1. Where are you going did you go?
I went to Florence, and Paris in 2008, then continued the Not-So-Grand Tour in 2009, visiting Amsterdam, Brussels, Berlin, Munich, Zurich, Vienna, Venice, Rome, and Madrid.
2. Dude, that's such a lame list--so obvious and touristy.
Yeah. That's the point.
3. And you're using some old guidebook or something?
Right. I'm using a 1963 copy of Arthur Frommer's Europe on Five Dollars a Day, plus the 40-year-old letters of my mother, who was one of the original hippie backpackers, doing the Grand Tour for 10 weeks in 1967. She and my father--who was back home in Minneapolis--corresponded every few days and have kept every last letter and postcard. I'm trying to see how far I can get using these documents and nothing else.
4. What are the rules of the game? Like, you're only staying in places that were open in the 1960s and you're wearing vintage clothes and you're not using the internet and you can't even use words like "internet" because it didn't exist back then?
Er, not quite. This is not a reenactment. As evidenced by the presence of this blog and my web site, I'm not actually trying to be 100 percent old-fashioned. For starters, that would be impossible: I couldn't, for example, adhere to a five-dollars-a-day budget today (unless I were sleeping in ditches and eating only scraps from dumpsters ... but Arthur Frommer doesn't give any tips for that). So, yeah, if you want to be a stickler, I guess I'm cheating and not taking the idea as far as it could go. Apologies.
I'm trying to get around using my old guidebook and my mother's letters as much as possible, with other, modern info--e.g. current train timetables--acting as a supplement when necessary. But no modern guidebooks. No internet research. None of the meticulous planning that I usually undertake before even walking across the street. I'm keeping myself willfully ignorant--if I see an article about a city I'll be visiting, I don't read it. If you have tips about where to go, I don't want them.
Well, why not? You've heard of information overload? This is my attempt to get away from it for once. Willful ignorance can lead to some problems, obviously, but it also reintroduces surprise, wonder, and serendipity--three things that get lost all too often in the modern travel experience. If you've planned your journey down to nanosecond, down to the vista (and scoured Flickr to find the precise angles that make that vista look the prettiest), and you've read all the reviews on TripAdvisor, and you've left nothing to chance ... then why travel at all?
In short, I wanted to get out of my comfort zone (usually I'm kind of a control freak), and this seemed like an interesting way to do it.
I also wanted to connect the dots between my mother's era of travel and my own, and to see if there were, in fact, any stories left to tell on that all-too-beaten path.
For a further explanation, watch my audio slide show. Two minutes--short!
6. Sounds like an obnoxiously zany stunt. Why didn't you just spend a year in a Mediterranean village or do something truly adventurous like skateboarding across the Sahara ... like all the other, normal travel writers?
Well, I didn't want to be like all the other travel writers. I'd noticed that there hasn't been a lot written about the beaten path--many people seem to think that there's nothing interesting to see or do there, that it's only for the tacky, unenlightened tourists, that there are no stories left to tell. I wanted to find out if this was true. And I wanted to document a travel experience that covered territory that is familiar to the broader population--more familiar than the epic treks and year-in-remote-village tales that populate the travel lit canon--but did so in a unique way.
Using the 1963 guidebook, along with my mother's letters, seemed like an interesting way to gain insight into how the travel experience has changed in the last generation--how the beaten path got so beaten. I wanted to use my own (mis)adventures as a lens into what it means to be a traveler today.