Robert Reid: “Lonely Planet’s The Best in Travel 2013” | Talks at Google

Robert Reid: “Lonely Planet’s The Best in Travel 2013” | Talks at Google

ROBERT REID: Welcome to
the world of travel. My name is Robert Reid. I’m the US travel editor
for Lonely Planet. Kind of feel a little bit of
a thrill being at Google, because I do use Google. I’m not one of the Bing crowd
or anything like that. So it’s kind of exciting
just being in the offices, to be honest. I guess I’m here because when
I was a little kid I had the dream basically just to go all
over the world and live as many places I possibly could. And I thought that meant
rock and roll. So I played guitar
for a while, but that didn’t work out. So somehow I ended up with
Lonely Planet 13 years ago. And I’ve done a couple dozen
guidebooks for Lonely Planet. I got to go to the Trans-Siberian Railway and Burma. I got to go to Columbia and
Mexico and Bulgaria and Transylvania, even Queens for
working on guidebooks and things like that. I’ve written a lot of articles
on travel both for Lonely Planet’s website, but also “New
York Times” and “Wall Street Journal” and “Wanderlust”
magazine in the UK and various newspapers
around the States. A few years ago, I switched
positions at Lonely Planet, and I became this thing– US Travel Editor, which
thankfully involves no editing whatsoever. So it’s kind of a
strange title. What I do is I write things
for the website. And I make videos. They said go do something
viral. So I just started
making videos. They did not become viral. But I started making travel
videos to throw on YouTube and use throughout social media
and things like that. And I get to speak about
travel, which is just kind of miserable. No, it’s fun. It’s really good. But despite all this, a lot of
people come up and they ask how can you be a
travel writer. That’s the dream job,
vacationing for work and stuff like that. And it isn’t exactly
like that. And the funny thing about it
is, as much as you do it, there’s moments where you have
this kind of wide-eyed glory still about travel, wherever
you go, and you see something new. And I still feel that, despite
having lived in London and Vietnam and Australia and
traveling to all these places, I still have that sense
on occasion, at least, of just like wow! This is travel for the first
time, just like the Madonna song says, I guess. And this year, just last month,
I went on a vacation– oh, I was going to say with
that, I still make mistakes all the time too. Along with my wide-eyed wonder
of travel, there’s all these mistakes that are being made. So despite being a travel
expert, there are still things that you’re learning as
you go and do this. And I realized that again last
month because I did a trip to France, in the southwest of
France, Languedoc-Roussillon which would be more popular if
it had fewer French syllables in it and was something as
simple as Burgundy or something like that. But this is a great region of
France between Provence and the Spanish border. It actually produces the
most wine in France. It’s very mountainous. There’s knights of
Templar castles. There is a nice coastline. And I went there because Robert
Louis Stevenson in 1878, went and traveled through
there with a donkey and wrote about it. And it’s one of the definitive
travel books, because he coins the phrase “travel for
travel’s sake.” And it isn’t so much about
where you’re going but how you get there. And so I thought I’d retrace
some of Robert Louis Stevenson’s steps, without his
mustache and velvet jacket, and without the donkey,
importantly. So I went village to village
in Languedoc-Roussillon a little bit, and I was following
Robert Louis Stevenson’s footsteps. And the last day, my
feet were tired. There was a huge
mountain ahead. And so I took a break and went
by car that day, around all these little great 600-year-old villages and things. And someone said, right as the
sun was about to go down, you’ve got to go up on
top of this mountain. You take this drive up here. There’s a huge plateau, and
there’s these big stone slabs up there called [? miniars ?]. And they’ve been there
for 2,500 years. They’re made of granite. No one knows why or who
put them there. But they were moved for miles,
because it’s the kind of rock that is isn’t up there. You should go see it. You’ll love it. I don’t know why they
thought that of me. So I drove up there, going
quickly because the sun was starting to dip. And suddenly, I found
myself in Texas. It was like this rolling field
of cow pastures, and just beautiful sunlight and mountains
kind of cascading towards the Mediterranean
in the distance. Views unlike I’ve ever
seen before, and I was completely alone. And finally, I was driving– I saw these little mounds
in this field. And I turned on the dirt road,
and rocks are bumping against the bottom of my rental car. And I’m going as
fast as I can. And I get up to– oh, I was
supposed to show this. This is what Languedoc-Roussillon
looks like. Sorry. That’s much more interesting
than the field of blue. I’m new to PowerPoint. This is like my second time. But so I get up to this place
where these are, and I see a barbed wire fence. And it’s like, oh. And here they are, these little
guys out here, like what is that? What are you supposed to do? I don’t like to encourage people
to break rules and break laws when they travel,
but I’m sitting here at this moment. I drove all this. I’ve been in France. I leave the next day. I kind of want to see what
those things are. Do I go out there? And so, well, you know,
yeah, you do. And so I went out there. And as soon as I got out and saw
these slabs, I looked up and you see these kind of things
just in the middle of this field. And this doesn’t quite capture
how beautiful the light was. And then I look and I see a
whole bunch more over here that I hadn’t noticed. But these were cows. And the cows were coming. And they were coming fast. And I realized that I had never,
ever thought to prepare myself for basically
very simple cow attack preparation skills. I had no idea what to do. Do cows bite? Will they ram into
your pelvis? That one has horns. Do cows have horns in France? Because they don’t
here, do they? I’m not around cows. I have no idea. I mean, do you play
dead with a cow? One of them’s bucking and
running, and like the back legs are going up. I was honestly looking at that
