I love reading travel books; memoirs are enjoyable and well-written accounts make me feel like I'm truly present in another part of the world. For this reason I was looking forward to reading Traveling In Sin, a memoir about an adventurous couple from the United States who spent a year traveling abroad, primarily in Southeast Asia. Their story is most unusual: after a fairly short dating period, George invited Lisa to join him on the journey of a lifetime. She swallowed all her fears, quit her job, and the couple departed to travel abroad together. During their travels, Lisa lost 60 pounds, George proposed, and they both learned much about resilience and partnership. All things considered, it was a very successful trip!
Traveling In Sin is full of useful tidbits and tips about travel in Asia such as how to successfully get along in a variety of foreign cultures, as they navigate outside of their comfort zones. Written in a highly unusual narrative style, it pops between "he said" and "she said" with the authors each penning part of every chapter as they traverse a dozen countries. My hat is absolutely off to Lisa; after working as "Julie the Cruise Director" on Princess Cruises for several years -- traveling the world on a luxury ocean liner, she gave up every semblance of pampering to travel on a strict budget that often meant staying in hostels or one-star budget motels.
"I hated the first hotel room on Koh Phi Phi, but the second place was better. I cried while snorkeling because I was afraid of the boats. I just did not feel like myself. I wondered if I too thought about the tsunami victims. While we did not sleep in the hard beds the second night, I could not sleep due to the large number of incredibly itchy bug bites. I lay awake wondering, 'Is this paradise?'"
Some of her most charming moments in the book occur when Lisa has a breakthrough about being a Westerner in a completely foreign living situation, and also when she gets a break and lodges in a higher-end locale.
George originally expected to take this trip by himself and planned almost all of it. Bringing Lisa was a little rocky at first, but his belief in her abilities (especially as she foundered at the beginning) is most heartwarming, and one of the biggest joys of Traveling In Sin is seeing their little hints to each other of the widening scope of their relationship, such as when they attend a wedding in Moni, Flores and it becomes a jumping-off place for their own dawning realization that they too are headed for the altar. Eventually, their wedding becomes just like another destination they plan to visit.
Lisa mentions, "I noticed our wedding plans had become so international. We got engaged and bought the engagement ring in Thailand. The flower idea came from the Dalat Princess in Vietnam, and rose-colored napkins from a restaurant in Phnom Penh, Cambodia."
"We arrived at 5:00 a.m. in La Cai, a city outside of Sapa. I was in a complete fatigued daze, still upset about the French's blatant abuse of the Vietnamese. I bashed the French verbally aloud while we waited for our taxi to take us toward Sapa. We arrived to the gorgeous Hotel Victoria early but check-in was not until 2:00 p.m. I was so exhausted that I began to sleep on a couch in the lobby. Lisa said, 'George, get up! You can't sleep here.' In my stupor I responded, 'This is the perfect place to sleep.'"
As you can imagine, the author's styles of writing are very different, so their voices shine through. Lisa's writing is more emotional and carries the narrative of their snowballing relationship, while George focuses more on the specifics of the logistics and his observations about the places they visit. Occasionally, he steps into storytelling mode.
If you're traveling to this part of the world, especially independently, Traveling In Sin is a wonderful resource -- like a personalized version of Lonely Planet -- while also being a very entertaining read. If you enjoy living vicariously through travel memoirs, Traveling In Sin makes makes you feel as if you've covered all of Southeast Asia.