Interview with Rachel Friedman: ‘The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost’

Travel Interviews: Eva Holland talks to the author of a recently released travel memoir about the power of friendship on the road

06.20.11 | 11:22 AM ET

Photo courtesy of Rachel Friedman

In 2002, Rachel Friedman was a 20-year-old college junior. She had dropped out of a demanding and prestigious music school and, for the first time in her life, she didn’t have a plan.

Enter Carly, a perpetually-traveling Australian girl. Their friendship would lead Friedman across Ireland, Australia and South America, and eventually to a thoughtful travel memoir, The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost.

I spoke with Friedman by email about learning to get lost, and the importance of female friendship in her story.

World Hum: One of the main themes of the book is about learning to let go—of expectations, of control—and just rolling with whatever the journey brings. Do you still struggle with that in your travels, or have you mastered the art of getting lost?

Rachel Friedman: I’m a flexible and adaptable traveler. It’s in my life outside traveling that I’m not so great at rolling with whatever the journey brings (see: control freak). I think that’s partly why I love hitting the road so much. I prefer the traveler version of myself.

I was intrigued by your book’s emphasis on female friendship, rather than on finding (or losing) a man—a much more common focus for female-authored travel books. Was that a deliberate choice? Because, without wanting to give too much away, you could have written a very different, romance-focused memoir if you’d wanted to.

That was very much a deliberate choice. In fact, I was asked at one point in the publishing process to include more information about my romantic relationship. I very politely refused and luckily that was the end of the discussion. The fact is that I do meet a man while traveling. That encounter occurs near the end of my book. However, I didn’t want it to seem like that meeting was the “reward” for my inner and outer journey, narratively speaking or otherwise. I was also determined to show very clearly that the most fundamental relationship at that point in my life was a friendship. There aren’t many travel books that focus on female friendship and I wanted to contribute to that legacy.

That’s right. There are some famous male-authored examples that are sort of the literary equivalent of a buddy movie, things like “A Walk in the Woods,” but I can’t think of many by women writers.

Exactly! There are very few. Susan Jane Gilman’s awesome Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven (with a female friendship that takes a highly trippy turn) is one. There’s also Tamara Sheward’s “Bad Karma.” Those are the only examples on my bookshelf.

Why do you think that is?

I think this has to do with women’s traditional roles as mothers and wives, with our culture’s desire to define women in those terms no matter if their identities or story lines defy or complicate them. A woman on her own is threatening—even in 2011—because she represents a departure from patriarchal values. Maybe readers (not all of them, of course) want to see a female adventurer returned to a “safe” space at the end of her journey—which is to say the domestic space or at the very least a space shared by a man.

What’s fascinating to me is that even though the pages where I write about my romantic relationship are far and few between, it is what many interviewers most want to discuss. They want more details about this relationship. Thanks for being an exception to this general rule!

It’s not that I’m not happy to talk about it; I am. I’m just confused when the questions come because the book is so clearly, for me at least, about friendship. When I talk to female readers, though, they are inevitably interested in the travel itself or in my friendship with Carly. So I wonder, too, if there is some disconnect between what publishers (along with movie and TV producers) think their audiences want, versus what they actually desire in terms of the breadth of stories about female characters.

Another aspect of the story that really stayed with me was the impact that giving up music had on you. What’s your relationship to music now? Have you started playing music again, or has writing filled that creative space for you?

I was just having coffee with my former viola teacher this past weekend and we talked about this very question. I was devastated by leaving music school. I felt like a failure and, for a period of several years, it was actually painful for me to pick up my instrument. Then, in 2006, I met an awesome singer/songwriter, Steph Bishop, when I was student teaching for the summer. We started playing music together. It was the perfect re-entry because there was no pressure and it was such a different pursuit from the classical music I’d grown up playing. Now I play viola a lot and I get a lot of joy from it.

Writing is a wonderful creative outlet, too, of course, but the processes are very different in terms of how they affect me, actually. In some ways, I feel like I need both to be balanced.

Finally, what’s next for you?

I’m traveling to Argentina this summer to write and also to remedy my very pathetic Spanish language skills. I’m also working on a new book project; it’s about history and identity and what we owe our pasts. I hope that is a sufficiently vague and intriguing description.

Indeed. Thanks, Rachel.

Eva Holland is co-editor of World Hum. She is a former associate editor at Up Here and Up Here Business magazines, and a contributor to Vela. She's based in Canada's Yukon territory.

5 Comments for Interview with Rachel Friedman: ‘The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost’

Gary Singh 06.20.11 | 11:59 AM ET

As someone who went to music school, finished the degree, and then stopped playing a few years later, I have decided to read this book.

“I prefer the traveler version of myself.”
I can relate…

Laurie 06.21.11 | 9:09 PM ET

Can’t wait to read this tantilizing book!

Mary Arulanantham 06.27.11 | 6:21 PM ET

I plan to read this book asap, and perhaps recommend it to my book club. One of my major gripes about a certain other female authored travel book was its disingenuousness in its intent—shallowly cherry picking travel experiences, including friendships made on the way. I’ll be interested to see this author’s slant on the buddy travel experience.

I also like the idea of a “traveler version of myself.” So true. I often talk about translating myself into other cultures; still me, but different.

Mia Giovanetti 06.29.11 | 11:10 PM ET

This book sounds absolutely amazing- I cannot wait to read it! The theme of a friendship story as opposed to a love story seems like a refreshing departure from an “Eat, Pray, Love” type of travel story. This book sounds inspirational and heart-felt!

Phil Younghusband 07.19.11 | 2:57 AM ET

looking forward to this one

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