The Lost Girls: Three Friends. Four Continents. One Unconventional Detour Around the World
by Jennifer Baggett, Holly C. Corbett, Amanda Pressner

Harper Collins, 2010. ISBN 978-0-061-68906-2.
Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore
Posted on 11/10/2010

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Active Life; Nonfiction: Travel/Adventure

The authors of The Lost Girls drew me into their travel adventure right away with a celebration in Masai Mara, Kenya where they are invited into a Maasai warrior dance. Following this exciting beginning I was glad to read about the planning of the year-long journey of 60,000 miles that took the authors to more than a dozen countries.

They use the term "lost girls" as a tongue-in-cheek description but were never lost as they travelled. Jen, Holly and Amanda were probably more lost as they worked long hours to get ahead in their very "goal-oriented" lives than they ever were backpacking their way across four continents, learning new languages and customs along the way.

Each woman takes a turn writing a chapter and I could feel their youthful energy as they described fascinating locales, local people and fellow backpackers as well as concerns they had for one another or world situations. Each of the travelling authors is an experienced writer so their descriptions are a pleasure to read and their dialogue engaging.

Sometimes "the lost girls" went to parties and backpacker bars. Other times they braved the elements to trek through the Andes Mountains and climb the Inca Trail to the sacred site of Machu Picchu. Reflections on such aspects of the journey were insightful. Holly writes: "I wasn't sure what I believed in as I hiked that trail, but I knew I was looking for something deeper, something solid, to hold on to."

I found it touching that the authors reflected on their lives, including childhood reminiscences. Jen recalled watching a TV miniseries about Elspeth Huxley, whose parents left England to start a coffee farm in Kenya in 1913. Along with her two friends, Jen volunteered with the Common Ground Program, a grassroots NGO that housed a primary school in Kiminini, Kenya, as part of their year of travel.

As a teenager, Amanda coached gymnastics and at the Common Ground program, played her iPod and taught the students to dance. The volunteers and the students wrote a play about Wangari Maathai, who had launched the Green Belt Movement and as Amanda writes, "embodied the spirit of self-empowerment." As Jen wrote in her chapter, "But by far our most rewarding experience and contribution was our 'A Tree Grows in Kenya' play project, during which we had witnessed even the shyest boarders bloom into brave and talented actresses." Girls all over Kenya now perform the play.

The three travelers visited the Taj Mahal and went to an ashram in southern India where Holly took a month-long yoga teacher training program. In the meantime, Jen and Amanda travelled to Bangkok, Thailand before voyaging on an impromptu trip to Laos.

In Cambodia the three travelers visited "the killing fields" and later, the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide. Visiting a restaurant later where the staff was made up of former Khmer street children, Holly writes that it was "was a like a pocket of hope in a country where history's wounds are visible and raw and real."

After trips to Vietnam, Thailand and Bali, the three traveled to New Zealand and Australia. They grew very close to one another, even though they did have their squabbles—especially when Amanda took on freelance writing assignments while on the road—for a while. The three considered Amanda the motivator, Jen the planner, and Holly the peacemaker. Even at 545 pages, I was sorry to see the book end.

The three writers decided their dreams were bigger than their fears. They found their "unconventional detour" a challenge, "but the experience taught us that getting lost isn't something to avoid, but embrace. The only leaps of faith you'll ever regret are the ones you don't take."

Jennifer Baggett is pursuing a freelance writing career and conspiring with her fellow Lost Girls on their next great travel and business adventures. Holly Corbett is a freelance writer who loves to travel and train for marathons and triathlons. Amanda Pressner is a travel and lifestyle journalist. Visit their website.

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