Guest host Kathleen Warnock and "MTV Road Trips U.S.A." contributing authors Maya Kroth and Ethan Wolff talk about an American tradition: the road trip. Wolff and Kroth share pre-departure planning advice and some great trip ideas and itineraries for exploring different parts of the country. And what road trip would be complete without a soundtrack? Our authors' reveal their favorite songs for the open road.
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Top Tips from This Podcast
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- Planning: Have an outline of where you want to go and what you want to do...but keep an open mind to spontaneity.
- Chemistry: If you're travelling with others, it's a good idea to have everybody's agenda in tune.
- Avoid Trouble: Pay attention to your water supply, and drive carefully -- especially on roads that are less maintained.
- Scenic Travel: Try avoiding the major highways for a more scenic drive.
- Get Lost: Don't be afraid to turn off the GPS and wander from your planned route.
- Music: A good playlist will go a long way towards making the trip more enjoyable.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.David Lytle: Welcome to the Frommers.com Travel Podcast. For more information on planning your trip to any one of thousands of destinations, please visit www.frommers.com.
Kathleen Warnock: Hi, and welcome to the Frommers.com Podcast. I'm Kathleen Warnock. I'm an editor with the Frommer's Travel Guides. I will be your host today. We will be talking about the MTV Travel Guides. As you may know, MTV and Frommer's have collaborated on a series of guidebooks for students and 20-somethings and some of the rest of us.
My guests today are two of the authors of the new MTV Roadtrips USA Guide, which I edited. Ethan Wolff traveled around the American Southwest on the trail of the first Americans, and Maya Kroth went on a barbeque odyssey throughout the South, and a rock and roll road trip up and down the west coast. She did the planning chapter, and if you're into planning, that's important.
So I edited these roadtrips and a whole bunch of others that cover a whole lot of the lower 48 and a little bit of Mexico. We're here to talk today with Ethan and Maya.
So welcome. Thanks for being here today.
Ethan Wolff: Thanks.
Maya Kroth: Thanks for having us.
Kathleen: All right. Let's start with a question for the both of you. Maya, what do you think, since you're the planning person, are the ingredients for a successful roadtrip?
Maya: How did you know that my first answer to that question would be, "A good plan!"
Maya: I am a big planner, so having an outline of where you want to go and what main things you want to hit, to me was really key. But on the flip side of that, I thought that having an open mind, being open to spontaneous things that aren't necessarily in your plan, is almost as important, if not more so.
I really couldn't have done either of these trips without really awesome music selections sitting in my car stereo.
Kathleen: OK. Ethan, what about you? What are your ingredients for a successful roadtrip?
Ethan: The first thing I always think about is chemistry, particularly if you have some other people along with you. It's good to have everybody's agenda more or less in the same direction.
I know one roadtrip I made, one of my traveling partners was in a real hurry to get to his destination, and the rest of us were very eager to take our time. I'm sure we irritated the heck out of each other trying to get that straight.
It's funny thinking about the planning, because a roadtrip is classically such a spontaneous experience, or designed to be spontaneous. But it really is helpful to have some good advice. I know I benefited just from going around and doing my tour.
One thing I tried to put in my chapter were good photo ops. Because it's not necessarily something that's going to be intuitive just from driving along. Sometimes you have to go a little bit off the road.
But it seems like documentation is a big part of roadtripping, or at least a classic part of roadtripping. So having some good camera or video or recording or just a notebook, something like that, to document; and then also some good advice about places you shouldn't miss as you pass through.
Kathleen: Yeah, I totally agree. I also think that, for me, the ingredient for a successful roadtrip is having a quest - whether it's a quest to go to see this band that you have always loved and you're going to drive five or six states for it, or whether you're going to tour all the parks in the National League, or something like that. Or you just want to go out and blow off as much steam as you can possibly blow off in the period of your roadtrip.
So I think that putting all those things together can really get you off to a really good time.
I'm going to follow up a little bit now on the planning chapter, because Maya wrote it. You actually gave us several personality types of the roadtrippers: the solo flyer, the explorer, the navigator, the know-it-all, the driver, and the Zen optimist.
Now you sort of hinted at this, but what's your roadtrip personality?
Maya: I don't know. I think everybody's got a little bit of each of these personalities in them, of course. For me, the dominant one would either be the driver or - I'm embarrassed to admit it - but the know-it-all, kind of. I have a hard time accepting the fact that other people might know more than I do about a certain location or alternate routes or whatever it might be.
But I definitely like to be in control. I don't like to get lost. So it's key for me to be behind the wheel and have a really good navigator sitting next to me.
Kathleen: Well, I think those are important. What about you, Ethan?
Ethan: I have definitely played all of those roles at one time or another. I think most often I end up as the navigator, which maybe ties into the desire to write travel. I don't mind telling people where to go.
Kathleen: Yeah, that makes sense. Of course, when I roadtrip, I have been queen of the bus schedules myself, because I do a lot of my roadtrips here in the Northeast. I'm also a Zen optimist, because I've been known to get on the wrong bus. So you just sort of get where you get and you start exploring.
OK. So now let's get down to some of the fun stuff from the book. As the editor, I asked you guys to come up with a trip that you'd always wanted to take and design it yourself, and then go.
So, Maya, you did a Southern barbeque roadtrip that took you from Austin, Texas, to Lexington, North Carolina, which is right outside of Charlotte.
The folks who are into barbeque take it very seriously, as I'm sure you found out. So after eating your way across eight states, what did you discover about barbeque that you didn't know before? Did you have a particularly memorable meal? Were you really tired of barbeque again by the time the trip was over?
Maya: Surprisingly, when I got home, I thought the last thing I ever wanted to do was eat a cold pork sandwich. But when we got home from the trip, the first thing that my companion and I ended up doing was going out for barbeque at home in San Diego, just to see how it compared.
I think what I learned about barbeque is that you should forget everything you think you know about barbeque, because whoever you're talking to knows better. They've got better barbeque, and their mom makes the better sauce. I don't think there really is such thing as a consensus when it comes to great barbeque.
It's all good. It's like what they say about pizza or sex. You can't go wrong with barbeque.
But that said, I think my most memorable meal was probably in Memphis, where I got a chance to get to talking with Patrick Nealy, who's the proprietor of Nealy's Barbeque in Memphis, Tennessee.
He took me back in the kitchen and showed me where they smoke the meat all night. Until like 4:00 in the morning, they're smoking ribs back there. At one point, he showed me a rack of ribs that had been just sitting on the counter in the kitchen. They do dry rub ribs, which means they don't mop their ribs with sauce.
He just grabbed a bone from the middle of the rack of ribs and just barely fiddled with it, and it just slid right out of the rack, completely clean. You know that's a good rib when it's just literally falling off the bone. Those were pretty tasty.
Kathleen Warnock: That sounds great. All right, Ethan, your trip was called On the Trail of the First Americans. It took you through the Four Corners region of the Southwest. You call Arches National Park outside of Moab, Utah, the best place to feel like you've stumbled onto the Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner set.
That's really vivid. Can you talk a little bit more about that and the landscape?
Ethan: Well, the cartoonist had to come up with those ideas from someplace, and when you land yourself in Utah, you feel like, oh, it must have been here. There's something like 2,000 arches in Moab, in Arches National Park, and all around it is really spectacular, Mars-like scenery of eroded buttes and petrified sand dunes.
It's all kind of red, orange, brown. If you see it in the morning or the afternoon, it just lights up. It's incredibly surreal, and I think maybe the most beautiful place on the planet.
Kathleen: That's fabulous. I think that touches on something that I was hoping for when I sent all of you guys out, which is places that touch you and change you. Can you talk a little bit about why you picked that part of the country, and the sort of things you were looking for when you were going there?
Ethan: I lived out there several years ago in Albuquerque, and had made some little trips up into the country. I'd really fallen in love with it. I find it very haunting. I'm from the east, and just to see that much sky or that much space and to have it be pretty empty most of the time, is very strange.
The ruins are so spectacular. I'm talking about the Native American structures that were abandoned, oh, maybe 800 years ago. They've been left in place, and the climate out there is relatively forgiving to old stone. So some places look like they just left a couple of days ago. The wood looks like it was just freshly cut. It doesn't really show any rot out there.
