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Wanderlove Paperback – March 12, 2013
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About the Author
As a travel writer and young adult author, KIRSTEN HUBBARD has hiked ancient ruins in Cambodia, dived with wild dolphins in Belize, and navigated the Wyoming Badlands in search of transcendent backdrops. She lives with her husband and their dog.
From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Overpriced organic fruit & nut bar from airport terminal
Ergonomic travel pillow
Phone with astronomical roaming charges
Sketchbook (knockoff Moleskine)
Assortment of pens and pencils
Old version of myself
As soon as I see the blond girl bouncing down the aisle, I know she's heading for the empty seat beside me. It's just my luck. A woman in a floppy hat already fills the window seat. After three minutes of laboring at a sudoku puzzle, she starts to snore--even though our plane's still at the gate of LAX.
The girl tosses herself into the seat with a gusty sigh that practically rattles the double-plated windows. She's wearing a stretched-out sweater and drawstring pants, her dark blond hair in a sloppy pile on top of her head. Her fingers are covered with wooden rings.
I'm wearing quick-dry khaki capris, a crispy Windbreaker, and hiking shoes that make my feet feel like Clydesdale hooves. They're brand-new. Like my too-short haircut and my purple suitcase, along with everything in it.
I'm pretty sure the woman in the window seat is wearing a tent.
"So where you headed?" the girl asks, wedging her skinny knees against the seat in front of her. I shut my sketchbook and slip it between my legs.
"Guatemala," I reply, "same as you."
"Well, obviously. But where in Guatemala, exactly?"
"All over the place."
I grasp for a name and come up with nothing. I never read the itinerary for my Global Vagabonds group tour. "I don't really travel with a set plan. It's too restricting."
She raises her eyebrows. "Is that right?"
Once I start, I can't stop. "I've found it's the best way to travel. Heading to whatever place intrigues me, you know? If I feel like sunbathing, I go to the beach. If I'm hungry for culture, I hike a Mayan ruin. I'm a photographer, really."
What I am is full of shit. My mom gave me the camera for my birthday last month, with a warning not to tell my dad. Just like the stack of art books my dad slipped me last year, when I was preparing my portfolio for the art school I'm not attending. I think their secret presents make them feel like they're each gleefully undermining the other in their endless uncivil war. At least I get consolation prizes.
"You're a photographer?" The girl's blue eyes widen. "How old are you?"
"You must be really talented."
It's the really that gets me. She doesn't believe me. And why should she? It's not like I look particularly well traveled. Or talented. Whatever that looks like. My Windbreaker makes crunching noises as I shift away. I should have brought a better jacket, something funky and artsy. But even in the days I considered myself an artist, I never had the guts to dress the part.
Plus, the Windbreaker was on my Global Vagabonds Packing List:
1) photocopy of passport
2) under-clothes money belt
3) crispy Windbreaker the color of gutter water
And like always, I followed the rules.
Just when I'm about to implode with embarrassment, the woman in the window seat taps my shoulder. "I couldn't help overhearing," she says. "I'm traveling in a big group. I could never travel like you do. I think you're so brave."
I grin. "Thanks! It's no big deal . . . I just know how to take care of myself."
I think I sound pretty convincing.
It all began with a stupid question:
Are You a Global Vagabond?
The cashier at the sporting goods shop jammed the pamphlet into my bag, like a receipt or a coupon for a discount oil change, something easily discarded. But to me, it seemed like an omen, appearing the exact moment my resolve started to crumble.
Blame my wilting willpower on my best friends, Olivia Luster and Reese Kinjo. They've never agreed on anything--except backing out on our trip.
The trip had been my idea in the first place. We'd chosen Europe, the obvious choice for eighteen-year-old travel virgins fresh out of high school. But after just a couple weeks of emailed images of the Louvre and La Rambla, links to online travel guides and airfare deals, Olivia and Reese dropped by my house. They never hang out together, so instantly, I knew something was up.
