3 Secrets for Planning a Unique Road Trip

As I explained earlier, we have a habit of going somewhere that is a detour from our original destination.  In this case, today, as this hits the Internet, I’m on my way to Florida. But after three days there for a wedding, Ken and I will fly to Atlanta and launch a road trip to three southern states I’ve been wanting to check off my list of state’s visited: Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina. Additionally, we’ll be spending time in Tennessee and passing through South Carolina.

As I was planning the trip, I was doing my usual frugal searches for hotels, and my usual Internet searches for interesting sites.  But then I realized that I was overlooking three perfect tools for planning the road trip.  I’ll be telling you more about how all these things worked out, but for now, here are  three secrets to planning a unique and interesting road trip.

Endless road
Endless road

1. Get Off the Highway and follow the Byways

Fortunately there is a website directing you to nationally outstanding  byways, selected not only for scenic beauty, but also for historic and cultural interest.

The official Department of Transportation site starts with a map showing the location of 150 America’s Byways. You can click on a dot on the map (almost every state), or plug in an address and find something nearby. Although the site includes a brief description of each of the featured byways, you have to go else where (click on the title of the byway) to get the details, like maps, time estimates, attractions along the way, etc.

With a site like America’s Scenic Byways, there is no excuse for sticking with the boring wide, truck-crowded freeways. That site lists not only the official Byways, other scenic roads, roads through BLM lands and Forest Service Lands, Parkways, but also All American roads.  You can browse through each category, or search by state.

And don’t forget to go to the state you are interested in. Do a search for “StateName byways” and you’ll find a treasure chest of information for the location you’re visiting.

How are we using this?  Well, I wanted to travel across just the northeast corner of Alabama, because we’re headed for Chattanooga, one of my favorite cities.  Looking at maps, I didn’t see anything very interesting in that corner of the state. However, I found not one but TWO Byways that cross that area, conveniently connecting us from Atlanta Georgia to Chattanooga.  That’s just one of the Byways in our itinerary, which I’ll be talking about.

2. Skip the Motel and try a different lodging provider

Thank goodness for motels.  When my mother was taking road trips in the 20s and 30s, she had to stay at some pretty rough places.  But after the war, in the late 40s, people hit the road in a big way, new highways were built, and motels came into being. Chain motels soon developed with dependable, cookie-cutter decor and service. But sometimes you need a change.

In Florida, we’re staying for the first time in an Air BnB facility. I’ll let you know later how it works out, but it is very conveniently located and my grand daughter who lives nearby, drove by and confirmed that it looks perfect for us.  It will be a nice break from the and get us out of the rut of taking the easy way out and booking at ubiquitous motel chains. Variety is the spice of road trips. We’re used to staying at VRBO or other apartment rentals when we’re staying for several days, but this will be only three nights.

Another lodging choice was the vary last I booked, and leads to my final tip.

 

3. Take a Break at a State Park

I’m assuming that if there are any National Parks or Historic Sites on your route, you’ll know about them and visit them.  But sometimes we forget that many states have excellent state park systems.  While they may offer active recreation like boating or water skiing on lakes and hiking or trail biking, they may also house historic sites or be located in urban areas.

The State Parks will almost certainly have picnic grounds, and you can either stop at a grocery store or pick up some deli/restaurant food and get off the road and into nature for a couple of hours when you stop to eat.

And many State Parks offer cabins, lodges, or motel rooms in addition to the expected campgrounds. In fact, we honeymooned at a state park in Ohio (a very long time ago).

So why did it take me so long to realize that instead of settling for the overpriced “cheap” motels in one area, that I should look at the state parks?  Although generally you must rent for longer than one night, it does not hurt to ask, and in this case, since it was a Sunday night, they were more than happy to put us up for the one night.  (I’ll describe the cabin later, but I’m thrilled!)

One caveat, not all states have the same quality of lodging. And just because it is a rustic cabin does not mean that it will be cheap. Because of high demand in the summer, the prices may be on  a par with one and two start hotels.

