Route 66 Polaroid Project Aims To Capture The Mother Road The Old-Fashioned Way

Route 66, PolaroidThere have been a lot of cool Kickstarter Projects in recent months, but this one will warm the heart of anyone who likes a good old-fashioned road trip. The Route 66 Polaroid Project is just what it says on the tin: a plan to drive the length of the famous highway taking Polaroid snapshots all the way.

Eric and Sarah are getting married in June and they’re heading down The Mother Road for their honeymoon. They’re going to be bringing along several Polaroid cameras to document their journey.

As they explain on their Kickstarter page, “Over the past year, we’ve set aside our digital cameras in favor of vintage Polaroid cameras. These gadgets hearken back to a simpler time when you’d cock the camera, take the shot, yank the picture out of the camera, wait a couple of minutes, peel it, let it dry and then *presto* you’d have your photo! OK, maybe it wasn’t simpler, but there was a certain almost instant gratification to it.”

It turns out Fuji still makes film for the ColorPack Polaroid cameras, and Eric and Sarah want to share their photos with you. If you back them for $10, you get a unique Polaroid shot sent directly to you from a town along the road with a description of the place written on the back. Higher-level sponsors get more photos.

Eric also runs the Civil War Daily Gazette blog, an addictive site giving a day-by-day account of the war 150 years later. Route 66 passes by several Civil War battlefields and you can bet he’ll be taking snapshots of them.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Video: Take A 5000-Photo, 3-Minute Road Trip Across The USA

One of the great travel experiences of all time is the good old-fashioned road trip. There really is nothing like hitting the road with friends with no particular schedule or agenda. The video below captures that feeling oh so well, using more than 5000 photos to sum up a cross-country journey in a little more than three minutes.

The video, which is entitled “Roadtrip USA,” was shot by Mike Matas who recently spent two weeks driving 3000 miles from San Francisco to New York City with his girlfriend. Their entire journey plays out here and while the images are at times oddly disjointed, anyone who has ever taken a long road trip will be able to relate to the feeling it conveys. Also, you’ll probably be tempted to pause the video on more than one occasion just so you can get a better look around, as you’re sure to recognize more than one or two of the locations on display.

So, sit back, enjoy the ride and prepare to drive across the U.S. in just three minutes of time.


Roadtrip USA” from Mike Matas on Vimeo.

Iraq Road Trip: Who Takes The Ultimate Adventure Vacation And What’s It Like?

Iraq, Iraq roadtrip, Iraq tourism, Iraq travel
We heard our first gunshots a week into our trip. We were resting after a long drive in our Baghdad hotel when shots crackled through the night. Anyone who was sleeping immediately got up. Nothing wakes you up quicker than gunshots in Iraq.

Insurgency? Sectarian violence? No, a wedding taking place in front of the hotel.

Iraqis like firing in the air when they’re celebrating – when their team scores a goal, when someone returns from the Hajj, when someone gets married, or just because they’re happy. It used to freak the hell out of the American soldiers.

When we got outside we found a crowd of guys dancing to a brass band while women stood to one side and clapped. A few of the younger girls danced with each other. The men were all dressed in Western styles, as were some of the women. Other women, especially the older ones, wore the abaya, a loose cloak of black cloth covering everything except the face and hands, which some women cover as well.

The appearance of a crowd of Westerners didn’t slow down the wedding at all. Most people kept on dancing like we weren’t even there. Some came up to say hello. One guy stuck his phone in front of my face and showed me a photo of himself in uniform next to some American soldiers. “Friend! Friend!” he shouted over the music.

Soon the bride and groom went up to their room and the party broke up. We went to our rooms too. We had another long, dusty drive the next day.

Heat and dust. Way too much heat and dust on this trip. And I went in October.

Iraq is a big country and its best sights are spread out over hundreds of miles, so we did a lot of driving. We went the length of the nation, from Basra in the swampy south to Kurdistan in the mountainous north. Much of our time, however, was in the vast desert in the middle.

