Lost is an OK State to Be In

Book review: All Over the Place, by Geraldine DeRuiter

Geraldine deRuiter is the voice behind The Everywhereist, a funny, quirky travel blog. She started writing about her travels, and often her ineptitude in accomplishing them, after losing her job in the recession, thus freeing her up to accompany her husband, a workaholic SEO entrepreneur, to various conferences and speaking engagements throughout the U.S. and around the world.

Her self-deprecating sense of humor and unlimited openness about mistakes and wrong turns coupled with helpful insights and surprisingly deep meditations and observations on life, love, and the world we live in make it clear why The Everywhereist enjoys its popularity.

I wasn’t familiar with it though, and I sometimes shy away from travel memoirs if they’re too shlocky or chick lit-y. I worried this one might have the potential to be so, thanks to the martini on the cover and “true love” in the subtitle. How wrong I was.

I was also completely mistaken in thinking this would be mainly travel-centric. I should’ve known when early on, she professed that her enemy is everyone’s favorite (at least, grudgingly accepted) bland and organized travel book guide author Rick Steves. Travel certainly figures in, but much is about DeRuiter’s family and stories from her personal life, making it more a collection of memoirist’s essays than a standard travel memoir.

The combination is just right – she manages to explain that elusive, near-magical ability of the right kind of travel at the right times in the right (also sometimes the wrong) places: to help you learn more about yourself and where you came from and the people you were born to and those you found along the way.

In her disclaimer, Geraldine quickly disabuses us of any notion we might have that she, a well-liked travel writer, will give us a useful travel book.

So if this book by a travel writer is not about travel or about finding romance somewhere along the road, then where does that leave us? These last six years have taught me a great number of things, though being able to read a map is not one of them…I have learned about my family and myself, about losing my job and brain tumors and lost luggage and lost opportunities and just getting lost, in countless terminals and cabs and hotel lobbies around the globe.

What she does write is a book that showcases her quirks, her flaws perceived and otherwise, and her strategies or lack thereof as she navigates the post-employment landscape, figuring out what and where exactly her place in the world is supposed to be. It’s a struggle many of us can relate to, and it helps that she’s an easy, vastly readable writer, with a bold sense of humor and a warts-and-all mentality about her decisions and experiences.

Believe it or not, I didn’t realize that my journeys…were going to lead to all this introspection about and understanding of the people closest to me. At the start, my plan was to eat a lot of cake and do my best not to cause any international incidents.

In all honesty, can any of us really hope for anything more in our travels? With all that can go wrong, I think not. (see: her Air France experiences, which gave me secondhand anxiety, although that might be because I have the same fiery hatred she does for one airline and its demonic employees flown straight out of hell, but mine’s American Airlines.)

I think it’s a sign of great writing when an author makes you laugh in the course of their storytelling, but I hate a try-too-hard comedic book. Luckily, this avoids that too (mostly) and actually managed to be laugh-out-loud funny in several parts. The petty theft incident of the subtitle, from a sangria-soaked dinner in Spain, is one of the funniest things I’ve read in a long time. Maybe because it’s so strangely relatable.

Although a joke here or there occasionally goes too far (please never refer to a baby’s “tiny vagina” even if it’s your own, and can we please call a moratorium on any mention ever again of the zombie apocalypse? Is it some kind of hipster literary keyword? She’s better than that and we’re all better than that! Let’s not use that tired crutch of a joke anymore. As a generation we’re going to look back on this and regret it! Now I’ve bitched and let’s never speak of this stupid zombie apocalypse joke ever again.)

But for the most part, she annotates her experiences and stories with lines that both poke fun at her choices with the wisdom of hindsight and introspection while still subtly acknowledging that she’d make the same messy decisions all over again, if given the chance: “…it’s always a good idea to spread your drunken grief across two continents, if you can.”

In a secondhand way, the more you read of her experiences, the more you think about your own. And there’s a familiar, lovely comfort in much of what she says, in words both clear and sentimental, about figuring out life and yourself even if you’re attempting it all without a map. Making lots of wrong turns are ok. It happens. Keep going, and don’t forget to fall in love with your hometown while you’re at it.

“That said, getting lost isn’t the worst thing in the world: If you are trying to find yourself, it’s a great place to start.”

All Over the Place: Adventures in Travel, True Love, and Petty Theft
by Geraldine DeRuiter

published May 2, 2017 by PublicAffairs

I received an advance copy courtesy of the publisher for review.

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