I think it was the American author Paul Gallico who once wrote something along the lines of “When I am making no progress with my writing I always manage to convince myself that I would do better if I were in Switzerland. Of course once there and hitting the same problem I become convinced that where I really need to be is New York or London or Paris. Even while making the decision I know it is false but it keeps hope alive and gives one a great excuse for travelling.”
I’ve never needed an excuse for travelling (the only need has been time and money) but I can sympathise with Gallico. The first urge when you’re struggling with a piece of writing is to think of all the different circumstances which might make it easier – better weather, less pressure, a new computer, house to yourself and so on. All false – if you want to write it, if you need to write it, then you will write it.
However, when you do travel – especially for a long period – it is notable how easy it is to solve problems that were defeating you back home, problems ranging from how to re-build the kitchen, to the ideal plot for a short story or how to get your email Inbox under control. While you’re away these problems are easy to solve because they are abstract, there is nothing you can do about them until you get home so you can find theoretical answers that make you quite proud.
Of course when you do get back home reality kicks in and unless you’re careful you can find yourself back at Stage 1, perhaps even more disillusioned because somewhere in your head you thought everything was sorted.
Of course none of this should ever prevent you travelling – because travel is inspiring – and above all don’t let the thoughts of abstract problems spoil the pleasure and experience of travel itself. With that in mind I have compiled the…
Bartlett/Palmer 10 Top Tips for Crossing America
- Keep a diary written and/or recorded. You think you will remember the details but you won’t. A small recorder helps you note interesting/funny things as you come across them such as this sign outside a church: “Lord, make me as good as my dog thinks I am”.
- Avoid the Interstates and keep to the back roads. Takes longer, but you see the real America not just large trucks.
- Do NOT eat in George & Nick’ Steakhouse in Centreville, Iowa unless you like your meat frazzled to several inches beyond its normal life.
- Never pass a petrol pump (gas station) without checking how far it is to the next one. It’s worth stopping anyway as most of them also sell pretty good coffee.
- Do NOT stay in Motel 6 in Eureka, California. (However, Motel 6 in Boisie, Idaho is excellent).
- When in Custer City, South Dakota you must visit the Dark Horse saloon. 100 different beers – 24 of them on tap – and steaks to die for.
- If you’re running short of clean clothes, check that your chosen motel has a guest laundry BEFORE handing over your credit card.
- Do NOT ignore signs in National Parks that tell you not to molest the animals – just hope that someone has given the Bears the same instruction.
- Never turn down the chance to talk to people you meet. Casual conversations in bars, motels, restaurants, filling stations, supermarkets, museums, roadside junctions, ferries, anywhere your wandering takes you are ultimately going to be more satisfying than any view of rivers, mountains or wildlife, however spectacular and memorable they may be. (In Red Lodge, Montana, we met Allen and Linda. Allen is a lawyer and defined a self-employed person as “Someone who can decide how many hours he works – on Sundays”)
- Stay flexible and trust your instincts. If you come across something that looks or sounds interesting, then it probably is interesting. Give it a go.
Above all, (yes I know this is No. 11), have fun…!