Travel Blog: News and Briefs
by Eva Holland | 03.17.15 | 7:26 AM ET
The common road-tripper’s wisdom tells us to steer for America’s secondary highways to really see the country—and doing so has resulted in travel writing classics like William Least Heat Moon’s Blue Highways. But over at MapQuest, Robert Reid argues that we shouldn’t give up on the interstate so fast. “No interstate can outrun what’s outside the window—a desert, a Rockie, a swamp, a beach, or witness that change in lighting of a southwestern dusk, or the size of a western sky, or even the steamy air in a southern night,” Reid writes.
He’s ranked every interstate in the system on a combination of traffic levels, thematic or regional cohesion, and the overall “joy of the ride.” The result is worth a read.
by Eva Holland | 01.30.15 | 9:18 AM ET
The long-awaited film adaptation of Bill Bryson’s travel classic, “A Walk in the Woods,” has landed—it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah last week. It stars Robert Redford and Nick Nolte as Bryson and Katz, and The Hollywood Reporter calls it “a fun, geriatric version of Wild.” Here’s reviewer Todd McCarthy:
Anyone expecting this epic journey to result in profound insights into the human condition will be disappointed; at a certain point, whether the men reach the physical end of the trail or just hop off when they feel they’ve done enough, the hike will end but life will continue. The film is equally unpretentious, not posing as something it isn’t but, at the same time, reminding that there are options, including temporary ones like a jaunt in the mountains, that can represent breaks from the routine and put you in a different place mentally as well as physically.
by Eva Holland | 01.29.15 | 8:09 AM ET
The company behind everyone’s favorite in-flight catalogue filed for bankruptcy last week. It’s not 100% clear yet if this spells the end for SkyMall’s presence on our flights—a Shark Tank savior may be riding to its rescue—but the Washington Post’s Paul Farhi went ahead and wrote an obituary anyway:
SkyMall was never the first thing you grabbed on a long, dull flight. It was a surrender, coming somewhere over Wyoming, after you’d been softened up by the lulling rhythms of the airline’s official in-flight magazine (“Walt Disney: Man of Vision,” “The San Antonio You Don’t Know,” etc.). It was always there, tucked behind the barf bag and the laminated safety card. Its glossy pages suggested the end limits of material excess. It was never about what you needed, or even about what you’d thought you wanted. SkyMall moved to the apex of the commercial value chain—way past food, shelter and decent clothing—to a capitalist Valhalla of the sublime and the ridiculous.
A few years back, World Hum writer Bill Donahue went to Phoenix to explore SkyMall headquarters. Here’s hoping the catalogue pulls through.
by Eva Holland | 10.29.14 | 11:22 AM ET
The latest edition of the annual “Best American Travel Writing” anthology series landed in bookstores this month, and it looks to be full of good stuff, including stories from heavyweights like David Sedaris, Michael Paterniti, and Colson Whitehead.
Two World Hum stories are included this time around: Andrew McCarthy’s Clear-Eyed in Calcutta, and In the Abode of the Gods, by Jeffrey Tayler. David Farley’s A Sort of Happy Ending was included in the notable selections, and World Hum contributors Tom Swick, Tony Perrottet, Frank Bures and Doug Mack were also honored in the book for work published elsewhere.
Congrats to everyone who was included.
by Eva Holland | 10.21.14 | 7:05 AM ET
It’s been more than two and a half years since Michael Scott Moore, the writer best known for the surf book Sweetness and Blood, was abducted in Somalia while reporting on piracy there. Late last month, he was finally released and sent home.
Moore is a World Hum contributor and a past interview subject. He has yet to speak or write publicly about his ordeal, but Outside has taken a long look at his captivity and broader debates about how best to respond to kidnappings for ransom.
Needless to say, we’re relieved he’s been freed.
by Pam Mandel | 08.26.14 | 9:36 AM ET
A flat of Top Ramen was essential gear during my “living out of a car for months on end” days. Prior to that, ramen was my college survival food of choice. It was cheap, easily supplemented with veggies, and required no complicated kitchen equipment. Ramen was what car campers and poor students ate, in quantity. Affordable, fast, uncomplicated. And, it turns out, culturally significant.
From Pacific Standard:
George Solt’s The Untold History of Ramen is an attempt to show how the dish—hot broth, wheat noodles, and (usually) pork—has become part of Japan’s identity and an international success. Ramen is a steaming bowl of paradox: a Chinese import now considered quintessentially Japanese both at home and abroad, and a workingman’s comfort food that has been refined into haute cuisine among the young and hip. Ramen shops have become a signature of the Japanese urban landscape. The country has over 35,000 of them, including at least four within a five-minute walk of my suburban Tokyo apartment.
