Interview With Amanda Pressner: A Year of Getting Lost
Travel Interviews: Michael Yessis talks to one of the authors of "The Lost Girls" about long-term travel and its unforeseen rewards
05.27.10 | 12:26 PM ET
The three “Lost Girls”—Amanda Pressner, Holly C. Corbett and Jennifer Baggett—hit a travel trifecta. A few years ago, while they were all in their mid-20s, they dropped out of the rat race and traveled the world. In the process, they scored a book deal. The Lost Girls: Three Friends, Four Continents, One Unconventional Detour Around the World chronicles their yearlong spin around the globe, while also exploring the power of travel to deliver perspective and a sense of purpose.
“We were searching for answers, but as we’d learn along the way, the ones you uncover are rarely those to the questions asked,” they write. I asked Pressner via email about what she learned on her journey and how she and her friends made a blog-to-book transition.
World Hum: You write that you called yourselves “The Lost Girls” to describe “both our own uncertainty about the future and an emotional state we felt represented many in our generation.” Why do you think your generation feels this way, and why did you think travel was an antidote?
Amanda Pressner: Young people in developed nations have a tremendous abundance of personal choice—a luxury, to be certain. But given the freedom to blaze our own paths, which direction are we supposed to take? Which combination of choices will leave us happiest?
Once we leave college and enter the “real world,” we find ourselves with no road map, no compass. And, unfortunately, there’s no time in our fast-paced, success-driven lives to pause, reflect and determine who we are as individuals—or what we really want. Many of us end up feeling lost in our 20s, and in our 30s and beyond simply because we’ve never had a definitive stretch of time that’s earmarked solely for exploration, discovery and self-reflection.
Travel—particularly extended travel—provides that opportunity. Once on the road, you re-learn life’s fundamentals: How people are different (and yet inherently the same), which basic needs must be met in order to feel comfortable and happy, and how to live fully within the simplest moments.
By taking our trip, I think Jen, Holly and I learned a valuable lesson: how to trust our guts and not to let the fear of what might happen to us—or what might not happen—rule the choices that we make. Sure, we worried that by taking a year off to travel, we’d be committing career suicide, no one would hire us again and that we’d be in debt forever. But we went anyway, and none of those fears were realized! In fact, our future bosses seemed to admire that we’d committed so fully to this dream—and all three us were quickly hired again (and got out of debt!) within a few months of coming home.
You all dropped a lot of things—good jobs, boyfriends, stability—to travel. Was there a point during your travels where everything clicked and you knew you made the right decision?
Getting on the first flight to Peru—looking at the faces of my best friends and knowing we’d actually done it, that we’d really taken off—was one of the most gratifying experiences of the entire trip. I’d been so convinced that something would come up, that one of my friends would stay home to accept a promotion or to take her relationship to the next level, that it blew my mind.
Of course, throughout the journey, when something major would happen—when we summited Dead Woman’s Pass on the Inca Trail, when we surfed together in Australia, or when we watched the teens we volunteered with in Kenya perform a play that we’d written—that feeling of “holy cow, we really left!” hit me all over again.
What would you say to women who don’t think they can walk away from their lives to make a similar trip?
We met quite a few women, both via our blog and over the past few years, who are dying to take a break from their current situations to travel—but are scared that they’ll lose the career that they’ve worked so hard for, or the guy that they love, if they take time off. This simply isn’t the case!
A strong relationship can weather distance for several weeks or even months while one partner goes exploring (if you’re planning to be apart for a while, though, we’d recommend budgeting for some extra flights to visit one another).
If you’ve put at least a few years into your career before you take off, you’ll be able to add skills to your resume—learning new languages, volunteering, working abroad, social networking, etc.—that you might never have gotten if you’d stayed home.
People often have this misconception that travel somehow negates the work experience you’ve gotten up until that point, but it doesn’t. It can only make you a more interesting, well-rounded candidate when you sit down for your next interview.
Any tips on getting along with travel companions?
There’s no way to stay on the road with the same two people for so long without learning how to communicate. It’s critical before you embark on any journey to lay out your expectations. Delve into the big and the small stuff—how much money you’d like to budget per day, how much personal/alone time you need, what time you’d like to wake up in the morning—even if you think it might not make a difference once you get there. If you’ve got a deal breaker—for example, that you can’t sleep in hostels or want to stick to a really lean budget—then make your needs known before you get on the plane.
Plan a few strategies for dealing with tension and conflict. How will you deal if one person wants to do a specific activity and another one doesn’t? Are you willing to spend more money (and travel for less time) if your companion wants to sleep in more lux accommodations than you do? Compromise and communication are key: Each person must be willing to put the needs of the group above their own—at least, most of the time, in order to avoid major blow-ups.
If you’re traveling with three or more people, decide who’s going to be responsible for which tasks. In our trio, Jen volunteered to do the budgeting, Holly researched hostels and routes, and I handled emails and negotiated better rates and discounts where they were available. Just like in a business, things go more smoothly when everyone has a role that that they can perform and take pride in.
So now you’ve lived the dream and gone from blog to book. How did you make that happen?
We’d fantasized about writing a book about our adventures, but it was really a “maybe someday” dream that we didn’t pursue while traveling. We did, however, each commit to updating our blog at least once per week to keep our writing skills sharp and to help stay connected with family and friends.
As we updated it, our readership grew beyond our own loved ones—other “Lost Girls” were beginning to visit, too. Thanks to the power of social networking (and
a shout outs from our fellow travel bloggers!) news of the website spread. Soon, thousands of readers were living vicariously through our journey. Pretty soon, we were featuring a regular “Lost Girl of the Week” and publishing dispatches from other travelers.
As luck would have it, a few agents and one editor at a major publishing house stumbled across our blog while we were on the road, and wrote to ask if we’d ever consider turning the story of our adventures in to a book. Heck yeah! Of course, no one actually wanted to meet with us until we’d composed a polished book proposal. So once we returned home, the three of us holed up for a month at Holly’s family’s house in Syracuse and put together our 60-page document. Once we’d completed the proposal, we found an agent whom we really trusted at Writer’s House. After circulating the proposal to about 20 publishing house imprints and fielding serious interest from about six, he eventually sold our book to HarperCollins.
Congrats. Good luck with the book.