Driving is easy thanks to an excellent highway system built by Saddam Hussein. It’s been well maintained ever since. The absence of potholes would put many U.S. state highways to shame. Despite the good roads, travel is a lot slower than in peaceful countries because of the numerous checkpoints. Concrete blast walls line the roads where watchtowers and armored personnel carriers keep a close eye out for terrorists. Sometimes the guards waved us through, sometimes they held us up, once for as long as two hours.

Blast walls, like the one shown above, aren’t just for checkpoints. They’re everywhere – in front of government buildings, schools, gas stations, mosques and dividing Sunni from Shia neighborhoods. Security is a constant issue here and you’re never allowed to forget it.

%Gallery-170776%Iraq, Iraq roadtrip, Iraq travel, Iraq tourism
Our tour leader told us that “sometimes” we’d have a police escort. “Sometimes” turned into “most of the time.” We usually had a different group of cops each day and it was luck of the draw whether they’d be friendly or aloof. The annoying thing about them was how they often got in the way of my interacting with regular Iraqis. People tend to treat you differently when have an armed escort. There were a couple of times, though, when I was really, really grateful for their presence.

We started out with ten travelers, six of whom only stayed for nine days while I and the rest stayed for the full 16. Because of a scheduling mixup I had an extra day alone in Baghdad at the end. That led to some weirdness I’ll get to later. My companions came from all over – Canada, the UK, Norway, Spain; we even had a couple of Americans. One kept saying he was from Canada, and while I generally have a problem with Americans pretending to be Canadians, I let it slide in this situation.

There were no women. This was both good and bad. It’s interesting to travel in the Middle East with women because they get to speak to a lot more local women and thus have a very different experience. I traveled in Syria with a woman and it was fun comparing notes at the end of the day. We had two completely different trips. The presence of a woman does tend to complicate things in Muslim countries, though.

We were all seasoned travelers and nobody appeared particularly nervous, although we all got uncomfortable at times and dealt with it in different ways. One middle-aged guy was really gung-ho, like he regretted never being in the army and was trying to compensate. Once when we got out of the bus to visit a mosque in the tension-laden city of Mosul he told us to, “Lock and load, boys.”

Gag.

Everyone had read up on Iraq and had their own special interests in archaeology, politics, or religion. All except for Mr. Gung-ho, who knew almost nothing and cared even less. He was just there for the bragging rights.

One guy was a doctor who fortunately never had to use his emergency room skills, and another was a programmer with a talent for photography. He has an awesome travel photo collection online. My roommate was a 68-year-old Norwegian engineer who groaned every time he looked at the electric wiring. He kept taking photos of dodgy fuse boxes and substations so he could give a lecture to his coworkers when he got home. He’s also an accomplished sailor who took small boats across the Indian Ocean and far north of the Arctic Circle. If I’m doing stuff that cool 25 years from now I’ll consider myself a success.

Iraq, Iraq roadtrip, Iraq tourism, Iraq travelThe Iraqis treated us with a mixture of wariness, curiosity, and friendliness. In “My War,” Colby Buzzell’s excellent memoir of his time with the U.S. Army in 2003-4, he noted that “[the women] would stare at us but as soon as you made eye contact, they would look away. The Iraqi men were a little different. They stare too, but don’t look away, and if you wave, which is something they never initiate, they wave back, nervously.”

Things have changed a bit since then. The women still look away, except for a few younger ones who will hold your gaze and smile for a tantalizing moment. The men have chilled out much more. They rarely wave first, but when you wave or say salaam alaykum most burst into a smile and return your greeting. In the frequent traffic jams the folks in the next car would often roll down their windows and start a conversation.

The general impression I got from a lot of Iraqis was that they wanted us to understand that we were welcome.

Another thing Buzzell noted was that every time he went on patrol he’d come back with his pockets stuffed with gifts. This happened to us too. Possibly my weirdest experience in Iraq was one night at a restaurant along a highway. It consisted of one huge dining room serving up quick dinners for hungry motorists. The crowd was mostly truck drivers, busloads full of pilgrims, and a weightlifting team loading up on carbs.

The TV was playing “Black Hawk Down.” A bunch of the Iraqis were really getting into it and I got sucked in too. It’s a damn good movie, after all. I don’t know if the Iraqis found it ironic to be watching an American war movie in the middle of Iraq, but I sure did. I kept waiting for them to cheer when any of the American soldiers got tagged. That never happened.