Ramen is all the rage in the U.S., too. Ramen cookbooks are finding their way onto bookstore shelves and high-end ramen places are fast becoming as popular as the cheap Japanese noodle joints that crowd university neighborhoods. Eater, The New York Times, The Huffington Post and Buzzfeed have all run features on ramen’s hotness with the hip.
Of course, many people got their introduction to ramen from Cup Noodles. The humble Styrofoam cup now has its own museum in Yokohama, Japan, where you can trace its history and make your own takeaway serving of instant chicken ramen. From budget eats to museum souvenir—a fine illustration of ramen’s rags to riches glory.
And in case you’re wondering… warehouse pricing for a flat of Cup Noodles? About eight bucks.
by Pam Mandel | 07.29.14 | 11:04 AM ET
I love stories about complicated cultural identity issues. What’s at the intersection of religion and nationality? What happens when you add ethnicity to that question? How do people who find themselves in two not-quite-compatible subcultures reconcile the conflicting ideas, not just in their society, but within themselves? That’s why I liked this somewhat academic read about how some Armenians and Georgians are adopting American Evangelical religions—and struggling with the implications of what it means to leave traditional Orthodoxy behind.
But the biggest challenge for those seeking to convert others may be reconciling converts’ faith with their ethnic identity. Many of Pogosyan’s countrymen see those who leave the Apostolic Church as less Armenian. He takes pains to emphasize the long-standing relationship between Armenia and the LDS church, which first took hold in the Armenian diaspora in 19th-century Constantinople, as well as the increasing number of foreign missionaries of Armenian descent who have come to their ancestral homeland to serve. He is also careful to stress the cultural similarities between Armenia and the LDS church. “We’re very big on family values in Armenia,” he says, making the LDS church here a perfect fit. Ultimately, his faith has made him more Armenian, not less. It has strengthened his relationship with his family, his local community. “It has made me a better citizen.”
Read the entire story here.
by Pam Mandel | 07.15.14 | 5:47 PM ET
Sometimes, when you’re out road-tripping, all your radio gets is country music. And sometimes, you just give in to whatever that turns out to be. I started laughing at the first chorus of this tune and made a note to look it up as soon as I got home. The video? Even funnier than the song.
All my flights are just like this.
by Jim Benning | 07.11.14 | 11:19 AM ET
The new film based on Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling memoir, “Wild,” doesn’t hit theaters until December, but the trailer was just released. The film stars Reese Witherspoon. It looks promising, doesn’t it?
By the way, the song featured here is Beck’s “Turn Away.” Great choice.
A few of our favorite related tweets:
by Pam Mandel | 07.11.14 | 10:41 AM ET
According to Know Your Meme, the term “Columbusing” was coined by College Humor in a satirical video in which a white guy explains to his black friend that he’s “discovered” the bar where the black friend has been hanging out. “You can’t discover some place that people have already been to first,” argues the black guy. The white guy persists: “Yes, I can, that’s exactly what Columbus did.” It’s funny—and painful. (You can watch the College Humor video here.)
An ironic follow-up: NPR appears to have Columbused Columbusing. In a more serious take, “Columbusing: The Art of Discovering Something That is Not New,” Brenda Salinas asks when cultural appropriation is—and is not—okay.
Buzzfeed Food published an article asking, “Have you heard about the new kind of pie that’s all the rage lately?” It’s a hand pie, a little foldover pie that you can fit in your hand. They have flaky crusts and can be sweet or savory. You know, exactly like an empanada, a Latin American culinary staple.
On face value, it seems stupid to get worked up over an empanada. I mean, it’s just a pastry, right? But “discovering” empanadas on Pinterest and calling them “hand pies” strips empanadas of their cultural context. To all the people who grew up eating empanadas, it can feel like theft.
She suggests people—travelers and otherwise—ask themselves a few questions to be sure they’re not wantonly Columbusing:
Who is providing this good or service for me?
Am I engaging with them in a thoughtful manner?
Am I learning about this culture?
Are people from this culture benefiting from my spending money here?
Are they being hurt by my spending money here?
I’d add “What happened here?” and “Where did this idea originate?”
The cure for “Columbusing”? Curiosity.
by Pam Mandel | 06.23.14 | 2:45 PM ET
I didn’t know Andrew Evans when he set out to take the bus to Antarctica. By the time he’d been there and back, we were friends, making plans to meet on stopovers and detours. Now, we trade travel stories and advice, send each other postcards and chat online. But before all that, he was a voice in 140 characters on Twitter under the name@Bus2Antarctica. He was on an adventure I wanted to be a part of. I remember when he posted a picture of himself at a city bus stop with his pack. He was serious; he really was taking the bus all the way from Washington DC to the tail end of the planet. I was hooked, as were thousands of others who tagged along for the ride.
