Have you ever wanted to take a year off and embark on a round-the-world adventure with two of your best friends? How about writing a book and starting a travel website dedicated to your adventures once you returned?
That’s exactly what The Lost Girls – Amanda, Jen, and Holly – did and Contiki is thrilled to interview these three fabulous ladies for our next 10 Contiki Questions! Find out The Lost Girls’ must-have packing items, why they think its important to “get lost” and the 5 places they recommend all Contiki travelers see!
The three of you decided to leave your lives behind in NYC and travel around the world for an entire year. What made you take to the road, and how did the trip lead you to writing your book and the creation of The Lost Girls World site?
The three of us were all living in New York City and working in very fast paced media/entertainment jobs, so we decided to take a vacation to Argentina to relax and escape from the stress of the daily grind. It was there, that we discovered that we all shared something in common. Like many women back home, we were feeling the pressure to hit certain milestones—scoring a big promotion, finding a soul mate, having 2.2 kids—all before reaching a certain age. At the time, we were each at various cross roads with our careers, relationships and self-fulfillment – and questioning whether the paths we’d chosen were the right ones for us or if we were merely staying the course because we thought we should? So when Amanda threw out the seemingly crazy idea to travel together for a year, all three of us actually started to think that maybe it wasn’t so far-fetched after all. And that perhaps it was now or never to do something truly daring before we settled down and got married and had children.
So we decided to make a pact: that we would quit our jobs, ditch our apartments, put our relationships on hold and embark on a year-long round-the-world journey to live life more fully. Dubbing ourselves The Lost Girls, a term we felt described both our own uncertainty about the future and an emotional state we felt represented many in our generation, we committed to spending one year of our late twenties wandering the globe.
The blog started because Amanda wanted to document our travels for friends and family back home, and because we all thought it would help our parents worry less if they could see pictures and read stories about where we where. A publishing company and some book agents saw the blog and approached us about writing a book when we returned, and that’s how the memoir happened!
You’ve inspired women across the globe to get lost and discover through travel. Why do you think it is so important for young women to travel and get ‘lost’?
“Getting lost” is so important because it teaches you resiliency, self confidence, and makes you a better global citizen because you’re more aware of what life is like in other parts of the world after visiting a place. Before we took the trip, we thought it sounded impossible to get away for a year. But we were able to save—finding ways to sell our things and cut out expenses we once thought were necessities. We’d changed our priorities to making the trip, not our jobs, the most important. So while it may sound impossible to quit your job, leave your city and loved ones and life and hit the road, there are always ways to make your dream happen, you just have to find them. You don’t have to do something as drastic as us and go away for a year, but you can sign up for a two-week long volunteer vacation, or go to a month-long language school. The point is to shake up your life and keep living more mindfully by constantly reevaluating your priorities.
Is there a particular trip or travel moment from your round-the-world adventure that changed you or impacted your lives?
A major highlight of our trip was volunteering for a month in rural Kenya through Village Volunteers (www.villagevolunteers.org).
Jen had always dreamed of volunteering in Africa, and both Amanda and Holly wanted to do something too to give back while on the road. Since all three of us were interested in youth education, the company’s founder recommended that we work with the Common Ground Program, a grassroots NGO that housed The Pathfinder Academy primary school, which served hundreds of children, many of who were orphans or had lost at least one parent to illness or disease. We got to work alongside pre-teen and teen girls who lived at the school, teaching them dance classes and writing a play for them to perform. By far, that experience had the most profound effect on us during the trip and we vowed to continue to support Village Volunteers even after returning home. And because of our time spent volunteering at a school in Kenya, we realized more than ever how important it is to give back and how each one of us can make a difference.
Right now, Holly is spearheading the launch of a charity race called Runaway Bridesmaids to raise money to fight sex trafficking through Village Volunteers. All three Lost Girls will organize a team of women to run in NYC on September 22nd in…you guessed it…bridesmaid dresses with all proceeds from team fundraisers and sponsors going to benefit New Light, a nonprofit charitable trust that protects and educates young girls, children and women who are at high risk in their community by providing safe shelters, educational opportunities, recreational facilities, healthcare, and legal aid.
To find out more about the race and how you can help support it, visit: http://www.crowdrise.com/runawaybridesmaids2012
We know that the three of you enjoy traveling together, but individually – do you prefer to travel alone or with travel companions? What are the benefits of either travel style?
After years spent traveling in different combinations—in pairs, with significant others and occasionally, with co-workers, we’re realized that The Lost Girls make a great trio and we all truly enjoy traveling with one another.
That said, we’ve all done solo trips and have found that these adventures can be some of the most rewarding! By embarking on a journey without a safety net (aka, your friends!) you’re really putting yourself in a position to get more out of your trip. From day one, you’ll be pushed outside of you comfort zone, and are much more likely to do something daring—like reaching out to a fellow traveler to get to know them and make a new friend, or explore a part of the world that you’ve always dreamed about.