I hope you’re coming with us on this road trip. I think we’re going to have a wide array of unique experiences packed into 10 days and five states.

EXCLUSIVE Travel Memoir Excerpt: Careening Around Cairo

It is not every day that we get an exclusive look at a future best-selling travel book! I am delighted and privileged to re-introduce A Traveler’s Library contributor, Edie Jarolim, who shares with you excerpts of a chapter from her work-in-progress, a travel memoir you won’t want to miss–Getting Naked for Money.

EXCLUSIVE to A Traveler’s Library

The following is an excerpt from Getting Naked for Money: An Accidental Travel Writer Reveals All.  Please contribute to the Kickstarter campaign that will allow the book to be finished and published (see badge at the end)

***

I am a terrible Jew. This I knew from an early age. At Passover seders as far back as I can remember, I would recite the story of the Israelites’ enslavement while harboring a secret love for the land of the pharaohs. “Let my people go,” I intoned, while longing to visit Egypt.

I don’t blame the Jewish holiday for my disloyalty, although, like most kids, I found the Haggadah reading interminable. I was also a bit dubious about parts of the story that it told. My favorite food on the seder plate was charosets, a mixture of apples, walnuts, and grape juice meant to represent the mortar used at forced construction sites. If you can eat the building materials, I thought, how bad could the work be?

Nor do I blame Hollywood for my Egyptophilia, even though Cecil B. DeMille cast sexy Yul Brenner as Ramses against Charlton Heston’s buff-but-boring Moses in “The Ten Commandments.” My childhood friend Sharon and I would cross our arms and mimic the bald hunk intoning, “So let it be written. So let it be done.”

Brooklyn Museum: Relief of Queen Nefertiti Kissing One of Her Daughters. Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund.
Brooklyn Museum: Relief of Queen Nefertiti Kissing One of Her Daughters

No, I blame my mother—which maybe makes me a typical Jew after all. Every few weeks, before I was old enough to go on my own, my mother would walk with me from our apartment on Lincoln Road down Empire Boulevard to Grand Army Plaza and the Brooklyn Museum. There I came to adore the hushed, high-ceiling Egyptian halls.

I’m sure the serenity of the setting and the shared time with my busy parent, sister free, were part of the appeal. But the alternate universe showcased in those rooms, the grand kingdoms, dynasties, and mysterious hieroglyphs, also grabbed my imagination. I loved the busts with elegant headdresses and exotic names like Hatshepsut–a female pharaoh!—and the clean lines of the towering statues, representing powerful beings who transcended the messiness of everyday life. I was especially drawn to the Wilbour plaque shown above of Akhenaton and Nefertiti, a rare artist’s slab, the label said. I devoured all the books I could find about the Eighteenth Dynasty couple, and about Akhetaten, the city Akhenaten devoted to his revolutionary new religion.

All this is to say, my assignment to update Frommer’s Egypt didn’t come from out of the blue.

My interest in Egypt, always on the back burner, had returned with a mummy-like vengeance when I started working at Prentice Hall Travel (PHT). I regularly tried to convince Marilyn Wood, PHT’s editorial director, that the company needed a new, more in-depth book to supplement Frommer’s Egypt—and that I was the ideal person to write it. As far as I was concerned, there could never be too many Egypt guides.

My persistence paid off. When, in the spring of 1989, about a month after I parted ways with Rough Guides, Marilyn learned that the author of Frommer’s Egypt wanted to take a break from updating her book, she asked me if I wanted to fill in. Naturally I said yes.

***

Maybe the most memorable part of my Cairo research [for Frommer’s Egypt] was visiting the great pyramid complex at Giza.

Pictures make the necropolis look like it’s in the middle of the desert—and of course it was, at one point. Now, however, Giza is a suburb of Cairo, with the pyramids fringing its outskirts. Picture the Seventh Wonder of the Ancient World at the edge of Queens.

That didn’t detract from the impact of viewing it in the direction of the limestone bluff on which the pyramids sit–or from my excitement at seeing camels, wearing colorful, ornate saddles, clustered around the imposing structures.