Because his travel stories brought me such joy, my first reaction on learning yesterday that he was going on hiatus was this: Noooooooooo!
As he wrote:
It’s impossibly hard to step away from a dream job that I built from scratch, but after nearly five years on the road, I have decided to take a sabbatical from this blog and its accompanying lifestyle. Over the next year, I intend to write my next book and spend a lot more time with my dog.
Andrew’s Bus2Antarctica project wasn’t the first time someone had chronicled a travel experience on Twitter, but it may be the first instance of a major travel publisher—National Geographic—putting its eggs in a basket that carried a mere 140 characters. Andrew’s ability to both be present in his travels and to share them in little haiku-like snapshots enchanted his followers. We wanted desperately to know what was going to happen next. Twitter was still a mystery to many of us when Andrew starting using it to share his adventures. He showed us how we could use this medium for maximum impact.
I’m one of many who, after seeing his penguin photos, asked if he could please bring me a penguin chick. When we met for the first time—after a series of missed connections— he handed me two fluffy little penguin plush toys. “This one is named Frida,” he said, “and you’ll have to name the other one.” I’d been considering a trip to Antarctica but I was hesitant. I get terribly seasick. We’d been trading email about the trials of crossing the Drake, but Andrew wouldn’t hear of my staying home. “You’re going,” he said, “and you should take them with you. You need mascots.” I went, and in one of those funny travel coincidences, I crossed paths with Andrew in Santiago, Chile, where I’d stopped over on my way back from Antarctica. We went for ice cream at an upscale shopping mall. “You were right,” I said. He did not say, “I told you so.”
Heather on the path/ Where the mountains disappear/ Ever-changing clouds.—Isle of Sky, Scotland
Another soft yawn of the leopard’s jaws, though it looks like she’s laughing at the funniest joke in the world. —Londolozi Game Reserve, South Africa
Andrew took us all over the world—to the middle of the Atlantic and up Kilimanjaro and, most recently, to the heart of Nashville. When he wasn’t on Twitter, he wrote for his blog or for the magazine, National Geographic Traveler. But Twitter was where we could always find him. A guy with more than 30,000 followers and often in demand, he made time for fourth graders, grown-ups with a sense of adventure, and like-minded friends. We can still find him on Twitter, though we’re more likely now to see him posting photos of his dog’s quizzical face—or maybe we’ll hear about his progress on the book we all want him to write.
Andrew’s (hopefully temporary) goodbye to his readers was touching and personal.
A story isn’t a story until somebody listens, so thank you all so much for listening and following my travels. I believe strongly in Tim Cahill’s sentiment that, “A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” Though I lost count after the first million miles, I remember all of my friends around the world, even those I knew briefly—sitting next to me on a train, behind the bar, or chatting around a campfire.
From the bottom of my dingy backpack, thank you. Thanks for reading, commenting and encouraging me in my work. I am lucky to have never been lonely on the road, because I’ve always had you with me.
No, Andrew. Thank you.
by Pam Mandel | 06.17.14 | 12:15 PM ET
Dressing the part of your favorite traveler—fictional or otherwise—is a fun concept. Consider the crumpled linen of “Our Man in Havana” or Miss Lucy’s Edwardian ruffles in “A Room with a View.” When the trend and fashion site Who What Wear published a piece on how to do exactly that, I wondered what the fashionistas advised. And hey, they mashed it up with a travel-centric summer reading list. Great idea.
We’ve heard that escapism can be a vice, but we’re ignoring the professionals for now and using our summer reading to transport ourselves to coastal Scotland, 1950s Paris, and the high seas (just to name a few) via a few of our favorite books. Even better? We’re taking style notes from these classic tales and are fully dressing the part.
It took only two outfits for my sarcastic side to kick in. For “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Harper Lee’s classic about racism in the 1930s American South, the site recommends a $295 leather backpack. Where is the ham costume worn by Scout for a Halloween pageant in the 1962 movie? By the time I got to Kerouac ($9 for “On the Road,” $588 for a pair of shorts), I’d had enough.
I reread “On the Road” during a recent trip to California. At the beginning of the book, Kerouac—or rather, Sal Paradise— makes much of the fact that his feet are wet and cold thanks to his cheap espadrilles. Sal never has enough gear, and at one point, fellow hitchhiker Eddie makes off with one of Sal’s only shirts. When I read the book in my early 20s, I was taken with the free-spirited nature of it. Reading it again, I thought about the hard travel Kerouac describes and how exhausting being cold and hungry so often would have been.