and going oh my god, I really kind of don’t know what to do. And I was frozen. And I took picture, picture,
picture, picture, picture, as they got closer and closer. What do you do? I ran. So I thought before I go too
much further, I would share some little travel rules that
no one tells you that sometimes you find through
mistakes on the road. And maybe it’ll be of use. This is the kind of things that
I learned really from writing Lonely Planet
guidebooks and things like that. Some of them are more
silly than others. But the first thing
that I always say is just ask questions. As a writer, you go and you’re
just paid to be curious. And you’re constantly
asking questions. You’re asking for permission to
gain entry to this castle that’s been closed
for 11 years. Or to go up that tower and
see the view up there. And if you just ask questions,
you can get a lot done, just asking questions. This right here is one of three
Abraham Lincoln hats. And I went to Springfield
recently, because I’m a bit of a Lincoln nut, and
the movie’s out. And I saw it last week on the
opening night at 12:01, and didn’t go to sleep, for an
appointment the next morning. It was crazy. This is one of three
of his hats. And it’s in the Lincoln vault. It’s not open to the public. But I asked. Said, yeah, I came all the
way from New York. I heard that in the vault,
there’s one of the hats and the Gettysburg Address. Can I see that? And then I got a Lincolnologist
with plastic gloves on. And he showed me this. And so a lot of times, things
like that happen. One of the things I’ve learned
is whenever you go to a small museum, ask if the curator is
there, because they’re usually really quiet and flattered
for the attention. And I was at some
stupid dinosaur museum in North Dakota. Just a bunch of fossils and
stuff, and I didn’t know what to make of it. I’m not into fossils. I’m not into dinosaurs. But the curator had spent his
entire life collecting these fossils on the plains
of North Dakota. And he walked me around, and
he had stories for how he’d collected these fossils. And it made me appreciate
fossils more and gave me just a new appreciation of
how to access it. So if you just ask, people
will let you do things. I really mean it. Similar to that is making
your own attractions. I always feel that museums
are great. But they’re a little bit
overrated, as a day filler attraction. Sometimes there are things that
we do on the road, but we don’t do at home. And so sometimes we go to
places, oh, I need to see this Greek art. I need to see this
Monet, et cetera. And you sometimes miss kind of
how the town lives, the local scene, et cetera. And I’m not saying museums
are bad, if you’re a museum person. Or if you own a museum,
I apologize. I like museums. But I think that sometimes
we go to them too much. But sometimes you can
make your own attractions on the road. And one example is I
actually researched Kansas for Lonely Planet. And you see all these grain
elevators that are spaced out apart, and they become like the
skyscraper of the plains. And they mark each
town and stuff. And I was just going you know,
I see these things. They’re not particularly
attractive. What’s in them? You just go up and ask, and like
the dinosaur guy, people are very often very interested
to show off parts of their life. And I got this tour with Glenn
in this tiny little elevator fit for one person– someone smaller than
Glenn probably. And I’m crammed with Glenn
and he’s in a jumpsuit. And I go and get a whole tour
of the grain elevator. And it made me appreciate– every time you see those grain
elevators, I know what it looks like on the inside. This is the Montreal
Bagel Festival. And last year I went to
Montreal, and it’s a city that has festivals every
45 minutes. There’s another festival. No place parties harder
than Montreal. And I decided Montreal Bagel– I don’t know if you know,
and I hate to say this. I’m going to go ahead and say
it– is better than the New York bagel. It is better. The hole is bigger, and it’s a
little sweeter because it’s made with honey water. But they use wood burning ovens
like the old style. It’s much more traditionally
made. You don’t have to have
cream cheese. I don’t know how you could put
lox on something like that. But it’s really good. If you go to Montreal, you
have to go for the bagel. But I decided just to make a
box, and go around and make a bagel festival and
give bagels away. And I ended up having some
of the most hilarious conversations by doing that. And people we’re just assuming I
was local, because it was so much how people do things
in Montreal. So I think that sometimes– well, you don’t have to create
your own museum or whatever this is– but sometimes there’s
ways of just using your eyes and creating
things as you go. One of the other things is
you should always say yes whenever possible. Lot of people have strict
itineraries of what they’re going to do in a day. And then they get offered– these twins with eye patches and
their mom are going to a soccer game and then afterwards
are going to their great aunt’s to have
a big lamb feast. But you were planning on going
to X monument or Y museum or Z organized walking tour. Go with them. You’re not going to have
that chance again. Say yes, whenever you can. I mean, if it’s something
scary, don’t say yes. And don’t say yes to
this, like I did. I was interested in Mounties. I can see some of
you are probably Mountie fans yourself. And I just asked if
I could tour the Mountie boot camp place. Like in Saskatchewan,
all Mounties are trained to become Mounties. And they offered me a two-day
boot camp pass, so I could train with the Mounties
for two days. And I got a very regrettable
haircut. I got a regulation
Mountie mustache. And I went through two days, and
I’m being hog-tied here. This was a lesson
on how to arrest people if they are resisting. And I really don’t recommend
doing this. But I’m glad I said yes to this,
but I’ve never saying yes to that again. Try to always say yes. Akin to all this stuff,
locals were great. People like to get local. It’s kind of the buzz in
travel these days. You stay in neighborhoods
and go to the places– the farmers’ markets that they
what would shop as well. And you figure out ways to save
money and see a town and almost pretend like you’re
kind of a local by proxy. I think the most underrated way
to see locals is sports. I think people forget about how
easy it is to go into a minor league hockey game