After seeing American troops blast through Mogadishu, we headed out to our bus. On the way out, the owner of the restaurant came up to me with a smile, said “welcome,” and gave me a pack of chewing gum.

Who knows? Maybe he did the same thing when American soldiers were on his street instead of just his television.

Don’t miss the rest of my series, “Destination: Iraq,” chronicling my 17-day journey across this strife-ridden country in search of adventure, archaeology, and AK-47s.

Coming up next: “Moqata Al-Sadr Promotional Posters – Why Saddam’s Hanging Makes For Good Advertising!”

[Photos by Sean McLachlan]

See All 50 States In America, Legitimately, With A Twist Of Politics

50 states in america

Visiting the 50 states in America can be a life-long quest for some travelers. Others fall into it through frequent business travel. Many just realize that they have only a few states left and they will have visited all 50. But the criteria used to determine if a visit “counts” and gives one “I was there” rights is another matter.

The All Fifty Club is about as close as we can find to a governing, official organization charged with validating traveler claims of visiting all the states in America. They have some rules for scoring a win, requiring “that one should breathe the air and set foot on the ground. Thus driving through the state counts if you get out once, but airport layovers do not,” club founder Alicia Rovey said in an Associated Press report.

But many members have their own standards that include specific requirements for state visits to count. “Some do not count it unless they spend the night in that state or visit the state capital,” says Rovey. “More unique ones are sighting native birds of that state, playing a round of golf, donating blood in each state.”Not sure how many states you have visited? All Fifty Club has a fun interactive map on their website where visitors can quickly click on each state, adding each one visited to their total.

Not a politically oriented website, the All Fifty Club interactive map starts with all the states colored blue. Clicking on a state turns it red. Take a look and tell me you don’t think the Presidential candidates have a map like this that they play with on the road.

Struggling with the names and locations of all 50 states in America? This short video may help:



[Photo Credit: Flickr user Bugsy Sailor]

Vagabond Tales: Can Travel Writers Take A Normal Vacation?

I know what you’re thinking. Travel writers are always on vacation, so what a silly concept for an article.

Sure, climbing active volcanoes in Chile and staying in castles in Ireland sounds like an enjoyable time, and often times, it is.

But it isn’t exactly a normal vacation.

When others might be bathing on the sundeck of a dive boat on the Great Barrier Reef, travel writers instead find themselves interviewing the boat crew on the proper method for dealing with an irukandgi sting, lest they report an inaccuracy on one of the world’s deadliest creatures.

Or, when returning from four days in the Andes after having climbed over Peru’s Salkantay Pass, vacationing members of your tour group are enjoying $10/hour leg massages while you instead find yourself panting in the thin air of Cuzco in an effort to find an Internet connection because the four days in the Andes have left you woefully behind on deadlines.

Then, of course, there’s the electronic merry-go-round of attempting to keep all your gear charged. As the travel world gets sucked deeper into the shrunken screen of a smartphone, so too must travel writers add more tools to their yak hair belt. Writer, photographer, videographer, researcher, coder, Webmaster, blogger, ad sales director, marketer and, of course, social media ninja.

This constant juggle of responsibilities invariably leads to such pleasurable experiences as sifting through the markets of Pulau Bintan looking for a new adapter, clandestinely blogging from a van parked outside of a New Zealand McDonalds (free HotSpot!), buying camera lenses from a questionable Thai gangster in Bangkok and avoiding strange looks as you send emails from inside the airport bathroom because you’re on yet another six hour layover and it’s the only outlet in the whole damn airport.

Exciting? Yes. A vacation? No. Believe it or not, it’s actually a lot of work.

Which is why, on a recent cross-country road trip, I was bound and determined to simply take a normal vacation.

%Gallery-168852%I found, however, that this isn’t exactly easy. You can’t just go cold turkey on travel writing. On the very first day of my road trip in Asheville, North Carolina, I ended up having to sneak away to write about an experience at Bojangles, which was too good to not be told.

