The Lost Girls: Taking the Road Less Traveled

The Lost Girls

A trip around the world opens doors to a dream

Thousands of miles from their hectic Manhattan cubicles and whirlwind New York lives, where the thundering Iguazú Falls roar across the border between Argentina and Brazil, three friends were struck with a life-changing thought:

"Was the road most frequently traveled the one that we wanted to follow?"

The year was 2005, and this simple line in the prologue of the new book "The Lost Girls: Three Friends, Four Continents, One Unconventional Detour Around The World" -- written by Jennifer Baggett, Holly C. Corbett and Amanda Pressner -- is at the heart of an incredible around-the-world journey that took the young women 60,000 miles around the globe in 2006 for a year that would change their lives.

"The original day of inspiration came one day when we were on that trip in Argentina," said Pressner during an exclusive interview with AOL Travel. "It was a 10-day getaway without phones, without computers or anything. And that was the day we said, 'Let's do it.'"

In the book, the trio, who were all 28 years old when they set off traveling, describe their self-dubbed moniker, "the Lost Girls," as "a term describing our own uncertainty about the future and an emotional state we felt represented many in our generation."

Each woman had her own reason for wanting to leave the comfort and relative certainty of her New York life to see the world. And the path they took to make their dream journey a reality is as interesting as the route itself, which carried them by train, bus, airplane and tuk-tuk through a dozen countries, including such exotic destinations as Kenya, New Zealand and Laos.

The Lost Girls

Lost Girls Amanda Pressner, Jennifer Baggett and Holly Corbett at Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand

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"I was struggling with a relationship, I was at a crossroads," said Baggett. "As women, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves with these deadlines. And I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to achieve these goals by a certain age."

For Pressner, it was being passed over for a promotion at her stressful magazine job that finally made her decide it was time to set sail for different shores. "I'd taken on more and more work and responsibilities, and was all of a sudden overwhelmed. I felt like I was living in the office," she recalled. "I rationalized that this was what my 20s were for -- to move up the ladder and achieve these goals." But when Pressner did not receive the promotion she had worked so hard for, she says, "an alarm went off, and I realized I was missing out on other parts of life."

Corbett's inspiration for the yearlong trip was different still. "I was happy in my job, had gotten a promotion. I was happy in my relationship and in New York. Nothing critical happened to send me on the road," she said. "I wanted adventure. I thought, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity -- I'm not married, I don't have kids. I just knew I had to do it and if I didn't, I would regret it."

The Lost Girls

Lost Girls in Peru

While still in New York, saving money became their main prerogative. "We cut out things like manicures and pedicures, didn't buy coffee and entertained ourselves at home," Pressner explained. "We sold books online, clothes on eBay and our couch to our neighbors -- we killed two birds with one stone by getting rid of things and making some money, too."

Pressner added that she often hears from people looking to do a similar trip that money and the fear of taking time out of the career rat race are major deterrents to traveling. "But it doesn't really hit home, saving here and there, until you realize how cheaply you can live abroad," she said. "We did not go to Europe on this trip for a reason. In Europe you could easily spend $50 a day and in India you could spend $15. In India, we realized had we not had that extra Starbucks, we could have slept an extra night."

Before their big adventure, Pressner's and Baggett's foreign travels had included a post-university (the two were college roommates) backpacking trip around Europe and a short vacation in Belize. Corbett had seen a bit more of the world when she did Semester at Sea during her college years -- an experience that took her everywhere from Vancouver and Hong Kong to Malaysia and India. And when it came to deciding where they would travel together, each woman had a must-see destination of her own.

Tips for People Looking to Take the Leap

Lost Girl Amanda Pressner says, "Set a date and stick to it. We've found that the most difficult thing about planning an extended journey is simply deciding to go and committing to it. By circling a date on the calendar -- and letting everyone in your life know that you're hitting the road after that -- the rest (saving, storing your stuff, giving notice at work) will eventually fall into place. If you can, find a friend to travel with you for at least the first couple weeks of your adventure and schedule a few fun planning sessions together over coffee -- the adventure and excitement you'll share will start long before you get on the plane."

Lost Girl Holly Corbett says, "Don't let fear hold you back if long term travel is one of your dreams. But you don't have to do something as drastic as we did and quit your job and pack up your life to travel for a year. You can get lost anywhere! It's all about getting out of your comfort zone or doing something you love. If you've always wanted to try yoga, sign up for a class. If you want to experiment with making different kinds of foods, visit a specialty food store or farmer's market in your hometown. My favorite way to get lost is to hop on my bike without an agenda or a map to explore new neighborhoods and see what I'll find."

Lost Girl Jennifer Baggett says, "I don't spend money on shoes or bags or things -- any savings I am able to sock away, I put toward traveling. And timing is important, too. We had established ourselves and our careers enough before leaving and we worked hard until the very end. If you're a hard worker and don't burn bridges -- and give plenty of notice -- chances are your boss will be understanding."
Once the women made the commitment to travel together, they began a serious strategy of saving money. And a year after their first South America trip together, the women were ready to hit the road for a much deeper journey. All three friends agreed that they needed to take a year away to fully immerse in the experience. "We always said if we were going to quit our jobs and pack up our lives, it couldn't be a one-month thing," said Corbett. "But I always had it in my mind that maybe we'd come back in six months -- it's a huge thing to comprehend that you'll be on the move and on the go for a year."

