Book Review: The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost

Solo Travel, Travel Books & Movies — By on June 29, 2011 at 3:00 pm

By Briana Palma
LG Contributor

If you ever need inspiration to hit the road without feeling guilty for leaving behind responsibilities – especially if you’re a confused college student or graduate itching to see the world – pick up The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost. In this memoir, author Rachel Friedman takes readers along as she recalls the life-changing journeys of her early twenties, when she explored Ireland, Australia and South America rather than following the much-treaded college-internship-corporate job path of many young Americans.

Friedman writes about these experiences with honesty, recounting both proud and embarrassing moments, which makes her very relatable. On the trip into her past, she also introduces us to a lively supporting cast, described in such detail that we’re left feeling as if we know them, too. And she does all this in a writing style marked by elegance and clarity, so in the end readers, travelers and non-travelers alike, can really comprehend her physical and mental journeys.

The summer before her senior year of college, Friedman, a self-described over-achiever, buys a plane ticket for Ireland and begins her transformation from “good girl” to true world traveler. She has no destination, but ends up in Galway, where she settles for four months, drinks a whole lot of beer and meets free-spirited Aussie Carly Dawson.

Friedman returns home and finishes her English degree, but after graduation she has “no clue what to do with [herself],” a problem that so many grads seem to face these days. Then Dawson calls. She convinces Friedman to escape to Australia for four months, and afterward to backpack through South America. Through it all, Friedman develops an extraordinary friendship with Dawson, her fearless “guide,” and learns how to find her own way, too.

Like many travelers, Friedman faces (sometimes embarrassing) bumps along the road, but in The Good Girl’s Guide she looks back on them with honesty and humor. As she describes her life in Ireland, she admits to the kind of linguistic slipups that most of us make at one time or another. “We usually end up in a dim multilevel pub called the Quays (which I idiotically pronounce “kways” instead of “keys” for five days until someone finally corrects me),” she writes.

She confesses to other, more blush-worthy mistakes, too, showing that — despite the repetitive chapter introductions that refer to her as the “heroine” — she isn’t some mythical creature who traveled the world and suddenly knew it all. One night at dinner with the entire Dawson clan, Friedman jokingly tries to imitate an Australian accent, shouting, “‘Maybe a dingo ate your baby!’” and then adding, “Maybe it put it in its pouch and ran away with it.” Only when the entire table erupts in laughter does she learn that a dingo is a wild dog and not a “mean-tempered kangaroo.”

Then there are the less comical times, the ego-bruising moments typical of today’s twenty-somethings. After returning home from Australia, she declares her independence and desire to go to South America, but then needs her parents’ help. “Bam! Just like that, I’m fourteen again (though the dramatic storming out was already pretty teen-tastic), dreamy and careless, book-smart but absentminded,” she writes. “All my time away, the maturation I felt occurring, does not exist.”

As Friedman reveals the many facets of her personality, from career-minded young adult to carefree backpacker, she manages to do the same for the book’s other characters, especially Dawson. Her Aussie companion comes to life bit by bit with simple anecdotes that in the end paint a rather complex picture. For example, Friedman recalls a time when she struggles to pack for a five-day excursion to the Australian Outback and Dawson simplifies everything. “‘What do you need other than a T-shirt, a pair of pants, and sunnies?’” she asks before preparing the backpack for her friend. Later, when they reunite in South America and learn about Bolivia’s “Death Road” from another backpacker, Friedman “[watches] in horror as [Dawson’s] eyes begin to glow.” Dawson is immediately convinced to conquer the treacherous path, not fazed by the tales of numbing cold, altitude sickness and steep, unpaved roads.

Friedman tells all these stories with insight and eloquence. As readers come across passages that explain what it means to really experience the world, those who understand a traveler’s mentality will shake their heads ‘yes’ in agreement while others who don’t know first-hand will gain some understanding. “If my own restlessness is a dull itch I can’t quite scratch, [Dawson’s] is a gaping, bloody would that refuses to heal,” she writes. “No matter how much pressure she puts on it, in Bangkok or Marrakech or Prague, within a few days of her return to Sydney, it breaks wide open, the monotony of her native land gushing forth.”

In the world of travel narratives, The Good Girl’s Guide is great, especially if you’re a twenty-something feeling lost at home and wanting to find comfort in faraway lands. But no matter your age, Friedman’s package of well-developed characters and anecdotes wrapped in humor and sincerity proves a lovely little gift of inspiration for anyone who dreams of seeing the world.

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