Review: “The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost” by Rachel Friedman

I love a good travel memoir. This probably doesn’t come as a surprise– as a traveler and a writer, it brings together two of my favorite things. This particular book caught my interest last week and made for a great escape from my last week of finals (ever!).

Friedman tells the story of how after her junior year of college, she leaves her home and family to spend the summer in Ireland. After her life plans have been derailed, she doesn’t know what to do with herself. She finds herself in Galway and in the company of Carly, an Australian adventurer of similar age.Image

The book chronicles her adventures with Carly over the next two years. After finishing college, Friedman spends the summer in Australia with Carly’s family. After that, the two women embark on adventure in South America- due to a visa issue, Friedman ends up in Bolivia, meeting up with Carly in Peru later.

This memoir reads like a novel. It’s fun, well paced and only took me two days to get through. Friedman is great at picking out small details that bring other travelers she meets to life. The human landscape gets just as much attention as the geographic one. The book is framed a bit like a classic adventure story or picaresque novel, each chapter with a tongue-in-cheek description of what events will be described within it as a preface. Friedman is also easy to relate to. She is not an experienced, fearless traveler. She is experiencing the terror and wonder of it all for the first time and letting you glimpse it too.

My only criticism is that some of Friedman’s wise revelations about the meaning of her journey feel forced or out of place in the moment she’s relating them. She tells her story in present tense, as if it’s happening right now, giving a sense of immediacy. Many of her philosophical realizations, no doubt happened later (as most realizations do). They feel a bit forced in the moment. She focuses more on her personal feelings and experiences than she does on any historical or cultural aspect of the places she travels to, which works for the novel style story-telling.

To be honest, the title sucks a bit too. It’s attention grabbing I suppose, but sounds a bit misleading. It seems to be more about the act of finding oneself–Friedman does put a lot of emphasis on the fact that she lived her life up to this point doing everything she was “supposed to,” but it over-simplifies what I believe she’s trying to get at. It’s not about being good or being rebellious, it’s accepting the changes to your path and letting them take you on an adventure.

Overall it was a thoughtful, enjoyable piece of writing that will especially ring true for women traveling on their own and backpackers determined to rough it in parts unknown.

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