Thinking I had gotten it out of my system, the itch struck me again the next evening while grabbing a stout at the Broadway Brewhouse in Nashville.

When most normal people would simply enjoy the beer and figure out which bands they wanted to hear that night, I instead found myself crunching numbers in my head about how many breweries I would have to visit every day to write a book featuring every microbrewery in America (Answer: 5.82).

Similarly, later that night, instead of simply enjoying the music of Nashville’s hopping honky tonks, I instead found myself wracked with guilt for not compiling a “first-timer’s guide to Nashville honky-tonkin.”

And although I did better in Paducah, Kentucky, with only a ten-minute stop to take notes on the history of shipping on the Ohio River, I failed miserably once again about 90 minutes south of St. Louis when I learned about a winery inside of a cave.

“C’mon, it’s only a 15-minute detour,” I pleaded with my wife.

“Yeah, one-way.”

“But I really want to see this.” (Translation: This is the perfect topic for an article.)

And so the notepad came out once again, its tattered edges failing to collect dust in the way I had originally planned. A brief interview here, a few snaps of the camera there, and a sudden urge to a do a ten-part series on the oft-forgotten wine trail of the Ozarks. Sigh.

The problem for writers, I think, lies in our inquisitive nature. Towns on a map are not simply towns on a map; they are places with histories and stories to tell, and to pass by even a single place without uncovering its story is to commit the greatest form of travel sin. Rest and relaxation be damned, I want to learn about this place. And this one. And that one …

This thirst for not only knowledge, but the ability to compile and share that knowledge is not logistically amenable to a 4,300-mile road trip. The logical reality is that you can’t delve into the story of every single place you pass, and unfortunately, places are going to have to be skipped.

Which is why it was so painstakingly difficult to make the decision to pass by the 100th anniversary of the Mark Twain Museum in Hannibal, Missouri in favor of making it to the 100th anniversary of the Wyoming State Fair in the ranching outpost of Douglas, Wyoming.

The deciding factor was that one featured a Dierks Bentley concert and the other one didn’t. Bypassing 900 miles of towns and their associated stories (Lincoln, Nebraska: “What It Means To Be A Cornhusker”, Chimney Rock: “Oregon Trail Icons” and Ogallala, Nebraska: “Towns You Can’t Pronounce And Have No Need To Go To”), I eventually wound up at a KOA campground on the outskirts of Douglas en route to a jam-packed country music concert.

“OK, Kyle,” I told myself. “You’re going to enjoy yourself like a regular traveler for a day. You’re not going to take videos of the concert and post them to your YouTube channel, you’re not going to research the 100-year history of the fair, and despite Douglas having been voted one of the ‘Best 100 small towns in America,’ you aren’t going to write an article detailing the friendly atmosphere of the main street diners where refillable mugs of coffee are still $.75 and ranchers gather for breakfast at 9 a.m. even though they’ve already fixed 12 fences and have been up since 2:45. And whatever you do, you’re not going to research how Douglas is officially known as the home of the ‘jackalope,’ and how hunting permits are sold for the jackalope hunting season, which runs on June 31 from midnight-2 a.m. Got it?”

“You’re also not going to draft quick posts about the happy hour special at Snake River Brewery that features three different types of meat (beef, elk, and buffalo), about where are the best places for encountering buffalo in Yellowstone National Park, or about how the Beartooth Highway was justifiably named by Charles Kuralt as the ‘most beautiful road in America.'”

You won’t do an expose on the Sunday afternoon pig races of Red Lodge, MT, tweet about the best places to stand-up paddle in Seattle, transcribe Lewis and Clark quotes from their famed landing in Long Beach, WA, or take any videos whatsoever while hiking the Hoh Rainforest of Olympic National Park or of touring the wine country of Oregon’s Willamette Valley.”

“You’re just going to put the computer away, put the notepad away, and try to enjoy yourself like an every day tourist. OK? The history of the Modoc Indians and digging in to the hippie/yuppie dichotomy of Mendocino, CA, can wait for another time.”

Right?

Want more travel stories? Read the rest of the “Vagabond Tales” over here.

[Photo credits: Heather Ellison]