I am a sucker for camels. The moment I first looked into their mischievous long-lashed eyes in a crowded Tunis market, I was hooked. There was something about the unlikeliness of their shape, the contrast between their ungainly gait and their innate dignity, that spoke to me. After years of ogling these creatures at zoos, I was excited to learn that camel rides were available at the pyramids.

The camels were all standing placidly, chewing, looking bored, as I approached. The camel drivers next to them were not nearly as placid. A tourist actually seeking out a camel ride must have been a rarity, so a group of men descended on me, pleading, “Lady, you ride my camel, she is the most beautiful and gentle. For you, not expensive.”

Overwhelmed, I finally just chose a guy with a camel that didn’t look depressed and who didn’t have a whip in his hand (the guy, not the camel).

Camels are very tall and even a kneeling one is difficult to mount; the large saddle adds to the height and is awkward to negotiate. When my chosen camel driver—I’ll call him CD—helped me up, his hand grazed my breasts, not a part of the body generally required for leverage. I told myself it was an accident and tried to focus on the fact that I was at the pyramids, about to ride a camel.

After we plodded along for about two minutes, we came to a halt, my camel having decided it was time for a bathroom break and CD having decided it was time for a sales pitch. He said, “I have authentic antiquities, not expensive for you.” I nodded and smiled blandly. “You buy?” he asked. “No, thank you,” I said.

But CD was persistent and I suspected that I would be forced to sit in the midday sun, listening to his spiel and smelling camel poop until I gave in. I looked at the statuettes he had wrapped in a cloth, and finally chose a small one for a large price. “Do not let them see it at customs,” CD warned, explaining that it was illegal to take antiquities out of the country.

“Only if they’re authentic,” I wanted to say. But CD was holding the reigns to my camel, and I really wanted to get out of there. For a change, I kept quiet.

No surprise: as CD helped me off the camel, his hand grazed my breasts again. Maybe he was trying to authenticate them.

I can’t vouch for the antiquities, but this book is the REAL DEAL–travel around the world with Edie who shares adventures from camels to insider info on the travel writing business (including the getting naked part).  If you want to hear more about Edie’s adventures as a travel writer, how about becoming a publisher by helping to finance the book? Join Edie’s KickStarter campaign.
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A Japanese WHY Dunnit and an Amazon Mystery

Destination: Japan

Book: Malice by Keigo Higashino, Shown: MacMillan Audio Book CD, Published in U.S. October, 2014; in Japan in 1996

Kego Higashino, an Edgar award winner, and super-star mystery writer in Japan, writes books that are complex intellectual puzzles with unusual structure. Readers of A Traveler’s Library –lovers of books and writing–will particularly relate to this mystery, because it involves two writers and hinges on  complexities of writing and publishing.

UNRAVELING AMAZON’s MALICE

Amazon decided to present me with more mysteries when I tried to find the Amazon page for the MacMillan Audio edition of Malice. In fact, they nearly make the CD audio book disappear.

If you are a consumer of audio books on CD , you need to know how to solve the shopping mystery that Amazon presents you with.  Since Amazon now has their own audio book program–Audible–their index of books leads with their own Kindle edition, followed by the hardback and paperback versions, then Audible. Not so incidentally, (you might think “with malice”) that leaves no space for the audio books on CD. The largest producer of audio book CDs– MacMillan Audiobooks– must be rather unhappy with this treatment.

When you go to the book’s page, you’ll see the list mentioned above and then a “see other versions” link, as though the CD versions rank right up there with the used books sold by outside vendors. This is certainly a not-so-subtle ploy for Amazon to direct audio book customers to their own Audible version.  If you prefer the digital audio book to play on some electronic device rather than a CD, you won’t even notice. But if you want a CD, and aren’t looking carefully, you may be led to assume that there is no CD for the particular book.

So–either be sure to click the “other versions” link, or start your search by typing in the book title plus Audio CD. (i.e. Malice Audio CD) You’ll find it in Books, rather than in CDs, by the way.