"We've decided we can't travel with you this summer," Olivia said. "The timing's just not right--we're sorry."
I sat on my bedroom floor involuntarily, like someone had snipped my marionette strings.
"Look, Bria--we're not trying to be assholes," she continued while Reese's nonconfrontational eyes scanned my ceiling. "We're only thinking of you. You're just not in the right headspace for traveling. Remember what happened on your birthday last week?"
"Yeah, I remember," I said, annoyed. "You almost fell off the balcony flashing half of Tijuana in the hot body contest--"
"I'm talking about the fifty billion kamikazes you threw back before puking in the taxi on our way home. You're lucky we didn't get into worse trouble than that. What if it happened in Czechoslovenia?"
"There's no such place as Czechoslovenia."
Reese, who hadn't gone to Mexico and probably never will, squatted beside me. "We just don't think you're in the right headspace to take a trip, Bria," she said in that amateur philosopher's voice that makes my eyes spiral. "You and Toby have been broken up for, like, six weeks, and you've barely left the house. You didn't even go to prom. You're obviously still healing--running away isn't going to expedite the process."
"You guys don't get it," I protested. "I need this . . ."
They waited, but I couldn't continue.
"We're really sorry, babe," Olivia said. "We'll have an epic summer right here in town, all right? I'll find you a new boy before college--or several. Remember, no strings!"
Reese waited for Olivia to leave, then gave me one of her feeble, girlish hugs. "Maybe we'll travel next summer. After a year of college, we'll have so much more perspective for a trip like this, anyway." A piece of her black hair fell into my open mouth.
As soon as my bedroom door shut, I noticed the plate of raspberry bars on my nightstand. A typical Reese Kinjo gesture: reconciliation by fresh-baked goods. I've known her since second grade, Olivia since eighth. They're like the opposite poles of my personality. Mild-mannered, responsible Reese is who I used to be, while in-your-face Olivia's who I want to be--with a few sharp edges dulled. We've never been a threesome. More like two twosomes, with me in common. I should have realized the three of us traveling together would have been uncomfortable, to say the least. And spending boatloads of money to serve as a pal's crying shoulder is a lot to ask. But why couldn't we have figured that out earlier?
I guess it's good they never learned my real motivation for heading abroad.
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This is the story of a young woman, Bria, who, during the summer before she is supposed to enter college decides to join an organized tour in Central America to see Mayan ruins. She is still basically in a state of mourning over a recent breakup with a jerk of a boyfriend, and despite his mistreatment of her, Bria cannot move on. She avoids the art that she had loved so much and also seems to avoid any activity that has any connection to this failed relationship. She joins this tour group with the expectation of meeting other people her age who can explore this exotic atmosphere with her. Instead she finds that she is with a group of retirees and older people who are looking for a safe and predictable experience.
In the midst of this experience that is turning out to be a huge disappointment for Bria, she comes into contact with Starling and Rowan, a brother and sister duo who are backpacking through the countries of Central America. They are doing this on the cheap, staying in hostels and riding filthy, borderline unsafe buses to get from place to place. Bria ends up joining them on their trip and experiences an entirely different side of the world she is exploring. Soon Starling leaves them, leaving Rowan to guide Bria through this unfamiliar landscape. Like Bria, Rowan is also trying to turn a corner in his life and is unwilling to share his personal demons with Bria. Despite the unwillingness in both of them to share the things that hurt them in their past, Bria and Rowan eventually form a good traveling relationship.
There is a romance in this story, and although I absolutely love romances in stories and liked this one very well, I have to say that the romance is not what drove the plot at all. This was a travel story, and the magic of the story was in the descriptions of the people and scenes of the Central American scenes that Hubbard describes throughout the novel. I could practically smell the nastiness of some of the dirty buses and hostels that Bria found herself in. I could feel the sweat rolling down my body as Bria thought of the high heat and humidity she experienced. The descriptions of the sand on the beaches and the feel of the mud and water between Bria's toes seemed so real. Even the sounds of the rain forest as Bria lay listening at night came alive for me. It was just beautiful to read. I found myself wishing that I could take just such a trip to experience the real world of ordinary people in the world, not just the sanitized tour versions that are advertised.
