Jennifer Baggett, Holly C. Corbett, and Amanda Pressner are three friends and media professionals who were hungry to break free from their predictable routines and to explore how people in other countries lived. So after nearly 18 months of planning and saving, the trio left their jobs, boyfriends, apartments, and everything familiar behind in New York City to embark on a year-long search for adventure. They’ve turned their journey across four continents and more than a dozen countries into an award-winning blog, and now, a travel memoir. The Lost Girls: Three Friends. Four Continents. One Unconventional Detour Around the World. Here’s an excerpt from their new book about what they discovered while getting out outside of their comfort zone on the open road.
“The three of us, Amanda, Holly and Jen, had encountered plenty of unusual scenes during the four weeks we’d been volunteering in rural southwestern Kenya—chickens riding shotgun in matatu vans, locusts for sale as snacks, children helping to birth calves during school recess—but we had yet to see anything as extraordinary as this. On a hilltop in the Masaai village of Oronkai where we were staying, a group of Maasai tribeswomen stood before us forming a wide semicircle.
As they began to sway and clap, slanted rays of sun lit up the beads in their jewelry and glinted off a young woman’s copper headband. It was hard to tell for sure, but she looked to be in her late twenties, just about our age. Even though her face was smudged with ocher, a greasy red paint that coated her features like pancake makeup, her expression still revealed the connection she had with the other women.
For several minutes, they sang and clapped in unison, their voices folding over and into one another to become a single, powerful track. Grasping hands, they swung in a wide circle, their words growing urgent and more intense. Around and around they went, whooping and shrieking as they picked up speed. We were leaning forward on our blanket, absorbing the energy that swelled and sparked like a thundercloud, when suddenly three women broke from the formation and grabbed our hands.
We were all caught off guard (maybe the women meant to reach for someone else?), but there was no mistake about it: we’d been invited to join them. Accepting without a word—just a quick glance at one another—we allowed ourselves to be pulled into the swiftly moving orbit of the Maasai.
Then, just as we thought the ceremony was winding down, the women began embracing us in a full-body, cheek-to-cheek hug. They repeated the ritual over and over again, one by one, until our cheeks and chins and foreheads were fully smudged with ocher. It wasn’t until we pulled back and caught a glimpse of one another—the enormous necklaces, the beads, the red streaks running across our faces—that we figured out what every other person must have already known: We hadn’t hiked up here to watch the ceremony as spectators. We had come to be initiated.
If we still weren’t convinced, our volunteer coordinator, Lily, delivered the final confirmation. “You are Maasai now!” she shouted, her face glowing as the other women cheered. She was the last one to cross the circle and draw us into an embrace, making sure every inch of our faces was coated in red.
Between our burning lungs and this unexpected piece of news, none of us could speak. What’s the right thing to say when you’ve been brought into the inner circle, literally, to join the ranks of spiritual, beautiful wanderers? The life we’d left behind in New York City—once all-consuming—now seemed like ancient history and as far away as a distant star.
Glancing at each other’s ruddy complexions, our disheveled hair and wide grins, it struck us just how far we’d come since leaving our apartments, jobs and everything familiar behind in order to travel the globe together. It had taken eighteen months to plot our getaway, to make that giant leap which would catapult us off the well-established “right track” and into The Great Unknown—but somehow, we’d actually done it.
Up until that point, we’d successfully hit the milestones that usually give twenty-somethings a sense of purpose: Moving away from Mom and Dad. Graduating from college. Landing our first jobs. Falling in love. But rather that imparting a sense of achievement, reaching each new benchmark made us feel even less certain about what we really wanted from our lives. Were the paths that we were following the right ones for us—or were we staying the course simply because we thought we should? Was the road most frequently traveled the one that we wanted to follow?
After sharing those fears with each another—and confirming that we weren’t alone in our uncertainty—the three of us made a pact. Before reaching the next life stage (the one involving mortgages, marriages, and 2.2 children) by the time we hit our early thirties, we would take a major risk, an unconventional round-the-world detour we hoped would offer us some real perspective on our lives. Dubbing ourselves The Lost Girls, a term describing both our own uncertainty about the future and an emotional state we felt represented many in our generation, we plotted out a 60,000-mile journey that would cross four continents and more than a dozen countries. We were searching for answers, but as we’d learn along the way, the ones you uncover are rarely those to the questions asked. If we could transport ourselves back in time, we might tell our younger selves not to worry so much. Not to sweat the small stuff—or even the big stuff. We’d say that real life is the thing that happens when you’re busy trying to map out your future. Then again, maybe we wouldn’t tell them a thing. Those lessons might have made the last years of our twenties a little easier, but we wouldn’t have traded our on-the-road initiation for the world.” Excerpt essay from their new book, The Lost Girls.