Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman by Alice Steinbach
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
This is the kind of memoir I hope I never write.
As cruel as that sounds, it’s what was going through my head as I read Steinbach’s tales of her so-called “Year of Living Dangerously.” (Actually, she may have called it something else but I really don’t want to re-read any of the book in order to find the correct wording.) Steinbach’s telling of her “adventure” consisted almost entirely of pre-made plans that were completely safe and her being chatted up by entirely harmless and friendly people who somehow were all the same.
I consider myself a traveler. I think I have made a great effort in my life to not only see new places but to experience them as well. Because of this, I felt a sharp tang of disgust as a I read Steinbach’s supposedly risky adventure. I’m going to go right ahead and sound pretentious and say there really wasn’t much risk involved. This woman went to Paris, England, and Italy, staying in hotels and often participating in tour groups. To top it off she clearly had no financial concerns even with being away from work for an entire year.
Please note that, in direct contrast with the book title, she wholeheartedly made reservations for every stop on her trip. Yawn.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for traveling in ways that best suit you. My own “adventures” are in many ways not so different. But if you’re going to write a memoir about, there needs to be some pizzazz. By the end of the book I could guess what was going to happen – somewhere in town someone was going to randomly speak to her, they would talk, get tea, connect, maybe hang out for a couple more days, and then the cycle would repeat in another location. Oops, maybe I should say spoiler alert.
Sorry, I didn’t even realize how much this book bothered with me until I started writing this review. I should pull back a little because I don’t think it’s entirely useless. I think Steinbach had a great year of travel and I love that she did it. I just regret I had to read about it in the way I did. I think Steinbach has a good writing style (if quite clipped, likely from years in her profession as a journalist) and she did make some wonderful observations from time to time. Sometimes she really made me think and there is one particular chapter about rain in Rome that allowed me to connect with her.
But one chapter out of an entire book just isn’t enough.
If you want a good travel memoir, bypass this book. On that note, in case you were wondering, bypass Eat, Pray, Love, too (I swear, they are almost the same thing). There are so many wonderful tales out there about women adventuring and traveling alone – like Somebody’s Heart Is Burning: A Woman Wanderer in Africa or even, Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone.