Travel meets journalism at Roads and Kingdoms

Last month, writers Nathan Thornburgh (a contributing editor to TIME and recent guest of Fox News) and Matt Goulding (food & culture writer and author behind the Eat This, Not That! book series) launched a new website with the intriguing tagline: “Journalism, travel, food, murder, music. First stop: Burma.” Combining on-the-spot reporting on current events and politics with in-depth cultural observations, rich photography, and engrossing narratives, Roads and Kingdoms feels like a travel blog we all want to write: a bit daring, occasionally foolhardy, and often inspiring. Fresh home from their first major trip and recovering from Burma belly, Gadling talked to co-founder Nathan about Roads and Kingdoms.

How would you describe your blog in one sentence?
Travel meets journalism.

How did it come about? How has your background in news helped (or hindered) your travels?
Matt and I felt like our work – he writes about food, I’m a foreign correspondent – actually had a lot in common. As writers on assignment, we found that the best parts of being on the road – the amazing meal on the street corner, the back-alley bar with the great live jams, the sweaty tuk tuk ride through the outskirts of the city – are left out of the final product. It’s those parts that we want to provide a home for. It’s a different kind of travel mindset, whether you’re going to London or Lagos. Journalism is all about being curious, which is a quality great travelers have as well.

It’s not meant to remain a blog: we’ll be launching our full site soon, which won’t just be our travels, but a variety of dispatches in the Roads and Kingdoms style, from writers and photographers and videographers around the world.
Why did you choose Burma as a first destination?
First off, we think Burma is going to be a huge tourist destination in the years to come, if the country continues to open up. It’s an amazingly vivid and warm country, and has a lot of the traditional rhythms of life that Thailand, for example, has lost.

Burma also had the perfect combination of stories for us to launch Roads and Kingdoms with. We were able to report on the killer hiphop scene in the south, up-and-coming graffiti artists in Rangoon, and of course, the amazing (and all but undiscovered) Burmese cuisine. Then Matt went to Bagan, this breathtaking valley of temples that will become a big part of Burma’s tourist boom. While he took in the temples, I visited the heart of the war-torn north, where I was able to hang out with gold miners and Kachin refugees and see a part of Burma that not a lot of people get to see.

What do you hope to inspire in readers?
We’d love to inspire readers to travel the way we do: with a sense of wonder and a big appetite, with curiosity and an awareness of the backstory behind the destinations.

Flashback, Burma Day One: Bad Crab from Roads and Kingdoms on Vimeo.

Roads and Kingdoms did not get detained in Myanmar for being journalists entering on a tourist visa. But Nathan still hit an unexpected roadblock on the first day in Burma: a plate of chili-slathered, rancid crab.

What are the challenges in blogging somewhere like Burma?

We were fortunate that our trip coincided with Hillary Clinton’s historic visit to Burma. The government didn’t want to create any problems that week, so we were incredibly free as journalists there; much more so than I could have ever imagined the first time I went in 2003. I was followed and watched when I visited the north, but they didn’t interfere with my work. However: Internet access still sucks. You can’t blog if you can’t connect, and that’s a huge problem in Burma.

How is social media adding to the blog?
Social media is huge for us. We’re starting out as a Tumblr, for example, not just because it’s great for articles/photos/videos, but because it’s so shareable. We want people to get involved, not just as passive consumers, but as advisers and compañeros along the way.

Where are you going next?
We have a short list, and we actually want readers to help us decide. London? Moscow? Lima? It’s a big world out there!

Follow the adventures at and connect with Nathan and Matt (and assorted interns) on Twitter @RoadsKingdoms and Facebook.

SkyMall Monday: Message In Time Clock

Cuckoo clocks used to be all the rage. Clock makers earned great esteem for their craftsmanship and the owners of the chirping clocks appreciated the announcement of each passing hour. Of course, this was before watches were affordable and things like cable boxes, microwaves and, of course, cellphones filled our homes with constant reminders of the time. Nowadays, clocks in general, let alone chiming models, have fallen out of favor. Cuckoo clocks seem antiquated. Like a casino, there are no clocks in the SkyMall Monday headquarters. That’s not for lack of interest, though. The sound of a cuckoo would simply drive our dogs (and us) mad. But what if there was a clock that used messages that we recorded ourselves to announce the arrival of each hour? Wouldn’t that be creepy annoying charming? Thankfully, SkyMall knows that we’re narcissistic timekeepers. That’s why we’re thrilled that they’re selling the Message in Time Clock.Cuckoos are so 1808. In 2011, we need a clock that plays our own messages every hour. You know you’d love to be interrupted by the sound of your daughter yelling, “It’s two o’clock and I wet the bed again” Who wouldn’t want to be alerted to the fact that they’re late for work by a clock that plays a message from their boss? Even better, your clock could play the sound of your mother nagging you at 6am and 6pm reminding you that it’s both time to get up and time to call her. Clearly this clock is far less maddening than some cockamamie cuckoo.

Think that clocks should be seen but not heard? Believe that you can easily keep track of time with the myriad time pieces that you already possess? Well, while you apologize for being late to your next meeting, we’ll read the product description:

Record a grandchild’s first words, a close friend’s greeting, or sounds from a special event. Hear that same recorded message at the top of each hour. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

What could possibly be annoying about hearing “that same recorded message at the top of each hour”?

Sure, you could check your cellphone or look at your watch, but they don’t play the dulcet tones of your own voice with each passing hour. What’s the fun in that? You’d be cuckoo not to buy this clock.

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.

SkyMall Monday: Square Root Watch

Around the country, kids are heading back to school. Lunches have been packed (hopefully with napkins carrying inspirational notes from moms with phrases such as “I’m proud of you”), notebooks are ready for doodling and detention rooms are already filling up. As another school year begins, kids everywhere are already asking their teachers, “Why do I need to know this?” and “When will I possibly have to use this information in real life?” These are valid questions. I’d love to go back in time and tell my biology teacher that I’ve never had to dissect a Garden Yeti in the SkyMall Monday headquarters. My drivers ed teacher never prepared me for piloting a Cruzin Cooler. That’s not to say that everything that kids learn in school is useless. There are plenty of concepts that are relevant in everyone’s day-to-day lives. Math, for example, is particularly relevant to a large percentage of the population. That’s why kids should be paying special attention to numbers this fall. If they want to tell time the SkyMall way, they’re going to need to be math whizzes. Forget digital; the best way to track time on your wrist is with the Square Root Watch.Your grandfather’s watch probably has a sundial on it. Your father’s watch most likely has Roman numerals. Your brother’s watch is digital, which is so 1980s. The only way to stand out now (and prove to yourself that paying attention in sixth grade math class rather than experimenting with drugs was a good decision) is to rock a watch with square roots in place of numbers. Let’s be honest here: Are square roots any more ridiculous than a completely numberless watch face?

Think that having to solve a math problem to know the time is a waste of, um, time? Were you always better at English than math? Well, you should have no problem reading the product description then:

Brainy math types will love this watch, but why should they have all the fun?

Brainy math types are currently running Google, Facebook and every other website that knows everything about you. Smart is cool now (even if Barbie struggles with math). Rather than deny it, embrace it. It beats risking Carpal Tunnel Syndrome from dishing out wedgies to all of those nerds.

Make all that time spent in drab classrooms passing juvenile notes to your friends worth it. Put your knowledge to use. Prove to your teachers that you will amount to something one day. Strap on the Square Root Watch and then check your cellphone to see what time it is.

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.

SkyMall Monday: Voice Interactive Travel Clock

Some people prefer their favorite radio station. Others opt for an impossible-to-ignore beeping. For some, it’s the sunlight pouring through their windows. For parents, it’s often the screams of children. Whatever wakes you up, it’s imperative that it’s at the correct time. Being late for meetings, flights or circumcisions can lead to embarrassment, fees and foreskins. But what happens when you travel and you need to be roused at a specific time? Sure, you could rely on the hotel’s alarm clock…or the alarm on your watch…or a wake-up call…or the alarm on your phone…or a call from your spouse, but who wants to take the risk of those things not working? Surely, there must be a better way to ensure that you are up and at ’em on time. Thankfully, SkyMall knows that your watches, phones and spouses are about as reliable as Tiger Woods. So, rather than leaving things to chance, they’ve come to the rescue for people with places to go, people to see and penises to snip. And that’s why SkyMall Monday is thrilled to endorse the Voice Interactive Travel Clock.Watches are stuck to your wrist and can be muffled by pillows. Phone batteries die. Wake-up calls are contingent on you knowing what to do when that ringing sound emanates from the phone. And the alarm clocks at hotels are most likely covered in semen (like everything else in your hotel room). It’s best to bring your own alarm clock that doesn’t require the use of your hands (since it, too, is probably covered in semen – like everything else in your luggage).

