Did you ever find yourself looking around, wondering what you were doing and how you got here? Did you then go on to wonder if "here" was where you really wanted to be? That's what happened to Jennifer Baggett, Holly Corbett and Amanda Pressner, aka the Lost Girls. When they didn't know the answers to those questions, they decided to find out by taking a year to travel around the world. I spent my recent vacation reading about their trip in their book The Lost Girls: Three friends, four continents, one unconventional detour around the world.
I spend my twenties being a lost girl. I didn't know if I was in the right place, which resulted in a few long distance moves with mixed success. I grappled around trying to find a career. I knew I was good at various things, but how to string those into a career was something college didn't teach me. When I did find a career, it morphed in work hours that were the my personal definition of insane. It got to the point where I'd find myself sitting in my bathtub, letting the shower rain down on me while I wondered how I had gotten here and how the heck I was supposed to get out. I wanted to run away.
I found my way out --I simply quit -- but I'd be lying if I didn't say that I envied the route that Jen, Holly and Amanda took. After taking stock and realizing they weren't sure that they were really doing the right thing or were in the right place, with the pressures of creating successful careers breathing down their necks, they went on an a year long around the world adventure. Don't bother telling me that you never, ever dreamed of just hitting the road, because I won't believe you. Their trip is pretty much the kind of trip that I would have wanted to take -- minus the cockroaches and a few scary cab rides.
I was thrilled to be able to ask the Lost Girls some questions about careers, travel and life.
The Interview with The Lost Girls
BlogHer: I think that in our society, we're pushed toward the career ladder as soon as we are out of college (if not before) and are told to climb, climb, climb. When you planned you trip you brushed that ladder aside for awhile, did your friends and former colleagues think that you were nuts?
Amanda: Actually, relatively free friends and co-workers thought we were crazy for wanting to take off. In fact, many joked around about wanting to come with us! People were definitely curious about the logistics of planning a trip like ours. How were we paying for it? Where were we keeping our stuff? Did we worry about not finding work again after returning home? But no one questioned the underlying desire to want to see the world with two closer friends. In fact, it was the final piece of it, that we had two close girlfriends willing to be traveling companions, that seemed to make this a “no brainer” of sorts -- both for us, and for the people who heard that we were taking off. Many agreed that if they had companions willing to make such a journey, they’d give their notice that day!
BlogHer: Work/life balance is a mystery for many of us, whether we're in our twenties or our forties, whether we're moms or not, whether we work inside the home or out. After several years of the scale being tipped toward work, the three of you tipped it in the direction of life for a full year (your various writing assignments aside). Since returning back from your trip, have you been able to find balance between work and life? Do you think it's possible or is it a myth?
Amanda: While our priorities certainly shifted in the wake of our round-the-world adventure (all three of us craved more time with the people that we loved, and the opportunity for self-reflection) the reality is this: It’s a constant battle to try to keep work and professional commitments from commanding a larger place in our lives than we’d like them to. Our society places a tremendous emphasis on professional achievement and often values how someone performs on their job over how they interact with friends, family and the community. We have to remind ourselves, and each other, that it’s not only acceptable to set boundaries so that work time doesn’t spill into personal time, but that it's 100 percent necessary. We have to work at maintaining that balance every day (talking to our bosses to ensure we’re using all of our vacation time, asking time off from work on certain days to spend more time with loved ones), but it's absolutely worth it!
BlogHer: I know many women who have a hard time truly shutting down and going offline for a full weekend. Okay fine, I used to be one of them and sometimes twitch when I realize I've left my iPhone at home while running errands. I know that going offline and moving your head out of the work space was harder for some of you more than others. Do you have any advice for those of us who struggle with shutting down?
Amanda: Shutting down was definitely one of the most difficult aspects of the journey for me! It took me months after I left New York to give up on the idea of staying connected every single day and responding to messages in a timely manner. Right up front, I’d say to give yourself a break if you don’t manage to relax and unwind the instant that you leave the office for the week (or when you go on vacation). Our habit of “checking in” is exactly that -- a habit -- and it’ll take at least a little time to break it and focus on what’s happening in the moment. If you can’t go the entire weekend with out checking in with the office, commit to reading your work emails just once a day, and a predetermined time. If your boss knows he can reach you at anytime, anywhere, that’s exactly when he’ll try to get in touch.
BlogHer: I find whenever I go away for even a week I have re-entry problems. The one time I took a two-week vacation my re-entry was a complete disaster. I can't imagine what it's like trying to ground yourself after having been away for a year. How did you manage it?
Amanda: More than at any other time during my life, I leaned on friends and family to help me transition back to the US -- both by asking them to put me up for a few nights and by simply talking me through the tough re-entry process! At first I felt guilty that I was burdening the people that I care about, but they reminded me how often I’d opened up a spare room in the past or listened during a tough time like a job layoff or breakup.
I have found that a two-week trip can often be a bit more jarring on a traveler’s psyche than a journey of several months. That’s because just as you’re staring to get use to your new surroundings and a slower pace of life, you’re on your way back home! That’s why I’d recommend taking a real break, if you can negotiate it -- a sabbatical to recharge your batteries and help you feel ready to come back and face new challenges.
BlogHer: You maintained a blog about your adventures while you were traveling. How hard was it to maintain that while on the road?