BACK TO MALICE, the BOOK

That little mystery out of the way, lets move on to the Japanese mystery, the twelfth in a series of Detective Kaga mysteries. (However few if any of this series have been translated into English in the U.S.)  A little-known writer of children’s books visits a friend who is a famous novelist who has assisted him in his career. In the detailed account he writes out for the police later, the little-known writer, Osamu Nonoguchi says he received a phone call from the novelist, Kunihiko Hidaka, but when he returned to the house all is dark and eventually he found his friend dead.

WHO, WHY, HOW

In a departure from familiar mystery format, we know  the WHO and HOW very early. Despite his initial pretense of being extremely helpful to the police by writing his thoughts out,  in very short order, Nonoguchi confesses to the murder. The rest of the book shows a detective, Kyochiro Kaga, looking for WHY (motive) by painstakingly searching through every detail of the confessed murderer’s life. Kaga becomes a forensic psychologist, thoroughly dissecting the psyche of murderer and murdered.

The structure of the book–always looking back at the past lives of the characters to try to find out what happened the night of the murder–means long stretches of monologue by Nonoguchi or by Kaga.  This makes the book a challenge to those who like intellectual puzzles, but a barrier to those who want action.

Many of the things I said about a previous book by Higashino apply to this one as well. You can read my review of Salvation of a Saint (released in the U.S. in 2012). In that book, we also know the killer quite early, but the question is HOW.

About the pace, I said,

…to a person used to the crowded and busy plot of an American thriller or police procedural, the novel seems as repetitive and sometimes as dull as actual police work instead of the action on steroids that we’re used to.

Also, you may have been thinking about all those names like Nonoguchi and Hidaka and Kaga and wondering how you could keep them straight if you were listening to an audio book. (My spell checker is having seizures dealing with the unfamiliar names.)  I found that the author once again (as in Salvation of a Saint) uses enough repetition to help keep the names of at least the major characters straight.  And although the reader is not the same as the earlier CD, Jeff Woodman does an excellent job of presenting a wide array of voices for both men and women.  I particularly admired his work when the detective began to interview people from the school days of the two writers. It seemed he somehow found a way to differentiate a dozen characters.

TRAVELING TO JAPAN?

peach blossoms
Peach blossoms

Is this a book for travelers? It shows you the real, contemporary Japan–which seems very much like life in America.  As I said in my former review:

The characters are … people who could be… listening to the same popular music as in the United States or Britain. So if you are looking for some exotic life form, these are not kimono-wearing women tittering behind coy fans. Instead, you get a taste of real life in present day Japan.

In Malice, we have some Cherry Trees and drinking of tea and a mention of a trip to Okinawa and another reference to a Japanese martial arts class –but not much else in the way of the images we imagine of Japan.  The author purposely strips out descriptive details of setting in order to focus on the fine points of character’s behavior.

It is unfortunate that this popular Japanese writer’s work does not get published in the United States more quickly.  Because the book is ten years old, references to electronics are dated.  Wired phones and fax machines are common instead of cell phones and someone is using a PDA.  There are other clues to its year of origin which could have been fixed if the author had worked with the translator to update it–but apparently that did not seem important.

I was excited by the first half to two-thirds of the book, but  got weary of what seemed merely to be repetitive in the middle of the book. However, a good detective keeps paying attention and does not jump to conclusions, right? Whenever I got impatient with the narrative, I reminded myself that Higashino is a tricky writer and he could be providing me clues or setting me up to believe a thoroughly unreliable narrator.

Early in the book,  I did have an inkling of what was going on and I figured it out before the detective did, but then he had to pile up a lot of proof, whereas I could just say–“Oh! Yeah! That’s it.”

So–I challenge you. Read or listen to Malice and let me know if you suspect the solution before the end.

Disclaimers

The CD illustration links to Amazon, so you won’t have to go through an investigation to find it, should you want to buy it. Although it costs you no more, I make a few cents when you buy things through my Amazon links. Thanks.

MacMillan Audio provided me with the CD for review.  While I appreciate their interest in what A Traveler’s Library has to say, a review copy  does not guarantee good reviews. I give you my honest opinion.