Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Alice Steinbach took a year off from her job writing for the Baltimore Sun to travel around Europe in search of the self she remembers, not defined by a husband, her kids, or her career. She is hoping that by taking an entire year to travel, she can learn to slow down, to take one day at a time, without schedules or defined goals.
There is something about taking your time in each city, perhaps focusing on your neighborhood and its rhythms, that is completely different than the type of rush in, see it all, rush out type of travel that most of us can afford. I’ve always wanted to go somewhere beautiful and interesting for a month or more, and really settle in, put work and home worries behind, and discover the cultures and the people of that place. Maybe someday.
Steinbach starts in Paris, where she begins a romance with a Japanese businessman, then moves on to London, Oxford, and Italy. Along the way, she reminisces about the life she has led thus far, and her roles in it. It’s partly about her searching for spontaneity, but mostly about her wanting to learn to define herself as herself, not as a writer, a mother, a wife. When I was halfway through the book, we went to see Eat, Pray, Love, and I came home thinking that the book and the movie were two of the same. Both are women traveling through Europe alone, looking to get away from the preconceived notions of others. Both women find love, and meet good friends along the way.
Which made me wonder if traveling alone naturally makes you more open to meeting others, and entering into friendships you might not even know about if you were busy in a conversation with a companion. Because you’re in a cafe alone, or at a museum alone, or walking alone, you are perhaps more open to starting conversations, and because you don’t have to compromise with a husband/wife/friend/child on plans, you are free to change plans on a whim.
I didn’t love this book as much as the person who recommended it, but I did enjoy the time I spent with Ms. Steinbach. I enjoyed reading about her adventures and the connections she finds with each city she visits.