Jen: During the time we took our round-the-world trip (June ’06-June ’07), blogs were starting to gain more mainstream popularity and internet cafes were popping up in even the most remote pockets of the globe. So compared to how it would have been a few years earlier, it was fairly easy to post entries from the road (and is even easier now). Although, we quickly discovered that painfully slow dial up connections and often “ancient” computers could suck too much time away from our travels if we weren’t careful. So we’d take turns using our shared laptop to craft entries in Word whenever we had some down time, and then we’d just pop it on to a memory stick along with a few pictures to post the next time we came across an internet café. Of course it was easier with three of us because we could rotate penning entries, but all in all, we were amazed at how wired most places are, especially locations that are frequented by backpackers, which also provide cheap internet options (usually a couple bucks for an hour on a computer). In the end, it’s really just about finding a balance between travel writing and actually experiencing traveling, keeping your entries as real and entertaining as possible and posting when you’re inspired!
BlogHer: Lostgirlsworld.com originally started off as a blog about your trip. It's since become a major travel and lifestyle site for young women with contributors from all over the world. How did that happen?
Jen: That was one of the most interesting and rewarding parts our trip since we never expected just how much our blog would grow and evolve beyond our personal travels. But what initially started as a fun outlet to keep friends and family informed of where we were and what we were up to soon morphed into a forum to discuss the deeper reasons why we left and what really motivated us to leave everything familiar behind to take an unconventional detour around the globe (at least unconventional for most Americans). We quickly found that we were not alone in our uncertainty about the paths were following and our desire to escape the daily grind and finally experience a world beyond our office cubicles. So not only did we share our stories with readers and encourage them to embark on their own adventures, but we also invited them to share their experiences with us, which we initially coined as our “Lost Girl of the Week” series.
Soon we were swapping trip tales and travel advice with hundreds of fellow lost girls (and boys), which continued even after we returned to U.S. soil. But our trip and our blog made us realize how important it is for travelers to have a trusted source of information and an online community that feeds their wanderlust. So we decided to not only keep writing about our experiences back in NYC, but to expand our content and our editorial staff to provide readers with smart, service-oriented articles, first person tales from other travelers abroad and all the info they need to plan their next journey however near or far. And with the recent relaunch of our site back in February (with an all new design and Wordpress capabilities), we’re going to continue growing and expanding even more in the coming years!
BlogHer: At different times during your trip, you each did some solo traveling. I know a lot of women are concerned about traveling on their own. What advice do you have for them?
Jen: Out of the three of us, I was definitely the most apprehensive about traveling solo, mainly because I felt it was much more fun to experience the trip with my friends, and of course, partially for the security factor of being together. But surprisingly, I rarely felt unsafe in the places we’d visit –- even those notorious for being so, like Rio or Nairobi. Not to say you don’t have to be careful and keep your wits about you no matter where you are (even in your own city), but the world is surprisingly more inviting than I think many people imagine. I also discovered that when I was on my own, I was much more approachable to other solo travelers. During the week that Holly, Amanda and I were all doing our separate things in Thailand, I met so many other amazing backpackers who became instant buddies and were always there to explore the city with if I wanted company. And when I didn’t, I really learned to embrace taking time to myself and exploring the world on my own terms.
Don’t get me wrong, sharing my round-the-world adventure with Amanda and Holly was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. But it’s not always easy to find people who are willing or able to travel with you, and a little alone time can show you pretty quickly what you’re truly capable of. So I would definitely say to other women to not let their fears stop them from taking a trip and having an adventure. Whether they join a tour group with other singles, sign up for a volunteer program or choose to spend a week by themselves chilling out on a beach, traveling solo will most certainly change their perspective on the world and themselves, and ultimately help them discover a little bit more of what they want out of life.
BlogHer: Sometimes when we want to go traveling and "get lost" it simply is just not going to happen. What's your favorite way to get lost without leaving home?
Holly: You can get lost anywhere! It’s all about getting out of your comfort zone or doing something you love. If you’ve always wanted to try yoga, sign up for a class. If you want to experiment with making different kinds of foods, visit a specialty food store or farmer’s market in your hometown. My favorite way to get lost is to hop on my bike without an agenda or a map to explore new neighborhoods and see what she will find.
BlogHer: What's one thing that you didn't take with you on your around the world trip that you'd want to pack this time?
Holly: If there was one thing we wished we brought that we didn’t, it would be a rolling backpack. They let you pull your luggage when you have smooth ground, like at an airport or on city sidewalks, but convert into a backpack when you're in more rugged terrain, like hiking a mountain. I used one from the High Sierra line for a later trip to China, and I love it because it has tons of compartments to make organizing easy.
BlogHer: Two years after your around the world trip, you pledged to continue to travel together. The three of you traveled to Panama for a vacation. Where do you plan to go next?
Holly: We’re definitely taking our second reunion trip this year, but haven’t decided on a destination yet. Some ideas are South Africa, Ireland or Napa in California since the three of us have never been any of those places together.
BlogHer: You called yourself the Lost Girls. Did you get found?
Holly: We don’t think the secret is to get found, but to learn to embrace uncertainty and to use any restlessness and curiosity to go out and explore both yourself and the world around you. A Lost Girl knows that fear is a normal human emotion, but she doesn’t run from it. If you’re a Lost Girl, you don’t let fear to hold you back from going after your dreams, and you continue to push yourself to keep imagining and dreaming bigger. There is no end point; there’s just evolution.
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