There's something about being in that landscape and having your normal associations stripped away. I find it really moving.
Kathleen: I think that's one of the things that you want to do on a roadtrip. You want to get away from whatever's going on in the rest of your life, strip it away, and do something else, because it allows you some perspective. At least that's my experience with roadtrips.
One of the things that I wanted to do as the editor was to give people a lot of different kinds of experiences. From stuff that involves the wide open spaces to stuff that involves, say, enclosed spaces and a lot of noise, which is my segue back to Maya.
Because you also roadtripped up and down the west coast on a rock and roll odyssey, hitting the best clubs for live music all the way from San Diego to Seattle. So can you tell us a little bit about what your favorite music town is and why? Do you have a favorite club? Did you see an absolutely brilliant show along the way?
Maya: I'm sorry, can you repeat the question? I think my hearing was permanently damaged on that trip.
Maya: The thing about the west coast is--I mean, I grew up here most of my life. So I know this part of the country probably a little bit better than other parts of the country. But there's so many great music cities here. Seattle, obviously, with the whole grunge thing, and then totally reinventing itself again with the Indy rock craze lately.
L.A.'s just got a little bit of everything. San Francisco and Portland, same thing. I mean, quirky little clubs and really dedicated people. These are the kinds of places where people will show up. They don't even know who the band is. They just show up because they know it's going to be something good. There's something about that community aspect to the rock and roll scene that really attracted me.
I'm really hard pressed to choose a favorite, but Portland is probably pretty up there. There's just so many little hole in the wall places. You don't run into a lot of chain stores or corporate concert venues or anything like that. So every experience you go to feels really intimate and one of a kind.
I got steered toward some random metal club out in this far southeast neighborhood in Portland, where all of it--it was filled with glow in the dark murals, like black light murals. The bartender, when I got there, behind the bar, he handed me a pair of 3D glasses and said, just go wander around. It's really cool, man.
That was totally not my scene, but it was such a great experience. A lot of these things, it felt like this could only happen here. That's what I liked about Portland.
Kathleen: That's cool. One of the things too, was that we wanted to make sure that people didn't get too pale on this roadtrip. Because it is up the west coast, and it is some gorgeous driving. You pointed that out a lot in your chapter as well.
What are some of the things that you saw outside of rock clubs that were most beautiful or most fun?
Maya: Oh, well, the terrain. Just the driving from L.A. to San Francisco. A lot of people take the most direct route, which is the I-5. Really not scenic. Really not fun. So I'd highly recommend driving the coast if you're doing that. Just for the ocean, and you get to drive through some beautiful wine country up in Santa Barbara and that area.
Then particularly striking is extreme northern California, between San Francisco and Portland. There is Mount Shasta. Lake Shasta is up there, which was just some of the most stunning vistas. I had to stop three or four times and just take some breaths of fresh air. Refreshingly non-L.A. air.
It was gorgeous. There's forest. The most untouched wilderness I think I saw was in that stretch, for sure.
Kathleen: Wow, that sounds awesome.
I'm going to be get back to you for a minute, Ethan. Because in your chapter, you ran into a few bumps in the road, so to speak. You ended up with a few of these little boxes that we have in each chapter called Uh-oh!
Uh-oh is sort of a warning about something to pay attention to. Or it could lead you down the wrong path or cost you some money or cost you some time.
So tell us a little bit about some of the things that you would highly recommend, especially when you're traveling, say, in the parks of the far west.
Ethan: Yeah, I was definitely a magnet for disaster. I don't know. I could justify it by saying at least I knew I'd have something to write about, but in retrospect, my wallet and I probably would have preferred not running into that much trouble.
I was two hours into my trip when I destroyed my rental car. I was going down a dirt road that was not well maintained. It was partly flooded out. I'm just much more used to the New York subway than anything like that.
I bottomed it out. I think I knocked the radiator offline. Whatever it was, I was probably 100 miles from the nearest tow truck or gas station. Everyone was very helpful, which is certainly something you find in the Southwest.
But I would say, as a precaution, just drive very slowly, unless you've got some crazy Hummer or something else. Because the roads out there are not like they are back east.
