The Lost Girls (Amanda, Holly, and Jen) were three friends from NYC who decided to set out on a round the world trip. Their blog become a hit and inspiration for others, especially among women seeking to travel the world. They have recently published a book chronicling their adventures. Today, I sit down with Amanda to discuss their trip, the book, and female travel:
Nomadic Matt: What made you decide to travel the world together?
Amanda Presser: Five years ago, ditching my job and leaving New York to backpack around the planet seemed a completely illogical decision. At the time, I’d just gotten my toe in the door at my dream job as a magazine editorial assistant. But there was always another part of me—one that grew more vocal and insistent the longer and harder I worked—that kept trying to warn me just how much I was missing by spending every night (and many weekends!) inside of a dark office while the real life took place outside the window.
I really thought Jen and Holly were just playing along when I told them that I was considering quitting and leaving to study at a language school in South America, and they agreed to come along for the adventure. But Jen and Holly had their own, very personal reasons for wanting to leave New York, and they pushed for us to expand the trip into something even greater and more rewarding. I think at some point, we realized that this RTW trip was not just some wine-fueled vacation fantasy. We actually had a very rare, and special opportunity before us: If you have two friends willing to quit their jobs, pack up their apartments and put their relationships on hold to backpack around the world for a year, well then…you don’t question it. You just go—and we did.
Did you stay together the whole time?
No. Each of us had a period of time traveling on our own. Holly was the first to do it: She spent a month in an ashram in India to earn her yoga teacher training certificate while Jen and I explored the beaches of Goa. Then, when Holly joined my family and me for a week long riverboat excursion in Myanmar, Jen opted to stay back in Bangkok and challenge her fear of traveling solo for a short period of time (as it turned out, she loved it!). And I waited until the trip was “officially” done to do my jaunt. Jen and Holly had returned to the US almost exactly a year after we’d initially taken off from the states, but I felt that my personal journey wouldn’t be complete until I spent a month on my own.
Did you feel like you were changed by your trip?
I think some things about yourself will never change but I believe that emotionally, I’m forever altered. For the most part, I do not get so stressed out by the curveballs that life throws at me and I’m much, much more comfortable with uncertainty. Even when I don’t know exactly where life is headed, I have some sense of trust that things will work out. I think constantly being disoriented and in a state of flux on the road—and always eventually getting where I needed to go—gave me that peace of mind. I also realize that there are other things in life that inspire me, and that I’m good at, besides my career! I now understand that you don’t have to travel in order to learn about yourself, and to grow—but it’s one amazing, intense way to take a crash course on the study of you!
You created your website and it morphed into an inspirational site for female travelers. Did you intend on that to happen and are you happy it went that way?
Not at all. In fact, I was a bit behind the curve when it came to blogging! Back in 2006, before the trip, I assumed that a blog would simply be a portal for family and friends to keep up with our adventures so we wouldn’t have to write and send mass emails! I loved that we could publish updates from anywhere, and so I spend a few weeks learning HTML coding before we left and jerry-rigged a Blogger template in order to make it look (slightly) less generic! Jen and Holly agreed to join me in posting updates along the way. At some point, we realized that it might be fun to publish the tales of other female inspiring travels that we met, and so we started our first regular column, “Lost Girl of the Week.” Because we didn’t have much time to report and edit on the road, we invited these women to write and share their own stories directly, and it was in this way that we got our first contributors.
Then, after we returned home, we all wondered, “Is this it? Should we shut down the blog because can’t share our own travel stories anymore?” What prompted us to keep it going were the emails we’d received from so many young women (and guys!) who told us that they too felt “lost” and were inspired by what we’d done. Many were thinking about giving their notice at work in order to travel, and they wanted real, practical information on how to do it tactfully. And so, we decided to turn Lost Girls World into a community-run site to keep inspiring people.
Why write a book?
In the US, it’s still not totally acceptable (or at least, encouraged) to just pick up and travel for the sake of self-exploration, or real-world education—or for no set goal at all. We hoped that writing The Lost Girls would in some ways lend support for the idea of establishing an “American Gap Year,” an idea whose time has officially come in this country. At no other point in our history have young people (young women especially) have been presented with so many choices, and been so much opportunity to create the lives we want.
Jen, Holly and I found that extended travel gave us a unique opportunity to detour from of our own regularly scheduled lives in order to challenge our values and explore exactly who we were as individuals. What drove and excited us? What made us want to get out of bed every day? As we learned from our year abroad, it’s utterly humbling and eye-opening to view the way the rest of the world lives and impossible to return home exactly the same person as when you left. The world shaped us in ways that we never expected.
What are your hopes for this book? Are you looking to inspire people?
Our goal with the book was not to share the wacky misadventures of three city girls, and to create some lighthearted fish out of water tale, but to really dig into the fears and insecurities that are shared by many 20 and 30-somethings who are starting down their futures. Travel many not be the right way for every person to gain insight into who they are, and to feel a little more at peace with their place in the world, but it definitely was that for us. We hope that by picking up the book, readers will see that it is not only possible to do a trip like ours (or a slightly curtailed version!) but budgeting the time and money travel may be one of the smartest investments they’ll ever make.
Why do you think your particular travel tale got made into a book?
We were told that the reason our book sold (many, many travel manuscripts were being pitched at that time in the wake of the Eat, Pray, Love success!) was that we managed to find a unique spin on the traditional travel memoir. We were three best friends and young professionals who’d quit our jobs mid-career to address specific quarterlife issues on the road. This felt a bit more timely and unique to our editors than a single traveler visiting a single country, which represent at least 80 percent of the proposals circulating.
What do you plan to do next? Will you continue to focus on writing or your website?
Jen, Holly and I are all back at full-time jobs. Rather than accepting a staff job, however, I’m working as a freelance web editor for Hearst in order to learn the digital skills that I’ll need to a) stay relevant in publishing industry and b) To continue improving and expanding Lost Girls World. Growing the website and promoting The Lost Girls are our two major focuses right now.
For more about Amanda, Jen, and Holly, visit their website “The Lost Girls.” You can get your copy of The Lost Girls book from this link. A portion of the proceeds from the sales will be donated to Village Volunteer’s Butterfly Project, a educational scholarship program for young women in Kenya.