in Quebec and sit. And everyone is voicing, and
there it’s a social gathering. And even if you don’t know
anything about hockey, people will teach you. I’ve had very interesting
experiences bonding with people through sports. And last year, I was in
Edmonton, Alberta in Canada, and I got the opportunity to– I asked if I could go to a
12-year-old hockey league’s practice and play with them. I’ve never played hockey
before at all. I don’t know how to skate. And they let me do it. It was actually one of my most
thrilling travel experiences I’ve ever had. So that goes back into asking
for permission and stuff. But sports– I think it’s an underrated
way to see things. But now, similar to
locals are great– whoops, I pressed the
wrong button. Locals are great, but also
locals are overrated. Same guy. No offense to him. He’s really nice. If he’s here– no,
he’s not here. But what I mean by that is
sometimes an outside perspective of a place is
what you’re looking for more than locals. Sometimes locals will suggest
you go and eat at Applebee’s. Sometimes locals haven’t left,
and they don’t have a perspective of how you
see the place. So you can’t only try to talk
to locals and find out recommendations, because
sometimes they have a very routine way of doing things. What I always like to say
is footfall and eyeball. The number one goal in travel
is just to trust walking around and looking
yourself, because ultimately it’s your trip. So I’m just kind of joking
about this, but you can’t completely be a slave
to everything the locals say, I guess. Socks and sandals are OK–
whoever said socks and sandals aren’t OK, they’re wrong. They haven’t gone to a place
that have rats on the ground. Seriously. I don’t want rats on my feet. So I think it’s OK. If you take nothing else from
the discussion, I think it’s you don’t have to wear
socks with sandals. I think it’s OK. I think it’s over-criticized. Seven– travel’s the
fountain of youth. And what I mean by this
is that you’ll live longer if you travel. The reason why I say this is
sometimes when you travel, and you have a good experience,
it feels really long. Like it isn’t a bad trip, but
you go for a week, and it feels like– you go to study
Spanish in Guatemala, and you’re living with a family,
and there’s volcanoes, and people speaking a Mayan language
and things like this. And it’s very different and
crazy, and one week feels like three weeks of your life. And there’s scientific
back-up to that. There’s a neuroscience guy
named David Eagleman. He was profiled in the
“New Yorker” maybe about a year ago. And he monitors how people have
near death experiences. And they say that the life
flashes before their eyes, and things feel slowed down. And there is scientific truth
to that apparently, because you’re going through that
process of real danger, something new and shocking to
you, and it slows down how we perceive things. It makes us revert a little bit
more to like when we’re kids and when time seemed to go
slower, particularly Monday to Friday during the school
week, and then the weekends fly by. So travel can do that,
if you go to more exotic places, he says. We’ve got a neuroscientist
saying that you should be traveling. And not only traveling
in general, but traveling to new places. I find a lot of people always go
to the Outer Banks and stay at the same beach and
things like that. That’s great. But if you go to places
that are– at least once every three trips,
go to a place that’s new and a little more exotic,
you’ll live longer. That’s how I like to think,
so a little bit maybe. Eight. The one thing the travelers do a
lot, and it really changes a trip, is researching. And I think that any trip you
do, you should make it a rule to read a book and see
a movie about it. Just as simple as that. A history book, a travelogue,
a novel that’s based on that place. It’s exciting, the pre-research,
it can get you thinking about the place. And you go and you’ll recognize
a statue or a name of a person. Hey, there’s the street that
that guy got killed or whatever it may be. Research beforehand is a thing
that travel writers do. And it just gives you your own
story line once you’re there. This is a picture of
a Monopoly board. I had to go and do something
in Atlantic City. And Monopoly, all those place
names on the Monopoly board are based on Atlantic City. And it was created by someone
from Philadelphia, but they based it on Atlantic City. And so I just went simply to
all of the places on the Monopoly board around Atlantic
City, some of them were not recommended to go to,
perfectly honest. But some of them were
interesting. This is outside a lighthouse
on Vermont Avenue– not one of the higher-paying
properties. But that’s all right. But these guys were from Indiana
and they had no idea that they were on the corner
of Vermont and Connecticut, just like the Monopoly board. I don’t know. Atlantic City should do more
promoting that, I think. Another one that I liked a
lot, here in New York. It’s one of my favorite things
that I’ve been able to do is I was studying about
Presidents Day. And I was going to write
something about Presidents Day for the Lonely Planet website. And I was researching presidents
and I realized only two presidents ever became
president in New York City. George Washington
and everyone’s favorite, Chester A. Arthur. He’s the guy with
the big chops. And he became president because
James Garfield was shot and killed for no
apparent reason. And anyway, he was living
at Kalustyan. It’s an Indian spice shop,
23rd and Lexington. I don’t know if you’ve
ever seen this. It’s called Kalustyan. It’s a kind of spice shop, all
kind of different Asia and kind of Eastern European spices
and the Middle Eastern spices and things like that. That was his house! And you can go to his house
and to his former bedroom where he became President
and order a sandwich. And I just love that you could
get a Chester Arthur sandwich. I mean, I would like the
sandwich anyway, but because I found out that it was Chester
Arthur’s room, I was happy. People talk about
bucket lists. I think a rule is that everyone
should put traveling alone on their bucket list
and do it at least once. I travel alone so much. But traveling alone is
interesting because one, you can do whatever you want. You don’t have to pacify Uncle
Todd and Uncle Todd’s needs. You can just go and do
whatever you want. You will be more patient,
at least I am. A lot of people are. Much more patient. You complain less. You meet people more when
you’re by yourself. If you’re in a noodle shop in
Beijing, and the people next to you see you by yourself
then they might be more inclined to talk to you than
if you’re with some other people talking about
football scores. But it’s also very
empowering to be able to do it by yourself. And I think– not that anyone would ever want
to leave Google but I think it’s something you should
put in job description and put into– not job description– but on
resume or talking interviews and things like that. Just that notion of that kind
of travel shows a lot of strength in self, and confidence
in self to be able to do it. Everyone travel by yourself. You might see that guy. I don’t know. Here’s one. Very important. Almost finished– 13 of these. 10, wash your hands
before you sleep. The reason is because if you
have some Snickers on your fingers, rats can come
and lick it off your fingers when you sleep. I know, I know. OK? Wash your hands before
you sleep? You know that ice hotel thing
that people talk about? Don’t do it. 12, travel is not a contest. I mean a lot of people will
debate “real travel,” that cruises don’t matter, that Las
Vegas or Orlando is silly. No, it’s whatever
you want to do. There’s no right and
wrong in travel. It’s supposed to be fun. I made this shirt because I
was going to some travel thing, and we’re getting
worked up about a lot of stuff. You have to remember that it
is supposed to have fun and each person has their own
definition of it. There was an essay in “The New
York Times” not too long ago by someone from Amherst that
wrote about “real travel.” And he lamented that it used to
be that people would go on pilgrimages, and they would
travel for great quests and things like that– sometimes to
kill people or find trade routes and stuff like that. He didn’t put in his essay. I was invited to talk with
him on the radio on some show on NPR. And people called in to share
their travel stories. And all these people had these
amazing stories about traveling overland all the way
to South America, going on a boat from Panama to Columbia
and skipping the Darien Gap and taking buses and traveling
for months and months. I would love to do that. That’s great. But the guy that I liked the
most that called in was a guy that was in Nashville. He didn’t have much money. He didn’t have many means
to travel far. And so he went fishing. And he said I had never
fished before. I didn’t know how to take a fish
off a hook or anything. And he talked about that. And I really liked that, because
he was challenging himself by something that was
easy and accessible but different nearby. So I thought if anyone got a
ribbon that day, it was him. So in other words, travel’s
not a contest. There’s no right or
wrong as long as you’re not hurting someone. The 13th and most
important rule– run from cows. That’s the cow. I took a lot of shots. And this is not a zoom. And I turned and ran and I did
make it outside the barbed wire fence. It’s about 100 yards. I mean they were like kind of
going around me like this. And I think they were
running with me. I don’t know. They looked nice. But those are some
of my travels. But I thought that I would talk,
because we have these little Best In Travel books
that I worked on. For 2013– every year, Lonely Planet
covers every country in the world. And so we come up with these
lists of things. And based on this book, there
are some places that I am very interested in. And I just thought I would just
mention five places I’m very interested in 2013 and
thought that you might be interested in it as well. Next year, if you’re
thinking of going– or in the future, you ever want
to go to Rio, go quick. OK? Go to Rio now. That’s the number one best
value destination for us. Not that it’s cheap. There are cheaper places
in the world. But they have the World
Cup in 2014. And they have the Olympics
in 2016. Demand, development
is going up. Now it’s going to be better. If you don’t go during Carnival,
the prices will be a little lower. But it’s only going to get
more and more expensive. At the same time, I don’t know
if you’ve seen the movie “City of God” about the favelas and
the shantytowns in Rio. But things have changed in
the last five years. They’re policing some
of these more. And a lot of tourists, for
better or worse, are going into a lot of these shantytowns
and things. And there’s some very
interesting places to stay in shantytowns now that have jazz
concerts and they have– because they’re up on the
mountainsides, they have like some of the best view of Rio. And it used to be about
$40 and stuff. So I think that if you’re
thinking about Rio in general, maybe next year is the
year or this winter. Our number one country for the
year is a place I haven’t been, and is a place that you
probably wouldn’t have gone till pretty recently. And that is Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is a country that
was hit by the tsunami. And it just got past its Civil
War a few years ago. But tourism is picking up. And we are convinced that within
four or five years, you’re going to see it
on the front of every glossy travel magazine. Go before that happens. The price will be a little
lower, and before there’s too many crowds. It’s rimmed by just stunning
beaches, great wildlife. There’s a national park where
you go and there is an elephant gathering. And 150 elephants come
in to bathe. And you just see so many
elephants just naturally coming there to bathe and
things like that. There’s cooking courses. There are curries that they have
there, and you can take these curry cooking courses. But some of the beaches on the
east side and the south side of the coast. It’s a pretty squat little
island country south of India. That is a place that’s going to
rise, if you happen to be in the area. Everyone’s looking
for a new Asia. For Europe, our top country
is Montenegro. I’ve not been to Montenegro. If you’ve seen “Casino Royale,”
that James Bond movie, that was supposed
to be in Montenegro. It was actually shot in
the Czech Republic. But it’s a place that’s about
the size of Connecticut. It’s on the Adriatic Sea, and
it has some coastline. It’s very nice. But it’s better known
for its mountains. The name itself, Montenegro is
a black mountain, I guess. Right? It must be. But it has about 150 peaks in