When you travel solo, you get the chance to experience the world in a way that’s completely personal to you—no need to check in and get “permission” to wake up late, splurge on a stay at a B&B or country villa, or to sign up with a tour group on a whim.
Locals are also much more likely to “adopt” you during your travels by opening up their home to you for a meal, to show you how to reach your destination by accompanying you there or making a real effort to get to know you.
You should never let the fact that you don’t have traveling companions lined up stop you from hitting the road. In fact, it should be an incentive to take off!
Which destinations are you consistently drawn to, and why?
All three of us are very drawn to the SE Asia region especially after visiting Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos on our RTW trip and most recently embarking on a journey to Malaysian Borneo together. It’s just such a beautiful— and very affordable—part of the world and so easy to get around from country to country. Plus you can’t beat the friendliness and warmth of the people there, especially in Laos, which is a country we absolutely want to return to, and soon! Before too many other people discover it and it gets too touristy!
Another part of the world that we frequent is Central and South America. All three of us love to practice our Spanish and the best way to do that is to immerse yourself in destinations where there are native speakers. And ever since kicking off our RTW trip in Peru and then heading to Panama to write the Epilogue for our book, we’ve constantly been drawn back to this pocket of the planet both as a trio and with our significant others or friends. In the past few years, one or more of us have hit Columbia, Argentina, Belize, Honduras, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico (if we want to count that in this list too). In addition to being able to hone our foreign language skills, we find Central and South America so fulfilling namely because of the profusion of adventure activities and the passionate and friendly vibe of the people. Plus soccer (futbol) matches can get pretty wild!
What are 5 destinations that you recommend the 18-35 year old Contiki travelers MUST see?
We’d definitely put these destinations in our top 5 for aspiring Contiki travelers:
SE Asia (Asian Adventure tour) – as mentioned in question 5 above, this is absolutely one of our favorite parts of the world and great for solo travelers who want to connect with tons of fellow vagabonds (there’s a huge backpacker circuit there). It’s also the ideal destination for those who want to stretch their budgets / get a huge bang for their travel bucks while still experiencing some of the best sites and sounds that Thailand, Cambodia and Laos have to offer.
Italy (Simply Italy tour) – all three of us rank Italy as one of our top European countries to visit with Cinque Terre one of our absolute favorite areas there. Between the world-class foodie / wine scene and innumerable iconic sights (think Vatican City, Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Uffizi, Venetian gondolas, etc.), it’s pretty impossible not to be blown away by this boot-shaped peninsula!
Peru (Andes and Amazon Highlights tour) – As the inaugural country on our RTW journey, Peru definitely holds a special place in our hearts. During the 6 weeks that we spent there, we packed in as much adventure and cultural exploration as possible: completing the grueling 3 night/4 day Inca Trail hike to arrive in the Lost City of Machu Piccu at sunrise, exploring the deserts of Colca Canyon, dancing alongside thousands of revelers in Cusco for the Inti Rami festival (an ages-old festival that once paid tribute to the sun god and in modern times can make Mardi Gras look like just a homecoming parade) and exploring the steamy Amazon jungle (meeting the local Yagua tribe, playing with monkeys on a nature preserve and boating through piranha-infested waters) in Peru’s Amazon Basin. This is definitely a must-do country for thrill seekers, cultural anthropologists, and foodies (we ate our way around the entire country!).
New Zealand (any of Contiki’s tours here) – For the unsurpassed natural beauty of the landscape alone, all three of us consistently vote Kiwi-country as one of the most unexpected faves on our RTW trip. Combine the stunning scenery (which is actually more beautiful than what appeared on the silver screen in the Lord of the Rings trilogy) with some of the most laid back, eco-conscious and refreshingly progressive populations we’ve ever come across, topped off with an unlimited supply of adrenaline-inducing outdoor activities and you’ll seriously want to apply for citizenship here.
Australia (Beaches and Reefs tour) – Out of all the countries in the world, the wonderful land of OZ is by far the only place that evokes a “there’s no place like home” sentiment other than our actual homes stateside. Not only did we rent out an apartment in Bondi Beach for the last month and half of our RTW trip, but we also had our very own camper van which we used to take road trips up and down the east coast. During this time, we discovered a virtual paradise for surfers, scuba divers and all forms of water babies – of which, we fall into all three categories. Couple all the outdoor and underwater adventures with one a little glitz and cosmopolitan glamor of Sydney and you’ve got a recipe for one remarkable journey Down Under.
What are some of your top tips or travel advice for travelers who are looking to either travel alone, or to travel as part of an escorted tour like Contiki?
