Twisted Wishes series by Anna Zabo {review}
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Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman by Alice Steinbach {review}

Without Reservations

Genre: Travel Memoir

 

My Review - 4 Stars

I’m not sure how I found out about this book. Only that the moment I did, I ordered a copy and I started reading it as soon as it arrived. For as much traveling as I do, I’ve never taken a solo trip. I either travel with friends or I travel to go see friends. I’ve long been inspired by people who travel by themselves. However, I’ve never particularly desired to do so myself. Perhaps because I’m single and get as much alone time as I want—traveling, for me, is about companionship and community. And yet, with my 40th birthday around the corner, I’m wondering if a solo trip might be the right way to welcome the next year in. And so I read this book.

Steinbach took a four month sabbatical from work to travel to London, Oxford, Paris, and various parts of Italy when she was in her 50s. There’s a large amount of privilege associated with this trip and she unfortunately does not seem aware of it. I would not be able to take a break from work for that long, on top of paying for the trip itself, nor do I know many people who could. I don’t begrudge her the opportunity. It’s more like I’m impressed she could afford to do so on a reporter’s salary.

That aside, Steinbach has no small amount of anxiety at the start of the trip as the enormity of what she’s doing sinks in. But from there, she is open to where the trip takes her and strikes up conversation with strangers wherever she goes. At times, she explores on her own and other times, she goes off on an adventure with someone she’s just met. This even leads to meeting Naohiro, with whom she has a love affair off and on throughout her trip. I’m envious of people who do this so easily and I did see somewhere that she’s an extrovert.

While I wanted to read this memoir to help make sense of whether I should try solo travel, it is at its heart a memoir. It is Steinbach’s personal experience about what she learned about herself and her need for independence. I related to that latter part quite a bit. There are plenty of good takeaways, with relevance beyond travel, such as Steinbach’s new friend who asks her, “Why not turn this mishap into an adventure?” Wise words for us all. I also liked learning about the random history of places she explored, such as the Home of Rest for Ladies of Small Means in Surrey. It was a home for working women in need of a holiday. How amazing is that?

While Steinbach had mostly positive experiences on the trip, she does not shy away from sharing about the negative. She delves into her sense of safety as a single woman and how that is altered when she’s almost mugged in Italy. She gets horribly ill while in London but her new friends take care of her and there were some really tender moments as she has to accept their help.

The writing is lovely and I was quite engaged by her descriptions and experiences, with one exception. Steinbach’s father died when she was quite young and she describes aspects of her grief over losing him that I found confusing. Or at least they weren’t as well integrated into the narrative.

She does not always talk about people in the kindest way. And it bears noting she’s a straight woman who released this book in 2000 and there are some dated elements as a result.

CW: death of a parent, grief, divorce, attempted mugging

 

Synopsis

"In many ways, I was an independent woman," writes Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Alice Steinbach. “For years I’d made my own choices, paid my own bills, shoveled my own snow.” But somehow she had become dependent in quite another way. “I had fallen into the habit of defining myself in terms of who I was to other people and what they expected of me.” But who was she away from the people and things that defined her? In this exquisite book, Steinbach searches for the answer to this question in some of the most beautiful and exciting places in the world: Paris, where she finds a soul mate; Oxford, where she takes a course on the English village; and Milan, where she befriends a young woman about to be married. 

Beautifully illustrated with postcards from Steinbach’s journeys, this revealing and witty book transports you into a fascinating inner and outer journey, an unforgettable voyage of discovery.

 

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