this area of Connecticut and Europe’s deepest gorge. And they have these rafting
trips that go through there, just towering between
the mountains. And the water’s so clean,
you can drink it. Montenegro and also two
countries up, other side of Croatia, just east of
Italy, Slovenia is another one that’s rising. It’s relatively inexpensive. You have Gothic Venetian style
towns for about half the price, about three hours from
Venice on the train. So those two countries–
everyone’s looking for new Europe and where
crowds aren’t. There are crowds, but
fewer than you have in Western Europe. Oh, I need to talk about
Gangham style. I mean I’m not the last person
to see this thing. I was, actually during the
election, I was getting a little bored of the
results and stuff. And I went and said OK, I’m
going to watch the video. And so I watched the Gangham
style video. I saw Psy on the “Today Show” or
something, which I thought was the greatest performance
I’d ever seen. But South Korea is one of our
top countries a year. Gangham– if I’m saying it correctly– is
a neighborhood south of the Han River in Seoul. It is both really modern
and very traditional. And it has a lot
of nightclubs. It’s a little bit upscale. Our favorite hotel
in Korea’s there. It’s a new Park Hyatt that’s
very Zen minimalist. It just has a concrete
wall with a rock sticking out of it. But you have the eighth century
temples next to malls. And you can go to the temple
and learn how to have meditation or they have tea
ceremonies and things. And then you can go to the
mall right afterwards. But Korea is on the list, not
for that, but for– it’s a really rising outside
destination, activity destination. You can take bike trips along
the DMZ once a month– I would love to do that– in between land mines and barbed
wire, just like mom always wanted to do. Big golfing destination,
over 100 golf courses. But there’s a tropical island
to the South called Jeju, which is where a lot
of honeymooners go. I think I’m pronouncing
it correctly– J-E-J-U. It is rimmed by white
sand beaches and backed by kind of black lava cliffs. And there’s a very naughty
theme park there called Loveland, because all
the honeymooners go. And there’s very suggestive
statues to inspire honeymoons apparently. Kids are not allowed. But anyway, that’s kind
of a unique place. And then the last thing I’m
going to mention is our top country in the Americas. I just got back. During Sandy, I was there. And I was stuck there for
several days, because I couldn’t fly back, and
that’s Ecuador. People are looking
at South America. We talked about Rio before. Ecuador is a place that’s always
kind of hovering, And it kind of comes and goes. This is where the Galapagos
Islands, that wildlife just kind of haven, offshore
as part of Ecuador. But people are staying
in Ecuador. It’s like doubled its tourism
in the last 10 years. Quito, the capital, I went to,
is in the heart of the Avenue of Volcanoes. There’s like 27 volcanoes
around, so you’re likely going to be killed while
you’re there. Because the volcanoes–
no, I’m just joking. But the main reason I think that
Ecuador is going to be big is because of chocolate. It’s number one in chocolate. And they’re starting these
chocolate tours. And you go to these
chocolate farms. And the chocolate
is really good. I honestly had no idea how
much chocolate was there, until I went. and it’s very inexpensive. So I think that Ecuador is
going to– as people are looking for something beyond
Machu Piccu, for example, in Peru or going further than
Mexico perhaps, Ecuador is certainly rising. Those were five things. That’s really endless. Oh, that’s the book. And here’s the cow. See I got out. This is the barbed wire fence,
so I did make it out. And that’s the cow there. So I ran, and I was laughing
while I was running actually, because I thought that if I get
killed or smeared or kneed or head-butted, I guess that’s
really the way to do it, just be in a French field and just
killed by French cows would be– it’s kind of my
dream, you know? No, I made it. OK. I think that the
rule is to run. I’m not sure. But that’s what I have. If you have questions– if you
have trips that you’re doing or any questions about travel
at all, I’ll take it all. If I don’t know the answer,
I’ll email you later. Any? Yeah. AUDIENCE: What’s the most
bizarre, unique place you’ve ever been to? ROBERT REID: I’m going to
give two quick answers. One is Yakutsk, Russia. I did the Trans-Siberian. This was very far up. It’s like about way above
the train lines. And it’s a city on permafrost. So all the buildings
were on stilts. And it’s the coldest city– over
200,000 people– in the world, but I was there in the
summer and got heatstroke. Because it’s so hot in summer,
people don’t realize how hot Russia can be. And then Burma, I covered the
Burma guide, me and Mark, for Lonely Planet. And I don’t know where to begin
talking about how unique and wonderful that place and
the people are fantastic. Just the snake pagoda
that’s like– of course, there’s snakes there
and you go up and then there’s this burping little
volcano, butane gas that just happens to be there. And they guard it with snakes
and Buddhas with huge spectacles. If you’re having problems with
your eyesight, you’re supposed to go there. It’s just endless the things
that happen in Burma that’s just like– I saw a guy killing an owl. with
a stick, because it made his mom sick. And after a while, you
just believe that. There’s a lot of different
beliefs that go pre-Buddhism. And it’s just a country
of just total wonder. I felt sorry for the
owl, though. But his mom was OK. I checked the next day. She wasn’t sick. Yes? AUDIENCE: You ever had qualms
about finding some really awesome local thing and not
wanting to write on it? ROBERT REID: Yeah,
I understand. I think it depends on what
the destination is and what’s around it. It’s like you talk about
the tsunami in Sri Lanka and stuff. On one level, when is
it too soon to go? And do you want to
talk up a place? The “New York Times” talked up
Sri Lanka right after the civil war there ended. And it was too early,
and there was some negative backlash. So that’s one angle of it. Another is just this kind of
oasis, like the movie “The Beach” or something that you
don’t want to talk about. It’s outside the guidebooks
and all that. I think that there are cases in
the case of Lonely Planet where Lonely Planet dominates
