Next stop on my reading mission was a quick and easy read – Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida by Catherine Ryan Howard. I actually read the sequel to this book (Backpacked: A Reluctant Trip Across Central America) about a month ago after discovering it on an aimless browse through the Kindle store, where I always lack the self control to resist buying anything with decent reviews and priced under £2. I don’t actually have a Kindle, but the free PC software has come in useful for passing the time with free or cheap reads, especially since being in Italy.
Now, I do love the chance to be a bit nosey and get a look at other people’s lives, so I did enjoy a couple of fun memoirs. If you don’t like either a) people talking about themselves or b) light reading, I’d advise you to skip these books.
Backpacked caught my eye because I’m planning a trip to Central America at the moment, backpacking from Mexico City to Costa Rica with one of my best friends for 2 and a half months. I thought that reading someone else’s (very similar) experience would get me in the right frame of mind, and it did. The actual experience of travelling is obviously different to the one you read about in guidebooks, and Catherine sounds about as different to your typical Lonely Planet writer as it is possible to get. Right from the start, she makes clear that her only reason for backpacking in Central America is that it’s a good chance to spend time with her best friend instead of going home to Ireland after working at Disney World for a year and a half. She loves chain stores, Starbucks coffee and expensive hotels, so is understandably not thrilled at the prospect of less-than-clean hostels and stomach bugs.
Now, while I wouldn’t say I’m quite as attached to the luxury lifestyle as Catherine paints herself to be, I’m not exactly a seasoned traveller. As such, the vast majority of my worries for next summer involve dirty accommodation, food poisoning and having things nicked. I also tend to worry, especially when doing things for the first time, that “I’m not doing this right” and that other people who are doing it right are judging me. For me, it was a relief to read the travel experience of someone travelling with an 80 litre backpack instead of a 30 litre one, who isn’t always determined that everything should be done “like the locals” and that taking more than two t-shirts is a waste of space. After reading too much advice from expert travellers on the internet, I was starting to think I was mad for wanting to take hair conditioner and more than 2 days worth of clothes! There are a fair few moments in the book when things don’t go as planned (the most notable being when they try to do things exactly like the locals) and I found it reassuring to read that everyone was fine and unscathed coming out of the other side, and that you really do always cope somehow.
I read Mousetrapped because I quite liked the preview at the end of Backpacked, and it was also cheap in the Kindle store. It is the prequel to her Central America trip, where she works at a Disney World hotel in Florida and builds a life in Orlando. I really wasn’t expecting to relate to it in the same way. I have no desire whatsoever to stay in the US for any extended period of time (although I did love my holiday in New York) and really dislike most of the things Catherine seems to love about Orlando. Shopping malls and coffee, to name just two.
But Mousetrapped turned out to be completely different to what I was expecting. Rather than filling a book with great stories and bragging about her Mickey Mouse life, Catherine deals with some real problems while living abroad. She gets genuinely homesick and says that she’s looking forward to leaving the US for almost the whole book. She also picks herself up and stays determined to make the best of it while she’s there.
Personally, I could completely relate to this. Since living in Milan, I’ve been having a lot of very similar feelings and it’s great to hear that other people feel this way too – sometimes it seems like everyone that’s moved abroad is having the time of their lives. It’s also good for me to see her dust herself up and get on with it.
However, I’m not convinced that I would have enjoyed this book so much if I wasn’t in the situation I am. Catherine’s writing didn’t really make me understand how she was feeling; it just so happens that our feelings match up. If you’ve never experienced living or travelling abroad, I don’t think you’d find the writing particularly emotional, or even necessarily interesting. But if, like I am
Both Mousetrapped and Backpacked turned out to be exactly what I’ve been missing since my obsessive years of reading sugary-sweet teen fiction: well written, easy reads that I can lose myself in for a couple of hours when I fancy relaxing and not thinking too hard. They’re both fun memoirs with enough problems to be interesting, with situations and feelings I can relate to without turning into a complete emotional wreck.
Overall verdict so far: success!