The book every traveller needs on her bookshelf right now...

posted on: Thursday, 22 February 2018

Let me set the scene. I'm in St. Bart's. Ok, wait, you are going to hate me if I set the scene starting with that and you won't read any further because you'll think I'm gloating. Shit. There is no way to get around this. The scene really does start in St. Bart's. I'm there on a press trip, with four other journalists. We've flown in from Antigua, on the tiniest plane I've ever scene, where one of the journalists was terribly ill half way through the flight and the rest of us are trying to act like it's totally natural to be thrown around the sky in a tin can like a paper bag in the wind. In reality, we were all pretty much holding onto our stomachs praying we wouldn't be the next to hurl into a paper bag. Anyway, we make it to the island. We're four people that have never met each other before. We unpack our suitcases, head to dinner (served with a side of "no one can keep their eyes open because we're all so jet lagged") and agree to meet in the morning to officially kick off our tour of the islands. Before heading back to our rooms, one of the other journalist announces to the group, "is anyone up for a swim in the ocean before breakfast tomorrow." I raise my hand and agree to the early morning jaunt in the sea. 

The next morning, I meet said journalist by the water. We throw off our robes and walk towards the water in our suits. I notice a scar on the journalist's leg and she notices a scar on my shoulder. As we swim out into the warm open sea at 7:00am, we each share our stories about the numerous scars that are more or less road maps of our lives. We bob like apples and laugh. In this moment I know that this woman would be a life long friend, and one that would never ever stop with the amazing stories of what has happened and what will one day be. This is Anna Hart and, dear reader, I'm now being forced to share this amazing soul sister with the world and I couldn't be more pleased.

Just before Christmas, I went to visit Anna in Margate, where she announced to me that she was publishing a book. Now, it must be said that Anna isn't just any journalist. She is an accomplished wordsmith that, and I must be honest, totally intimidated me with her resume when I first found out I was going to meet her. She's written for The Telegraph, Vogue, Stylist, GQ, Elle, The Times, The Wall Street Journal and Conde Nast Traveller, just to name drop a few. Anna has no problem expressing herself, her opinions, or the opinions of others with the written word. So, the fact that Anna was writing a book came as no real surprise, but I was a little shocked at her decision to make it personal. 

The book is titled "Departures: A Guide to Letting Go, One Adventure at a Time." It's Anna's life, on the page. It's her life told through the adventures she has taken. From Belfast to Bali, Scotland to Singapore, it's all here. I've travelled myself with Anna, from Sri Lanka to Mexico. And throughout these adventures, she's shared a handful of stories with me. Reading about them on the page, and knowing that the stories that captivated me in the flesh were now readily available for the whole world to read gave me chills. Believe me when I say you will not believe the life Anna has had. Of course, as a travel journalist, one has adventures that are extraordinary, but Anna's adventures start long before her "job" in travel began. 

The tales themselves are at times harrowing. For example, there's the moment she nearly lost her life in Laos. I can't give anything away here without giving it all away, but this is truly one of the most terrifying stories I have ever heard. Reading it all again made me feel slightly sick at the thought that there may have never been an Anna Hart in my life at all should she not have survived the ordeal. But, never fear, as for every tale of terror there is also a story of success. 

As you read through the tales of triumph, tragedy and tearjerker moments, you will notice that Anna lays her entire self on the page. When she was first describing the book to me, I instantly stopped her mid flow and said, this is the new 'Eat Pray Love' the world has been waiting for. I think she may have cringed a little (although would never dare admit it) as I compared her work to a book that had been made into a movie starring Julia Roberts and had also become a cult classic for self helpers. Anna has, however, done something that is far richer than Eat Pray Love. Departures is an unedited, uninterrupted view of a woman's life in travel. It's the gritty realness of life that is seldom uncovered in the age of Instagram filters. That being said, you'll find just as many pinch me fabulous moments as you'd expect from a woman who travels for a living. 

If you don't believe me, just take a peek at how Anna describes her introduction to an Aperol Spritz: 

"We arrived in our rental villa in little Minori, and I realised that all the modern-day tourists and all those dead writers and movie stars, well, they weren't wrong. The Amalfi Coast is about as dramatic and beautiful as Mediterranean landscapes get, with plunging mountains, soaring cliffs, topped off with picturesque pastel-hued towns and dinky harbours. But I felt like a grey girl in a colourful world, oddly out of place in Amalfi.

Our first night, I spotted an amber-hued drink being sipped by glamorous Italian women across the terrace. What could it be? It looked like nuclear Orangina. Perhaps, if I sipped all that colour I'd feel a little bit less grey, I thought. And this is how I met Aperol Spritz.

While this is marketed as a travel book, I found that I came away with something greater than just the experience of seeing the world through the eyes of another. I came away from Departures feeling as if a bit of Anna's tenacity and fearlessness was sticking with me as I turned the last page. Anna Hart is a woman who has seen it all and is asking for more. She's telling her tale, sharing it with the world, and doing so with a appetite for life that is unprecedented. Buy this book for yourself and gift it to every woman who has ever expressed an interest in packing a bag and hitting the road. There are lessons to be learned here and stories to remember. 

Of course I am a little biased in this review, as you will have already discovered. I adore Anna Hart and have done since the first moment I met her. But, I have never steered you all in a direction I haven't been certain of. This is a book you need in your life and on your book shelf for inspiration. It's on sale on Amazon now. Order, indulge and enjoy. This is a book for every woman, whether you travel, dream of travelling, or simply enjoy a real and raw look at life through an adventurer’s eyes...

And as proof that I'm not telling tall tales, here's one of my favourite pictures of me and Anna on our travels around the globe... Anna, you are and always will be my personal hero and I secretly hope this book does get made into a movie and I get a part in it all, played by Julia Roberts of course!