the market. Thailand, overwhelmingly. So there’s a Thai beach
that no one’s been to. What do you do with that? What do you do? I think that if it’s ready for
people and people are going, you’re going to include it. But you don’t have to make it
the number one highlight in the country and make
it very big. Sometimes it’s just the
power of inclusion. And close readers can get
rewarded by going to find this place. And the clue comes just with
a couple key words or something like that. But it’s hard to say. If it’s a place that has no
infrastructure, nothing, whatsoever, then it could be a
little bit different, because you don’t want to flood
it too much. Part of it is just how
you mention it. And also in that area, there are
some deserted beaches, 20 to 30 more miles north
of town if you have your own transport. Some people go and
look for that. You might say something
like that. Most people will miss that. But those who don’t,
might have the experience of their trip. So I hope that answers
your question. It’s something that you
debate all the time. Any other questions? Yes. Oh, I forgot to repeat
the question. Sorry, go ahead. AUDIENCE: You were going through
the list of the tips, the traveling tips, there was
one that I think goes between [INAUDIBLE] same years
and locals. [INAUDIBLE]? ROBERT REID: What was it? AUDIENCE: Resist the
urge to be lazy. I was in Kenya recently, and we
wanted to go to the center of town, and at the hotel
they told us that you should take a taxi. [INAUDIBLE] Go on ahead, take a taxi, and we
decided to take a local bus and instead of like five minutes
for $0.50 we spent half an hour because we spent
it chatting with locals. The music was blasting, and
[INAUDIBLE] the city around. And that’s one of the things
that usually when I talk to people over their travels,
they tend to do that. Just like take a local taxi or
something that they feel is protected and they don’t need
anybody and they just go and [INAUDIBLE]. ROBERT REID: I think the idea
of using local transport or something like that
can be great fun. I find it fascinating, just to
see how people commute, just looking what ads
are in the bus. How sticky are the bus floors? What’s the ticket look like? What’s the fine I’m paying for
not getting the ticket right? I mean I think it’s a very
good– and this goes back to– I was kind of joking when I
said locals are overrated. But sometimes locals will
tell you not to do that. Right? They’ll think that because you
don’t know the language completely, you’re a visitor,
that you shouldn’t do that. You might get lost
or something. Well, that’s OK to get lost. And so that’s why sometimes
you have to trust your own kind of– I love the notion of just giving
up a little bit of time to see what happens. If you’re driving four hours,
don’t do it in four hours. Give yourself 12. See what happens. And I think it goes in
the lines of what you’re talking about. Not everyone wants to do that. And that’s OK. But I think that more people
would appreciate it than they realize, perhaps. Yes? AUDIENCE: What have been some
of your best sources of trip inspiration other than
Lonely Planet? ROBERT REID: Well, there’s
a lot of answers. I mean, I look at different
things. I look at books and history. I’m very interested in going and
retracing things that have happened in the past. It depends on the place. It could be a campy 1970s
movie or a rock song. One time I used Billy Joel’s
lyrics, and I looked at all of his lyrics. And the lyrics that he talked
about Long Island– because he’s from kind
of Long Island. And then I just used that
as a guidebook and went. It’s kind of like that
Monopoly example. I wouldn’t recommend
anyone doing that. It’s not particularly
exciting. But I had a lot of fun because I
researched it and then I saw it for real. I went to Billy Joel’s
high school! I met his former neighbor who
got beat up the night before, apparently, because he
had a black eye. And I saw the village green he
sings about, and the Italian restaurant that– “Scenes from an Italian
Restaurant.” I saw this stuff. And then, I’m not a huge Billy
Joel fan necessarily, but won’t listen to the music
the same way again. So it’s eyeball, footfall. I’m always kind of looking and
thinking about oh, that. How do I connect that
into travel? And I just find it– I give myself a quest
on any trip. Yeah, I mean I do this for a
living, so I write about it and make videos. But I’d do that anyway. And I think that that’s
being active. Pre-research is the best part. Pre-trip planning is the
most exciting part. And I think that’s where it
comes, movies, rock songs, Billy Joel lyrics,
Mountie hats. Any other questions? Yes, in the back. Oh sorry. AUDIENCE: When you go someplace
new that’s totally off the map, how do you
decide what to do that’s not already done? ROBERT REID: Well, sometimes
it’s OK to do something that’s been done a million times. I mean, you go to Vietnam and
everyone goes to the Cu Chi Tunnels and stuff. And they’re not particularly
rewarding, but I did it. I’ve done it a couple
times actually. It really varies. Am I writing about it? Am I looking for something
new and different? Or am I just kind of a couple
days in Istanbul and see what happens? I mean, I go to the
Blue Mosque, and I go to the bazaar. And I pretty much play
it as normal. But I always try to give myself
time to just kind of do something that I catch
on a whim. I don’t know how to say
it other than that. I was in Quito, and I went on
this little weird kind of tour around the old center. And we’re going around for
four hours and looking at colonial architecture and seeing
markets and stuff. And I went down this one little
street and I saw these little babies. These little baby jars with
these kind of neon liquids. I was going wait a second,
what’s that? And they say, oh,
that’s nothing. It’s a [? Bebas. ?] It’s not important. And I was going no, well,
what is this? And so I found out that
these were kind of like a retro thing. It was like in the ’70s,
all the kids used to drink these things. And they had them as a joke. So I bought one, and had it. And I end up having about 10
conversations with people. They all went “Ah [? Bebas ?],
I haven’t seen those for 30 years. How’d you get this? And these old couples
come up and talk. That’s just because
I just noticed something a little different. And I just went off it. And then I left the [? Beba ?]
