My Perfect Adventure
The Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building may be on your list if you’re visiting New York for the first time, but how about Billy Joel’s high school in Long Island? Probably not, but if you talk to Robert Reid, a front man for Lonely Planet in the United States, you might just be convinced to expand your itinerary.
Of course, as the guidebook giant’s U.S. travel editor, Reid can tell you a lot about major attractions like Lady Liberty, too. Since joining the Lonely Planet team 13 years ago, he has traveled the world and written a couple dozen guidebooks, and today he frequently discusses travel trends for national media, including NBC, CNN, and MSNBC. But catch up with Reid and you’ll see he’s more of a champion for lesser-known, quirky destinations, such as streets with bizarre names or a rock star’s high school—spots which might not seem like must-sees but help give a city its character. He highlights some of these destinations in a series of short homemade videos he produces for Lonely Planet; in one episode he explores Long Island by using Billy Joel’s lyrics as a guide, and in another he travels with a Monopoly board to Atlantic City to visit the color-coded properties in real life.
Here Reid tells us what he wants to do during “moose month;” how a kind old man helped him fall in love with a Burmese city; and why he likes to side with the underdogs, especially when they lose.
Describe your perfect day, from dawn 'til dusk. Where would you be, who would you meet, and what would you do?
I often travel alone, so I’ll go with a perfect travel day in some random place. Definitely it starts with coffee on a lively square of a walking town. I’d walk up a hill or tower for a view and then have another coffee in another square. I’d shop for stationary items, new pens and diaries, and probably get a couple I really don’t need to add to the pile. I’d get a bike and ride a flat leafy path along a river for a few miles, then get a sandwich, some soup or curry in a public market with counter seats. I’d daydream about what life would be like in the place, and stop in realtor windows to see how much apartments cost in the center. I’d chase down some sort of history in the place I read about before—the setting of a painting, or more likely a street name dropped in a ‘70s rock song, or a funny named street I noticed on a city map. Then I’d have a nicer meal for dinner and see some music or a local sporting event. If I were lucky, I’d witness those moments when locals forget where they are and get enveloped by pure joy. I feel it too, seeing it.
If you could travel somewhere you've never been, where would you go and why?
There at least 100 answers to this, so I'll opt this time for something relatively close and accessible. I'd love to go canoeing in Ontario's Algonquin Provincial Park for a week during May, a.k.a. “moose month.” To me, moose are the bulldogs of the wild: every time you see one, it just makes you a little happier. And I often prefer moving when traveling, so if I had a chance to slowly drift through the woody rivers, looking for antlers and camping in the trees.... Yes. I'd like to do that.
Where is the best place you've ever visited? What made it so special?
It's hard to give a gold medal to one of so many great experiences in travel. I love Mexico. I love Vietnam. I love Bulgaria and London, and seeing redwoods and walking tallgrass prairies in the middle of nowhere. For now, though, I'll say Mrauk U, Burma. It's an ancient Rakhaing capital near the Bangladesh border. You get there by a flight to Sitwe, then a five-hour boat ride with rolly polly hills in the distance, and then finally you reach Mrauk U, where villagers have goat herds and plots of vegetables in simple hut-like homes amid a site of hundreds of temples that span centuries. People are wonderful there. One old man, shirtless and wearing a skirt-like longyi, chased me down on my $1 rental bike, yelling “yo yo.” When I turned, I found he was holding a 100 kyat note that had fallen out of my pocket; it was worth less than 10 cents. Angkor Wat and Bagan (in Burma) are great archeological sites, but Mrauk U is still alive—with life today still running alongside the site itself. And that was the best part.
If you could have lunch with any adventurer, explorer, or athlete, who would it be and why?
Of all time? If so, I'd eat with Robert Louis Stevenson. The author of Treasure Island, he was a tiny Scottish guy who had long hair and wore velvet jackets, and he was much more than just a pirate guy. He led an incredibly adventurous life—his travels went far beyond the usual Victorian-era itinerary. He honeymooned in an abandoned California mine, roamed the South Pacific in a sailboat, lived (and died) in Samoa, canoed across Belgium and France, and hiked with a donkey in Languedoc-Roussillon, a part of France that's still seen as off-the-beaten track 140 years later. I see him as sort of the patron saint of travel. With his donkey in the Cevennes, he discovered he travels “for travel’s sake,” not necessarily getting anywhere. This is the sort of journey-over-destination travel creed people are still discovering. And he may have been the first to note it. Plus, I went to Stevenson Elementary in Tulsa, Oklahoma; maybe he'd get a kick out of that.
What's something you can't travel without? And why do you need it?
We always forget, but there's very little we really need. For me, though, it's mandatory to have a sturdy notebook with college-rule lines and an unartful cover, as well as a really good pen or two. Sometimes you can't find them locally—though I always try to use a local diary to document a trip. I carry it wherever I go and seriously guard it more carefully than my passport.