There are two books I’ve recommended to almost every friend, acquaintance, or colleague of mine. The first, for the moments when you’re hoping to make solid adult-like decisions (such as investing), is a personal finance book; the second, if you’re looking to answer the plagued question of what you want to do with your life, “find” yourself, create meaningful things, push boundaries, or just explore the larger world beyond your doorstep, I recommend Kristin Newman’s What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding.
The book’s brilliant (or slightly obnoxious—depending on how you look at it) title is just the first provocative point in this carefree yet poignant and utterly hilarious travel memoir. Single and in her thirties, Newman realized that contrary to societal expectations (have a wild early twenties, a stable late twenties, and then create new human beings in your thirties), she wasn’t quite ready to “settle down.” Her job as a sitcom writer offered her enough funding for a few months off each year, so she decided to do the exact opposite of “settling down,” traveling as far and as constantly as she could over a decade.
What I love about this book is how unapologetic and fearless it is. Solo female travelers have for many years been a rare breed, held back from traveling alone by tales of rape, kidnappings, murders, cultural misunderstandings that didn’t end in funny anecdotes, and much, much worse. Sure, Newman’s travels aren’t quite the equivalent of hiking past the Limpopo (or cycling through Gaza in 2011), but Newman is unafraid to be alone and to take risks she’d never dream of back in L.A. Whether it’s falling for a (relapsed) Spanish priest, attending a rave in Amsterdam, swimming in the Dead Sea, hanging out with a Bedouin (whose tales of nomadic manliness are undermined when he confesses to still living with his mother), or couch-surfing in New Zealand, What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding describes a life unhindered.
Newman doesn’t travel to provide deep insights about the world, and this is certainly not a book you pick up expecting practical travel advice (although there is some); instead she travels to learn more about herself, to indulge and push her own boundaries. The title (and many of Kristin’s antics abroad) might strike one as shallow or self-absorbed, but it also makes the reader wonder if life should always be about deep introspective moments with earth-shattering realizations, or if there’s space for spontaneous conversations with random acquaintances, for nights with too many drinks and too much loud music, in which every stranger is already a friend and no one knows how they’ll get home the next day, and certainly if there’s space to veer off the expected path and define happiness as an occasional—or even frequent—indulgence. Newman’s irreverent and ultimately graceful memoir suggests there is.
Etinosa Agbonlahor is an Editorial Assistant at Touchstone Books.
In need of an escape from her job as a sitcom writer, Kristin Newman traveled the world, often alone, for several weeks each year. Kristin introduces readers to the characters she meets along the way, including the Israeli bartenders, Finnish poker players, sexy Bedouins, and Argentinean priests, people who helped her transform into a slower, softer, and wilder version of herself at home. Equal parts laugh-out-loud storytelling, candid reflection, and wanderlust-inspiring travel tales, you’re going to be rushing to renew your passport after this one.