in the hotel and they threw it away. They thought it was just
an empty bottle. I lost my [? Beba. ?] I don’t know. That’s the best I could
do, probably. I think you had a question
in the back? AUDIENCE: Oh yeah, what
kind of camera do you [? guys use ?] [INAUDIBLE]. ROBERT REID: I over-document. Sometimes I’ll use the iPhone
and tweet things. I do a lot of video, and I have
this kind of Sony, about this shape. I forget the number. I think it starts with an
x and something else. It’s about an $800
video camera that has an external mic. I can use these mics
that we have here. Because the audio is often more
important than the video quality if you’re going to
create videos, you have to have good audio. And for a camera, I just have
a little kind of Panasonic thing, with a Leica lens. I remember it was like
a $400 camera or something about this big. It doesn’t have a zoom,
so that was– I mean that cow, when he was
running, he was right there. I don’t know what I was doing. What do you do? He’s just running. You’re going this is going
to be a good shot, good shot, and you know. I don’t know. Not too fancy. I don’t like to go too far. I like the idea of
using things that almost anyone could. I think it’s important. I think there’s another
question somewhere. Oh yes. AUDIENCE: How do you
know where to stay? How do you research just any
kind of accommodation? ROBERT REID: Well. I always like to have a place
to stay the first night. If I’m doing a trip and I’m
roaming around a little bit, I might not know where
I’m going to be the third and fourth night. But I always like to know
the first night. And it depends. It depends on where it is. To be honest, I get free
Lonely Planet books. So I look at what Lonely Planet
says and author’s pick, the right price, OK. But I’ll look online as well. I look at– to be honest, I look at “New
York Times” articles. I look at websites with
hotel reviews. And I’ll look at multiple
sources, just as I do when I’m booking an airplane ticket,
I’ll compare. To be honest, I use Lonely
Planet to be honest, mostly. Any other questions? Oh yes, hi. AUDIENCE: Do you find it hugely
beneficial if you learn some local phrases? ROBERT REID: Yeah, that’s a
really good question about using local language
and learning a few phrases and stuff. A lot of the times when I go
to places, even if I don’t have much time, I will try to
get a 1- or 2-hour lesson when I get there. Because there might be a little
school that teaches Romanian language and then you
go and take two hours. Because when you first show up
at a place, I’m often alone. You’re like oh my gosh,
what am I doing? It’s crazy. I’m supposed to be
researching this. And you immediately
have an outlet. There’s someone, a local,
who’s being nice to you because you’re giving
them money to teach you a little bit. And it kind of settles me
in to the new place. But at the same time, it gives
me enough that I could say where is, how much is, how much,
what are the numbers, and working on my own
pronunciation. Most trips I do learn a little
bit before I go. I don’t know French, because
I cheated in high school in French class. And so I took some French
lessons before I went. That was amazingly beneficial. It’s amazing how much
even when you cheat, some gets in there. I don’t recommend cheating,
by the way. Yeah, but I think it’s
always good to at least know a few things. It’s respectful too. And people will appreciate
it, even if you’re in a– in Burma, I learned a
few Burmese phrases. They didn’t expect it. A lot of people speak
English there. And that goes a long
way, I think. It’s not that hard. Sorry. AUDIENCE: What do you think
about the thing called the Lonely Planet effect where you
go somewhere with a row of cafes all [? lighted full ?],
probably share the same dishes, [INAUDIBLE]
very [INAUDIBLE] on Lonely Planet [INAUDIBLE]
with a queue of tourists. And then, you go
to [INAUDIBLE]. ROBERT REID: Yeah, it’s funny. There was, years ago, in Vietnam
in Hue, there was a place that’s still there– I presume. It was a few years ago– that’s a noodle place that was
run by a deaf-mute family. And Lonely Planet
wrote about it. And of course, you’re going to
go to the deaf-mute place. Of course, everyone’s
going to go there. So some of this is
classic Vietnam. So they created a place next
door, some other people, and named it the same thing and
pretended to be deaf and mute. I love Vietnam. OK. That’s great. I think that it’s up
to the traveler. I’m sorry when I see that. It’s like that’s the problem,
when you talk about the Khaosan Road in Bangkok is a
perfect example about just completely lines a tourist
ghetto, essentially. And almost everyone
has Lonely Planet. And it’s just how do you cover
that so that you don’t have one with a giant line? And I think that part of it is
tempering your enthusiasm for places that Lonely
Planet dominates. It’s a very subtle thing, but
it’s like sometimes it’s better to say there’s 15 guest
houses on this street. You can get rooms with air
conditioning and a silly little refrigerator you won’t
need for about $12 for one person, $15 for two. And you can go there. And here’s a few examples if you
need a number, but there’s a lot and the changeover’s
very quick. They come and go frequently. You’ll find something there. I think that sometimes I’d like
to see a little more of that in those cases, in those
cases in particular. If someone’s going to pay $200
or pay more money, then you can stand to put a more solid
review for it, because people are really wanting to make
sure they have someplace that’s very comfortable, that
they have all the amenities and thread counts that they
need, et cetera, which is important too. But then you would write
more about it. This is in terms of
accommodation. So I like the idea when
you just point people to the right way. And they’re going to find the
same thing, but not all at the same place. But it’s ultimately
the traveler. As people travel more,
they get that. They learn that a little bit. Some of the first and second
time travelers that go to a place, they don’t
quite know yet– that they don’t have maybe the
confidence, perhaps, to completely put the guidebook
down– it got them to the right area– and go
figure it out. But I think people get
there pretty quick. I hope. I don’t know? Any other questions? Thoughts? Complaints? Complaint? No, just checking. AUDIENCE: How much traveling
do you do just for you as opposed to writing an article
or researching or making a video or whatever? Do you ever not take notes