For Pressner, experiencing more of South America and hiking the Inca trail was high on her wish list. Baggett had always dreamed of visiting Kenya, and was thrilled when her friends were just as excited as she was to spend a month volunteering at a remote village orphanage for girls during their trip.

Corbett had her sights set on India, where she spent time in an ashram meditating and learning to teach yoga. Some of the Lost Girls' wildest memories?

For Corbett, it was when they got stranded in Colca Canyon, Peru, stuck out their thumbs to hitchhike and were picked up by a priest in a minivan.

Firm in Pressner's mind is riding on the back of a motorbike through the hinterlands of Laos to meet a nun who had created a tree house spa inside a monastery outside of Vientiane. "I got there and she was one of the oldest women I had ever seen," Pressner said. "She answered my questions via her niece (who translated) and predicted that I would one day return -- and then proceeded to advise me to stay away from men for good!"

In Rio de Janeiro, Baggett and Pressner went to a favela funk party after receiving an impromptu invitation from a fellow traveler. "The tin walls pulsed with reggaeton base beats," wrote Baggett in the book. "An immense crowd bounced and swayed in perfect rhythm. And sweat formed steam clouds in the un-air-conditioned space, where a clothing optional rule was in full effect."

While each of the women took a short time to travel solo during their journey, most of their travels were experienced together. "I've traveled alone, I've traveled with boyfriends," said Corbett, "and I love traveling with my girl friends."

"I was an only child, but now I have two sisters, not to sound cheesy," added Baggett. "That's really important to me." That close friendship formed an important support network when the three women returned to New York City after their year on the road was over.

"Having Jen and Holly going through the same thing was like a built in support group," said Pressner. "Plus, we were going back to New York City, and there's an excitement to the city that can make it feel like you're still traveling."

Though Baggett admits she had frightening moments on the road, when she wondered if she had committed career suicide and worried about re-entering the New York dating scene, she said the trip's lessons were invaluable. "The trip taught me to take more calculated risks and not just stay the course because I think this is the career I worked toward, I have to stay in it," she said. "I learned to really evaluate what I am passionate about."

Baggett recently started her dream job at the Food Network in New York City and Pressner and Corbett are pursuing freelance careers from their bases in New York City and Upstate New York.

The Lost Girls

The Lost Girls

In addition to the recent debut of their book and popularity of their travel blog and website, there's more exciting news for the women, all 32 years old now, of late -- Bruckheimer TV and Warner Bros. TV will be producing a pilot for a potential new television series on ABC that's based on the "The Lost Girls" book and blog.

"There will be actors playing us," Corbett said. "It's going to be dramatized, with story lines added in to make it more exciting, but it's based on our book and travel characters."

While the women claim no regrets about their trip, Corbett said there is something she would do differently. "We did a whirlwind tour through Southeast Asia during the trip, and we got kind of road weary," she said, adding that the places they stayed longest -- including Kenya, India and Peru -- were among the most fulfilling. "I wish we did more slow traveling and didn't rush through certain parts of the trip because you get to interact with people and learn a lot more." That chance, surely, will come.

But for now, the women are working on another travel-related book together. And no matter how busy their lives get, the Lost Girls made a pact to travel together once a year for the rest of their lives.

Last year they went to Panama. This year's reunion trip will take the threesome to San Francisco and Napa Valley for wine tasting. "I think I had almost a snobbery about wanting to travel abroad before I left," said Pressner, "but now I am seeing there's so much to see here in the U.S."

The women want to encourage more of the world's lost girls and boys to get out there and experience all the world has to offer -- whether by planning a trip to another country, or getting inspiration closer to home with a cooking class or through volunteering.

"So many women write to us and say, 'I'm a lost girl, too,'" said Baggett. "We want people to know you can really do it. We never thought we could do it, and we did."

"I think people really want to travel, they're just waiting for permission," said Pressner. "A lot of us tell ourselves it's impossible to take time off of work to travel, there's not enough money, not enough time," she said, "but make that decision and set a date you feel comfortable with for sometime in the future. Buy a plane ticket and you'll be surprised how things fall into place."

The Lost Girls' Tips for Women Travelers

Lost Girl Amanda Pressner says, "If you're nervous about kicking off a solo adventure, try to start your journey in a large international city (Buenos Aires, Bangkok, Paris) or cultural hub (Antigua, Guatemala; Cuzco, Peru) where you can take language school classes or do a multi-week volunteer program. In both situations, you'll be in a stable, structured setting where you can get acclimated to your surroundings and meet other like-minded travelers. You'll find that many of them will be also be on their own -- and those new friendships can quickly lead to new traveling companions."

Lost Girls Holly Corbett says, "The world was a much safer place than we'd thought (or the news portrays), and for every jerk out there, there was always a person who'd step in and act like a guardian angel. But it's important to always remember to keep your guard up and don't put yourself in dangerous situations -- wandering around dark alleys at 3 a.m. is not a good idea!"

Lost Girls Jennifer Baggett says, "It's a lot safer and a lot easier than people think. We were amazed at how few problems we had in places like Nairobi and Rio de Janeiro that have reputations for being dangerous. It's amazing how kind people are, how much they're willing to help you as a traveler. You always have resources wherever you go. When I stayed in Bangkok by myself, I was never alone. I had a thousand friends I met at the hostels. As Americans, and as an English-speaking nation, the world is so wired for English. We can pretty much go anywhere. Even if you're in places where they don't speak English, there is generally someone who will. And there's so much you can communicate with a smile and by pointing at a guidebook."

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