Amanda: I stayed in Australia for a full month after Jen and Holly returned home after our round-the-world adventure. I found that signing up for a few extended tours made the prospect of solo travel far less intimidating than trying to go it alone. It’s a decision that I have recommended to others again and again, as it enabled me to immediately make friends on the road—and saved me the trouble of having to organize transportation between places, book safe and reputable lodging or navigate through tourist attractions alone!
You can find some tips for travel alone and via a tour group by checking out these articles on our site:
What are the must-have items that you pack with you every time you take a trip?
For Holly it’s sneakers since her favorite way to see a new place is to run through it. But traditional running shoes are bulky, making them cumbersome for travel. So she packs Altra’s Zero Drop Eve shoes, which weigh a mere 4.5 ounces.
For Jen, it’s most recently become her Kindle. “One of the things that I love so much when I travel is finally having time to relax with a good book or several. But lugging 4-5 paperbacks with me or trying to find books in English while abroad could prove challenging. So my Kindle has become my lifesaver, especially on all of the long flights, train rides, buses, etc. that we Lost Girls tend to always find ourselves on.”
For Amanda, who loves taking pictures on the road, she never leaves home without her universal memory card reader. “This way I can share the photos I’ve taken with the girls as well as download the photos they (or other travelers we meet) have taken onto my laptop.”
We also love the Hoboroll (http://mygobigear.com), an organizer with five compartments that has drawstring end closures and compression straps to minimize bulk. Eagle Creek packing cubes (http://shop.eaglecreek.com/packing-cubes/l/212) are also a go-to item for all three of us to keep us organized on the road – it’s like having portable dresser drawers in your suitcase/backpack.
What are your favorite travel rituals?
When we first arrive in a new destination, the three of us like to freshen up then immediately head out to explore. Rather than have any sort of agenda to start, we just love going out and getting lost in the streets of the city/town we’re visiting. Once we’ve gotten the lay of the land, we’ll generally find a fun restaurant or bar and kick off our trip with a glass of wine while brainstorming possible itineraries for our time away. Of course we usually have a loose agenda planned ahead of time, but we love to just sit in a café with our Lonely Planet or city guides and each throw out our one must-do while we’re away. I think the reason the three of us travel so well together is that we like an equal mix of pre-planned adventures, but also ample down time to see what unexpected places our journey will lead us.
Other things we often do when traveling are: Take a class or participate in a physical activity that’s popular in the area (like capoeira in Brazil or Muy Tai in Thailand); Catch a local soccer match (which is a great way to meet locals and really experience the spirit of the area); Wander through up-and-coming or more artsy neighborhoods, usually creating our own sort of “appetizer crawl” by sampling all the yummy food we find at markets and street carts along the way.
Every year, the three of you take a “Lost Girls” vacation together to commemorate your round-the-world trip. What destinations are you hoping to head to next as a group?
Well, we just recently returned from a 2 ½ week trip to Borneo (the Malaysian part of the island), where we went scuba diving in Sipidan and Mabul islands, visited the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Center, climbed Mount Kinabalu (the highest peak in SE Asia) and visited the old Indo-chine city of Kuching. So while we won’t be embarking on another Lost Girls journey for a little while, the next big adventure we want to plan is hiking the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. It’s considered to be one of the top 10 treks in the world and takes between 17-21 days where you traverse four major regions in Nepal, including several Buddhist villages, Hindu holy sites and the area’s oldest monastery. It’s high up on our list so the three of us want to make this trip happen soon. In the meantime, we’re planning a few long weekends in the States and in Canada to places like Washington D.C., the Finger Lakes in Syracuse and Montreal.
Meet The Lost Girls: Amanda Pressner, Jennifer Baggett Brennan and Holly Corbett Bristol
Travel junkies, on-the-fly foodies and real-life best buds, Amanda, Jen and Holly spend every spare moment seeking out life-changing adventures throughout the US and around the world.
Their journey together began when The Lost Girls decided to quit their jobs and New York City lives in order to embark on yearlong, 60,000-mile circumnavigation of the globe. Voyaging across four continents and more than a dozen countries, these friends dove headlong into exotic new experiences, sampling the best—and the weirdest!—of what the world had to offer.
Theirs was an odyssey so rewarding, and so addicting, that they vowed to never stop exploring or traveling as a trio. Now, they’re jumping on planes (and occasionally, out of them), climbing mountains and tumbling over waterfalls on behalf of the Travel Channel.
Amanda, Jen and Holly are the co-authors of The Lost Girls: Three Friends. Four Continents. One Unconventional Detour Around the World and founders of LostGirlsWorld.com, a thriving online community and information resource for female travelers and aspiring vagabonds.
When they’re not wandering the planet, they’re getting into mischief on their home turf in New York.