While we hoped that volunteering in Kenya would be “life-changing” opportunity, we couldn’t have imagined what a profound and long-lasting effect it would have on us.

But spending a month mentoring an extraordinary group of pre-teen girls – many of whom had lost parents to AIDS or had been victims of rape – was such an incredible and humbling experience that we vowed to continue our work with the volunteer organization Village Volunteers long after our trip.

And to this day, we still continue to support the school as well as many of the community projects, including the Butterfly Project, which helps send young women to nursing school.

Of course Kenya was just one of many countries we visited – including Cambodia, Laos, India and Bali – where despite enduring many hardships, the people were so incredibly warm and optimistic. It really inspired us to view the world in a much different way and to truly be grateful for all of the opportunities and resources we have simply by being born in the United States.

“Roadblocks”, such as the one you guys encountered at the Cambodian border, where the officer refused to stamp the last page of Jen’s passport – until you ponied up, of course – are ones that make a lot of people shy away from certain places. What would you tell them to change their mind?

The Book

In matter of fairness, traveling to remote locations or countries that aren’t considered traditional vacation destinations isn’t for everyone. However, from our point of view, the experience of immersing yourself in a completely foreign culture and having the chance to see a very different side of the world can teach you a lot more about yourself and what you’re capable of than, say, spending a week at a beach resort.

Don’t get us wrong, relaxing on the sand with a cold drink is a perfectly wonderful getaway, but the three of us just can’t help but view the challenges of visiting “tougher” countries as one of the greatest rewards of travel. And in the end, it’s the quirky encounters and near misses on the road that often make a trip the most memorable and provide the best fodder for the stories you tell over and over again.

I mean, we’ve literally recounted the tales of getting stuck on a 14 hour train ride with hundreds of cockroaches or finally made it to the top of Dead Woman’s Pass on the Inca Trail, or as you mentioned, had to bribe our way across the Cambodian border, a million times – and we’d be lying if we said it they weren’t told with a hint of pride!

Not all women in their mid-twenties would be ready to take on the pressure involved in a trip around the world for a year. And yet all of you worked either full time or as a freelance writer in the fast-paced world of NYC magazines before your trip. Do you think this helped prepare you mentally and emotionally? Other than wanting to escape, of course.

I don’t think it was our particular jobs, but more the challenge of living in a very fast paced and often stressful city and trying to make it in the highly competitive media industry. It wasn’t always easy, but it definitely toughened us up a bit and provided a pretty thrilling lifestyle, which the three of us really thrive off of (until of course it got so intense that we felt the need to escape for a bit!).

But it really was that same side of our personalities that prompted the three of us to move to Manhattan…that helped us adapt the challenges of traveling around the world.

But it really was that same side of our personalities that prompted the three of us to move to Manhattan soon after graduating college with very little money and not really knowing anyone that helped us adapt the challenges of traveling around the world. Because as the old adage goes about New York City, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere – which for us included living out of a backpack for a year!

Speaking of “those magazines”, you obviously leave the names out of where you worked in the book, but they are shown in your bio. Not that you trashed them exactly, but do you think there will be any backlash from describing your authentic experiences working – and leaving – there?

We don’t think that there will be any backlash, or even hard feelings. While it wasn’t an essential part of the story to include specific names of the companies and magazines where we worked, we felt strongly about sharing the places each of were in emotionally – and in our careers – before leaving for the trip.

Our journeys didn’t begin the second we got on the road: They started while we were still in our cubicles, trying (and often failing) to strike a balance between our careers and “real life.” We felt that we needed to let our readers get a glimpse of this world (and the women we were in that environment) in order for the story to make sense, even if it meant taking a risk of offending a former employer.

The web makes it pretty easy for a curious reader to find out where we worked, but we thought it would be more respectful to leave the specific employer names out of the published book.

What is the planning process you would recommend for anyone who wants to embark on a trip similar to yours? How long to plan ahead, how much to save, those types of things. And do you think it would have been a lot harder to do on your own?

A moment to relax

To do a trip as extensive as ours – crossing multiple continents over the course of a year – you first have to decide exactly how long you want to stay on the road, what you can realistically save in the amount of time you have until departure (for us, we starting saving almost a year and a half in advance) and the type of countries you plan to visit.

Then you can better determine your total budget and some of the broader planning details like whether it makes sense to get a round-the-world ticket versus stringing together your own flights, if you need to allocate a portion of your travel funds for vaccines and visas (our five required vaccines ran upwards of $300 and because we chose to go to several countries requiring visas, like Brazil and India, that was an added expense), how many countries/regions of the world you can fit in and what your estimated daily cost on the road will be.

For example, you could afford to backpack around Southeast Asia for 8 months for the same price as, say, spending 2-3 months in Europe. Once these bigger questions are answered you can start to plan more of the details – booking flights, researching volunteer programs, determining places of interest in each country, how to get from A to B (intra-country trains, buses, etc.) and purchasing appropriate gear (backpack, hiking shoes, cold or warm weather attire, etc.).

We recommend only really planning a couple countries ahead of time and allowing as much flexibility in your schedule as possible.

Of course, if you’re going to be traveling for a long period of time like we did, we recommend only really planning a couple countries ahead of time and allowing as much flexibility in your schedule as possible.

For example, we loosely mapped out how/where we’d spend our year aboard (2 months in South America, 2 months in Kenya, 1 week in Dubai-free stopover on our RTW ticket, 1 month in India, 3 months in Southeast Asia, 2 weeks in Bali-another free stopover on our RTW ticket, 1 month in New Zealand and 2 months in Australia), but didn’t plan which exact regions we’d visit or any of the day to day until we actually arrived in a country.

For us, this turned out to be the best plan of attack for our sort of trip as we got so many recommendations from other backpackers on the road and we had the freedom to change our minds when we felt like it and just go where the travel winds blew us!

For more on The Lost Girls, visit their site. You can also purchase their book, The Lost Girls: Three Friends. Four Continents. One Unconventional Detour Around the World, now on sale.

What do you think about the idea of traveling around the world for a year? Share your thoughts below.

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