Another piece of advice I learned the hard way, is really pay attention to your water supply. I know this is completely self-evident, particularly if you're out in the desert in the summertime.
I ended up in Natural Bridges, which is a gorgeous place. I didn't know anything about it. I just saw on the map that there was a driving loop. So I figured, OK, I'll just take the loop and see everything there is to see.
But I ended up at one little point where you could get closer to an Indian ruin. I wanted to see it up close. I went down the trail. I had maybe a little thing of water in my pocket, and nothing more.
I just kept going, because it was one of the most beautiful valleys I had ever seen. It just kept drawing me in, and I kept wanting to get closer to this ruin.
By this point it was midday. One of the other troubles you run into out west is that it's inverted hiking a lot of the time. You're going down into canyons. So the real work is hauling yourself back up again, uphill.
So at any rate, I ended up staying hours past the time I had meant to stay out. I didn't have any food. I was coming up that hill with the sun beating right on me. I could just feel the air sucking all the water out of my body.
Something like that is extremely easy to avoid. There was water at the visitor's center. All I had to do was--I had water sitting in the car. I had Gatorade. I had trail mix. I had some of those bars. So it very easily could have been avoided if I had just taken Maya's advice and done a little bit of planning.
Kathleen: OK. Well, that's good to know. It's one of the things people can pick up when they read through the different roadtrips that people have.
We're getting ready to wind it up here, and one question I'd like to ask both of you. If you're addressing say, the reader who has read the book and says, you know what? I want to do this. What's the advice you would give them as they walk out the door for their own roadtrip? We'll start with you, Maya.
Maya: Again, I think that having just a good mental balance between being open to spontaneity while at the same time sticking more or less to your plan. That's going to have you the least stressed out and the most able to just enjoy the things that you stumble upon when you're exploring a different part of the country.
I really can't stress enough the importance of going to the bathroom before you hit the road.
Maya: There's nothing more annoying than having to stop 16 times because everybody forgot to go.
Kathleen: I think that's a very wise piece of advice. Now what about you, Ethan, other than not bottoming your car out in the first two hours of the trip?
Ethan: Well, among that, I definitely would say, don't be afraid to get lost. Don't be afraid to turn off the GPS if you have it. Although I agree with Maya that it can be lifesaving to have a bunch of good music with you.
Sometimes, turn off the music you brought and turn on the local radio. Because I find that sometimes it's the really unexpected times that the character of a local place will seep in. To do that, sometimes you do need to get off the plan a little bit.
Kathleen: Yeah. I'll ask you each one more question, also starting with Maya. I had you write up playlists in your chapters. So give us your favorite roadtrip song. You don't have to say why, but you can tell us a little bit about it. Maya?
Maya: No question. "Out of Gas" by Modest Mouse.
Kathleen: Hopefully you didn't run out of gas.
Maya: I didn't. But that's just one band. All of their songs are characterized by being on the road and what you see on the road. It really helps get you in the roadtrip mindset. I was listening to a lot of Modest Mouse.
Kathleen: Oh, that's cool. Ethan, what about you?
Ethan: For me it's Bob Dylan's "One More Cup of Coffee," which is also covered by the White Stripes. It's about taking one more cup of coffee before going down to the valley below.
I think it's really a haunting tune. Particularly in the desert, I think you really like to have the more drawn out, haunting songs. They seem to match. It's either that or blasting Led Zeppelin. Both seem to work for me.
Kathleen: Yeah. When I'm actually doing a roadtrip in a car, it's not a roadtrip unless we hear Joan Jett and the Blackhearts' "Light of Day, " which was of course written by Bruce Springsteen.
I really thank you both for coming in off the road and telling us about your stuff. I expect you'll both be hitting the road again soon, and I expect I will too. But I'm really glad you came and joined us today. I'd like to thank you.
Let me tell you a little bit more about the MTV Roadtrips USA Guide, which is coming out very shortly. We already have the MTV Guides to Italy, Ireland, Europe and Spain that are out there right now, and you will see some more MTV destinations in the months ahead.
So Ethan and Maya, it's been great talking to you. Thank you so much for being here.
Join us next week for another conversation about All Things Travel. I'm Kathleen Warnock, and I'm hitting the road.
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