As Bria finds herself entrenched in this new environment where so much of the complications of modern life are stripped away, she discovers who she is. Rowan helps her to let go of the hurtful actions of her ex-boyfriend and embrace the things she loves the most. She came on this trip in a way to escape and throw herself into activities that have no meaning and therefore have little risk of harming her emotionally. Instead she finds out how to take charge of her life and let herself find joy in the things that matter to her. It was a great journey to read about. I was so happy to have gotten to tag along vicariously as a reader.
I liked that the themes in this book weren't portrayed as being crystal clear and easily overcome. I like that Bria and Rowan were both flawed in their own ways, and as the novel ended they were still flawed. But they were better, and they had plans for the future that allowed each of them to find comfort and power in one another. Life isn't always pretty, but it isn't this hopeless pool of sadness and disappoint that would require us to avoid any connections to others for fear of being hurt. Instead, life is full of potential, both good and bad, but as we embrace the people and activities we love we can find our own joy as we navigate the waters. That is the message I got after reading this book. It is a book I will read again, I am sure. Maybe next time I'll take my time and enjoy the scenery even more. This is a beautiful travel story, as much a love story involving the countries, lifestyle, and people of South America as it is a love story of two young people who discover each other in the midst of it. I highly recommend this book!
Bria, a freshly graduated 18 year old, decides she wants to travel. See the world--with her boyfriend, except, well, he was now the ex-boyfriend, so scratch that, she'd go with Olivia and Reese, her two best friends. But they bailed on her too. Determined not to spend the summer crying over Toby and fussing over which of her friends she would hang out with, because they didn't exactly like each other, she became A Global Vagabond... only better.
She boards the plane, headed for Central America, ready to explore the sites when a whimsy girl plops down beside her. Starling is flouncy and curious, friendly. Overly so considering Bria has not a freakin' clue what she's spewing from her mouth. What Bria doesn't realize is Starling is an experienced backpacker and Bria is only causing herself to look like a fool every single time she spoke.
Only one foolish thing to bite her in the butt, right? Well, not quite, but when Bria meets up with the tour group she's traveling with, they're all middle-aged and not at all what she pictured. Every single minute of their day is planned, the Vagabonds are filled with rules of where you can go, what to eat, who to talk to, so basically it was like living at home, only worse.
I enjoyed Wanderlove with all my heart. Bria's experiences, even the ones I shook my head at, feeling a secondary embarrassment for her--when Rowan invited her to dinner--were ones I wished I'd been smart enough to take on right out of high school. Travel, even by backpack. My family camped, I was no stranger to the wilderness. The time learning to take care of myself away from my family would've been some dang good therapy. Though I cannot imagine my mother's face if I told her I was going to Central America to backpack my way from one place to another. I'm actually smiling thinking about it now.
Kirsten Hubbard's words carved a miraculous world and filled the pages with beautiful, but sometimes, broken characters. Starling, the optimistic friend and sister who never let anyone flail, lost and wondering for too long. Rowan, the charismatic prankster who had had his share of fun and, equally, his share of trouble, who wears his heart on his sleeve, wove his way into my heart. Making me angry one moment and causing my body to shake with laughter the next. And Bria, the brave heroine. She's never whiny, and takes to the world of backpacking with the grace of ballerina.
I'm certain some parents would not appreciate what I took from this story, but the advice I've given my oldest--and will give my youngest when she's there--is to really experience all you want in life when you are young. Travel, have fun, but most importantly, no matter how you do it... keep learning. Education, in all its forms, is invaluable.