Think that there are plenty of alternatives for waking up that don’t require you packing your own alarm clock? Think that packing an alarm clock with standard buttons and switches would suffice and that an alarm clock that responds to voice commands is gimmicky and useless? Well, I bet all of your belongings aren’t even covered in semen. Liar. Let’s take a look at the product description:

Unlike the confounding bedside clocks found in many hotel rooms, this travel alarm clock operates by verbal commands, making it as easy to set up as a wake-up call. Its advanced speech recognition technology responds to 10 spoken commands such as “set time,” “set alarm,” and “today’s date?” with clear and accurate verbal answers.

It’s the alarm clock of the future…today! I bet it would look great next to a bowl of Dippin’ Dots. And lest you think that Gadling doesn’t know about the future of alarm clocks, we were working the voice interactive clock beat months ago.

Look, you can say that a voice activated alarm clock is a gimmick. But you can also explain to the Greenbaum family why their mohel was late to little Shlomo’s briss. I’m guessing that won’t go over so well. Best to keep your hands clean and your alarm set with the Voice Interactive Travel Clock.

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.

SkyMall Monday: Day Clock

Welcome to SkyMall Wednesday. I mean, um, Tuesday? No, wait, SkyMall Friday, right? Fudge! SkyMall Monday! Wow. You’ll have to forgive my absentmindedness. It’s been a crazy few days, what with all the holiday shopping, snow in New York City and MTV’s Jersey Shore revolutionizing television as we know it. It’s just so hard to remember what day of the week it is, let alone what time of day. I’m a frazzled mess. This is no small problem. I’ve missed medical appointments, dinner dates and, perhaps worst of all, Quacker Factory on QVC. This madness has to stop before I end up missing flights or trying to go to Chik-Fil-A on a Sunday. But how can one be expected keep track of what day it is? There’s, like, what, 12 days in a week? That’s a lot of days. Frankly, I’m at my wits’ end.

Thankfully, SkyMall knows that there are people like me out there. People who are so overwhelmed by the trials and tribulations of life that simply keeping track of the calendar is an impossible situation. And thanks to their innovative thinking and bold research methods, I’ll finally be able sing “Eight Days a Week” with confidence thanks to this major scientific breakthrough. Because now we have the Day Clock.Did you know that Tuesday comes after Monday? And that there’s a Thursday? That’s a funny word. I wonder if that bar down the street knows that Hersday isn’t really one of the days of the week (though it should be, since ladies seem to be able to drink for free before 8:00pm on that mythical day). Anyways, presuming that it’s not running fast, my Day Clock tells me that it’s Monday. And that’s why you’re reading SkyMall Monday today. It’s all falling into place (but you ladies will have to pay full price for your drinks tonight).

Sure, I know what you’re thinking. “But, Mike, I always know what day of the week it is. I have more calendars than I know what to do with. There’s one on my wall, computer, smartphone, cellphone, desk and tattooed on my secretary’s lower back above that dolphin.” Well, not all of us live in a lap of luxury with multiple calendars and tramp-stamped secretaries. Some of us wander aimlessly through life clinging desperately to whatever buoy we can find that will moor us to the days of the week.

Lest ye doubt the necessity of such a macro level clock, feast your eyes on the product description:

Do all of your days seem the same? Do you have little trouble keeping track of the hour and even the date but the day always eludes you? Then you need a DayClock. It’s uniquely designed to keep track of weekly events like your golf day, card night, movie night and so much more. Ideal for vacations and cruises when it’s easy to lose track of the day.

Much like companionship and hope elude me, the days of the week seem to pass through my grasp like so many grains of sand through an hour glass. And much like vacations and cruises, wearing the same pair of sweatpants for months on end can blur the days of the week into one endless trip to Old Country Buffet.

If you’re struggling to cope with the challenge of remembering what day it is, then I cannot recommend the Day Clock fiercely enough. And if you order now, it will arrive in ten business days. So, by, um…uh…Smurzday, you’ll finally be getting your life in order.

Until then, have a great weekend!

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.