Reading while Traveling: The Improbable Adventures of a Middle-Aged Woman

A Book for the Road by Jennifer Lawler

On having the courage and strength to ditch a routine and change everything. Book image courtesy of Jennifer Lawler

On having the courage and strength to ditch a routine and change everything. Book image courtesy of Jennifer Lawler

Right at the outset of her latest book, The Improbable Adventures of a Middle-Aged Woman, author, traveler, and single parent Jennifer Lawler tells her reader that everything she has ever done made sense at the time, so right away one can’t help but like her. And if things didn’t quite turn out as she’d pictured them? Well, all of us can be forgiven for thinking that our career would look a little different than it actually has. How many of envisioned a worklife that most certainly would land us a really nice loft in the Village and a black wardrobe to accompany it or a cavernous center-hall colonial on a well-manicured patch of grass or … (insert your dream here)?

In the very best daydreams, our kids can be Harvard-bound super-achievers who never are suspended from middle school for setting off a stink bomb during science class, and school administrators never scowl reprovingly over the good-natured and subject-appropriate experiments of 12-year-olds. Of course, nothing ever quite turns out as we had planned, which is why so many of us start looking for answers elsewhere: by traveling, sometimes with a youthful adventurer in tow, and typically with either a book in hand or several stored in our suitcase or our Kindle.

Learn how to take a break and travel gracefully with a youthful adventurer even when a journey doesn't proceed quite as planned.

Learn how to take a break and travel gracefully with a youthful adventurer even when a journey doesn’t proceed quite as planned.

The Improbable Adventures of a Middle-Aged Woman, no matter your age or your gender or your parental status, is a book to bring along on any trip. Given that everyday parenting, especially after a decade or more in, can be a bit of a slog, what with all the time management skills you’ll both need to develop and use, constantly, and the near incessant good behavior that must be modeled, and the impact on working life that actually having a family can entail, it is no wonder that every now and then, an adult just might want to take a break, and make it a good long one, from the day-in, day-out routine of existence. Even people without kids or pets sometimes want to do that.

And so Jennifer Lawler and her now-adult daughter Jessica, who has a cognitive impairment, set off from their Kansas home, where Lawler is a writer and Jessica captures dreams in beautiful glass artworks, to see a bit of the world, learn a bit about their family’s past, and perhaps reinvigorate themselves for their own futures. Clearly, there will be fun times ahead as the two Js make their way to the Grand Canyon, travel through Ireland and Scotland, and then push on to Germany and Eastern Europe. They will travel by car, plane, train; they will talk and lose their way; they will banter and bicker and compromise; they will find their resolve when things don’t go exactly as planned.

And that’s the little unspoken secret of any trip—no matter how well a traveler maps out a journey, something goes awry, especially if one happens to be visiting a country not one’s own, where the language, even where the same, is different, where cultures vary, where customs aren’t always understood right away, where keys to doors do not always work. It can almost be counted on, on almost every trip, can’t it? That someone at some point is just going to lose it.

Many of us dream about ditching our day-to-day lives for a bit to travel the world, but how many of us actually have the courage to embark on that journey?

Many of us dream about ditching our day-to-day lives for a bit to travel the world, but how many of us actually have the courage to embark on that journey?

That likelihood of losing it, truth be told, is what can keep many travelers from going very far at all; it is what can keep them returning year after year to the same place for vacation. They know its ways, their routines, what to expect. They do not have to worry about the hazards of navigation or the pitfalls from the unexpected. Their route has already been ingrained.

Lawler, in her writing, and, I imagine, in person, is the friend who regales with tales from her journeys: how she almost catapults off a cliff early on, how she and her daughter apparently manage to sleep overnight in a bookstore, how they keep on keeping on despite too-heavy luggage and a loss of rain gear. What single-parent adventurers can especially appreciate is Lawler’s acknowledgment of those less-than-Kodak moments, the instances where the pressures of being the constant planner and decisionmaker or the occasions when navigating in a strange land sometimes becomes just a bit too much.

But, ultimately, the stressful moments are nothing a bit of rest, a bit of sleep, and maybe a beer or a glass of wine or a little bit of writing can’t overcome if one happens to have Lawler’s chipper attitude, which more of us should have. And ultimately, Lawler’s adventures and writing and, indeed, her approach to life, are something a reader cannot help but want more of.

—Lori Tripoli

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