Plus, Sal Paradise would kick you in the junk for blowing close to $600 on shorts. He’d spend that money on booze and books. Let me know when there’s a guide to drinking like your favorite literary character—that’s an idea I can get behind.
(Never mind. It exists. If you need me, I’ll be at the bar reading “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Singapore Sling, if you’re wondering.)
by Pam Mandel | 06.12.14 | 10:28 AM ET
Six sites in Syria are listed as World Heritage sites and 12 more have been nominated. The World Heritage Foundation lists Damascus as “the oldest capital of the world” and “the cradle of historical civilizations.” Descriptions of Syria’s other cultural wonders are equally lofty—Palmyra has been settled since prehistory, the minarets in Bosra are the oldest in the world. Little wonder travelers want to visit Syria. It’s a cultural crossroads rich in history, home to a spectacular array of archeological wonders. But there’s one minor issue with visiting the country: For about three years now, Syria has been in the grip of a devastating civil war.
This is no deterrent to the Syrian Ministry of Tourism (sorry, no link, their site sets off a virus warning). It launched a new campaign designed to convince travelers that Syria is a safe destination. The New Republic points out how Syria’s tourist sites have been affected by the conflict. For example:
In Homs, site of that fabled “prosperous tourist season,” Jabhat al-Nusra continues to carry out bombings that have left dozens dead. In Hama, the regime is encouraging tourism while it is allegedly using chemical weapons, especially chlorine gas
Homs was under siege by Bashar al-Assad’s government for nearly three years, The New Republic posits that a tourism campaign to the region is more about showing who’s in control than about improving the country’s devastated economy.
And this story on Fox describes the issues one might encounter when making a hotel reservation:
No one denies that logistics are difficult for holiday-makers. Hotel reservations, for example, can be iffy. The other day a band of foreign jihadists blew up Aleppo’s Carleton Citadel Hotel, drastically reducing the supply of five star accommodations in Syria’s fabled second city.
Difficult logistics indeed. The campaign overlooks the tragedy of nearly 10 million displaced Syrians. The cost of war on Syria’s precious historical sites is heartbreaking, but the toll on human lives is incalculable.
More than a decade ago, I was invited to tag along on a friend’s visit to Syria and I hesitated, nervous about my nationality, my gender, my religious upbringing. “Propaganda,” insisted my friend, “you’ll be fine.” The pro-tourism campaign is propaganda, too, of a very different kind. I prefer the other flavor. I might have needed a head scarf to show respect, but a flak jacket? Not so much so.
I deeply regret not going while I had the chance.
by Jim Benning | 06.09.14 | 6:08 PM ET
This Louis CK rant isn’t new, but it never gets old, either. As one person commented: “They should play this looped in the terminals and on the aircraft all day 24/7.”
by Eva Holland | 03.13.14 | 12:16 PM ET
Journalist and travel writer Matthew Power died this week in Uganda while on assignment for Men’s Journal. He was believed to have collapsed from heatstroke while following an explorer who was attempting to hike the length of the Nile. Matt was 39.
I’ve been writing these brief, occasional obituary posts for World Hum for more than six years now, but this is the first time I’ve written about someone I’ve known personally. I first met Matt at a New York City launch party for “The Best American Travel Writing 2009”—he read his wonderful Harper’s story, Mississippi Drift. The way I remember it, I was too shy and intimidated to introduce myself. But when we reconnected a couple of years later he remembered meeting me, so I must have worked up the nerve. I went home that night and looked up his website, and decided that his career and his writing were my ideal—something to aspire to.
More recently, Matt became one of the most important people I turned to as a freelance writer for advice or help. He connected me with his editors, offered suggestions on pitching, even turned over some of his notes once when I was working on a story similar to something he’d covered years ago. More generally, he helped me believe that I was capable of doing the type of ambitious feature writing I wanted to do. He was always kind, generous and supportive beyond all my expectations, and I do not exaggerate when I say that I don’t think I would be where I am as a writer without him. Incredibly, over the last two days I’ve watched my experience echoed by dozens of other young writers across the internet—the word “generous” might be the most common descriptor. It’s hard to understand how he got his own work done, considering how much time he must have spent helping the rest of us.
Compared to his family and close friends, I didn’t know Matt well. But it’s rare to have someone come into your life and then go out of his way to help make it better, and Matt was that someone for me. It’s clear from the response to his death that he had that same outsized impact on so many of the lives he touched. He’ll be missed.
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