March 4, 2009

Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman

A book review by Lorna Harris

Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman by Alice Steinbach

I think I’m the sort of person to take myself off to Paris on my own, stay in a hotel and explore. I think. I’m not sure though. Maybe I’d think about it too much, worry about safety and loneliness and not take the adventure.

Alice Steinbach abandons her life as a journalist to spend several months journeying through Europe on her own. I thought Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman would offer practical advice and tips mixed in with her adventures but it reads far more as a romantic view of the trip. It’s an emotional adventure for Alice. As she tours art galleries, gardens and museums, she reflects upon her divorce, the death of her parents, her children and her work as a journalist.

The author starts her trip in Paris and part of me wished that she’d just stayed in one city, really got to know it and become one of the locals. She’s not a tourist, not a local but somewhere in between. Getting to know the local cafes and shops but not quite a part of it.

In one chapter of the book, Alice meets a big group of Americans traveling together. Which is my idea of hell. We’ve tried weekends away with groups of friends. I always struggle with the dynamics of all the different personalities wanting to do different things. I would much rather explore a city with one other person or on my own. This book really made me think about that. Although being surrounded with a great deal of people sounds great fun, in reality, for me, it’s not enjoyable for long periods of time.

But I’m not very good at being alone either. I loved Alice’s description of London on a Sunday and how lonely it is. I’ve lived in London and felt that. It’s a strange feeling to be in a city jam packed full of people, not know a soul and feel the loneliness deep inside you.

If you’re debating such an adventure, this book is your treat. It’s not for practical advice. Read this is to inspire you and take it along with you on your trip. It may even encourage you to write down your experiences or just be able to relate and understand your feelings.

I truly admired Alice’s ability to make friends and acquaintances wherever she landed. Many of her adventures stemmed from starting in conversation in a café and then developing a friendship. I’m terrible at that. I assume people aren’t interested in meeting me. Alice boldly strikes up conversations and is then invited to various outings and restaurants, a character trait I truly admire and wish I had. It’s so much more fascinating to explore a city with the people who live there rather than following a guidebook. Perhaps that’s my next adventurous move, reaching out to strangers and making friends. Then I can head off to Paris.

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