Travel writing is not so much about the places visited as it is about the interaction between the place and the writer. That's a given, I think, but even so there are variations in the degree of focus on place vs self. Travel also frequently involves venturing outside one's comfort zone. Jo Carroll illustrates her level of comfort during her explorations by the extent to which she can step outside herself and into the exotic locales through which she passes.
She's palpably uncomfortable at her first stop, Sydney, where she remains self-conscious about the age difference between herself and those around her and continues to question her reasons for having embarked in her mid-50s on what amounts to a yearlong Walkabout.
I think the sheer physical beauty of New Zealand, which she visits next, pushes her doubts into the background. But then she moves on to Nepal and from there to India, and both of those places call for a lot of flexibility on her part. She's very fortunate in having, at most stages of the trek, companions of one sort or another who ease her transition into the local scene. By the time she is mostly on her own, she has acquired more confidence. Still, doubts abound, all of which she records in present tense. Of India, she says:
"I have not learned how to read people here. I am still stared at, occasionally followed. This does not feel threatening any more, rather an expression of curiosity. But I have been on the edge of so many scams here, and cannot--in the instant of meeting someone--read whether they are honest."
The life she left behind in the UK includes grown daughters, one of whom is due to give birth, so she continues to feel conflicted about her globetrotting. After moving on to Singapore (more comfortable but also bland), she relents and returns home for the big event--but only briefly. Soon she is back in the tropics (Malaysia), determined to complete a full year of adventures. ("Why? Because I'll regret it if I don't.") I think early on, when she felt most ill at ease, calling it quits would have been primarily a blow to her pride. By this point, however, she has found her groove and has a clearer understanding of why the explorations are important.
I find this account completely authentic and compelling. Having done some solo traveling myself, I can attest to the heightened introspection Carroll describes so intimately. Such a trip, I think, truly is at least as much an inward journey as it is a physical one. Her writing does justice to the experience. And finally, because I'm approximately the same age as Carroll, I also recognize the physical limitations that begin to assert themselves in the latter parts of the experience. They give the story an unexpected layer of meaning.