and write them up? ROBERT REID: Well, there are
some trips that you do– that’s the problem is knowing
how to turn it off. And when we do travel writing,
you feel like everything you do, there’s experiences
you can use somehow. I have a unique position that
a lot of times we’re talking on radio or TV or something
about that, so I might have an experience in Ecuador
that I use that way. I’m not writing about it. It’s just kind of in the
back of your mind. But I don’t know
the answer yet. Because I work too
much sometimes. I try to write or make a
video about everything. So they get backed up, because
it takes a long time. It doesn’t stop. I mean, that’s a great thing
about this work is that travel doesn’t ever stop. And I see the space
tourism stuff. I’m just going why are you– [FRUSTRATED GROAN]. Nah, I’m not ready for that. I think there’s enough
here to work with. But I don’t have $190,000 or how
much ever ever it costs. But it’s hard to stop it,
to be honest, work less, but I like that. Yes. AUDIENCE: Why are travel books
so very centered on finding accommodations, finding
restaurants, and having categories with bars,
cafes, and so on. It’s so boring to read. You can’t pick up a Lonely
Planet and read it from front to– it’s too boring. I’d like to have more
description of the neighborhoods. That takes place in this
piece at the beginning. ROBERT REID: A lot of people
use them different ways. It is a reference book
on some level. I mean, to me, I know how to use
them in a way that I can be inspired by it, even if I’m
not reading every page. I’ll read the opening. I mean you sit in a bookstore,
and you compare guidebooks. Read the opening paragraph to
several different cities. And if you’re at the city,
what’s within three hours? Go to the transportation–
you see three hours here, three here. Go and look at those places. And you can imagine building
your own itinerary. And it has all the information
that you can figure out. Oh, I land here, then I can go
see this and this and this. You’re not going to read it
front to back, you’re right. It’s just not designed
to do that. I would love to be able to see
more space about neighborhoods and a little bit more
asides and features and things like that. There are some. And as a writer, it isn’t the
most rewarding writing. It’s the power of inclusion. It’s what you include and
where you place it. And how much you talk about that
guest house that has a line and everyone’s going to,
versus that hidden beach and thinking about the science
of how you include stuff. I know what you mean. I know what you mean. But it’s just used
as a reference. And then you get the little
areas where you can flash your style in the little box text
and things like that. City guides have more of that
than a multi-country guide. Eastern Europe is going to be
much more bare-bone and kind of reference then the Rio
city guide or the Paris city guide would be. They’ll have more on the
neighborhoods in that. But, yeah, I’d love to
not stop writing. But they got word counts
to adhere to. Yes? AUDIENCE: Do you have any
bad food experiences? ROBERT REID: I have. I’ve vomited on a lot of
different countries. I’ll give you a vomit
list later. Yeah, the funny thing is a lot
of people think that there’s street food and you see bugs
for sale and little street tacos and stuff. And generally speaking, those
can be very safe. I mean, if they’re making it
fresh and its meats and stuff aren’t sitting out. And they’ve been made, and the
sauce is getting under the sun and things like that, then
you could have problems. But generally little kind of mom
and pop places and stuff that are fresh, they have a high
turnover of food, you see a lot of people eating there,
those are almost always safer. I mean, the most sick I ever got
was in Vietnam eating at a very nice Thai restaurant,
sitting down, air conditioned, bamboo interiors,
and all this. I’m the only one there. And I get ridiculously sick
and vomit for days. And so it isn’t about so
much the condition. In Vietnam– I lived in Vietnam, that’s
why I mention it a lot– you go to places with
cockroaches and you’re fine. A little kind of outside
sidewalk selling pho noodles, and it’s totally fine. But it’s just because you’re
outside and sometimes there’s cockroaches in Vietnam. That’s fine. As long as they don’t
get in the soup. But yeah, I have gotten sick. It happens. Dehydration is the
worst though. Because you forget
to drink water. And you’re moving around. We move so much more when
we’re traveling. You’re constantly
outside moving. We’re in New York,
we walk some. A lot of people don’t walk. And they go somewhere, and
then they don’t realize they’re out in the sun,
and oh my god. That’s what happened to
me in Yakutsk, Russia. I got this unbelievable heat
exhaustion, heat stroke thing. I was completely out of it
for two or three days. Sick. Crime? Should we talk about crime? No. I don’t have to talk
about that then. Any other questions
about travel? Yes. AUDIENCE: What strategies have
you seen effective for people who want to do open-ended travel
but are like us, and have full-time desk jobs? ROBERT REID: Quitting. Yeah, quit your job. I don’t know. I don’t know how
it works here. I mean, you see there is a huge
trend of people taking career breaks. That’s very normal in Europe. Here, this cursed land, people
work and work and work and have two weeks vacation. And so we talk about ugly
Americans, because they don’t get to travel as much. And they stick around the
United States and stuff. We don’t have as
much vacation. It is hard. It’s a challenge. But there’s a huge
trend of it. There’s a lot of books and sites
that are talking about taking career breaks and
things like this. Does Google allow
a career break? Is this controversial? Are you allowed to
take months off? I think everyone
should do that. It’s human. I don’t know what to tell you. It depends on where you work
and what the program is. And maybe do something you can
work remotely, and you can set up in Nicaragua and surf the
waves and work from there for very, very cheap. Who knows? I’m afraid I don’t know. Or you could be a
travel writer. Any other questions? Anyone planning a trip? Don’t know where to go? We can figure out your
trip for you. Yes. AUDIENCE: Well, I’m trying to
decide for next year– we have a honeymoon. [? Would it be ?] better
to go to Scandinavia or do maybe a UK tour. ROBERT REID: A UK tour? AUDIENCE: Not like a tour group
but just all around. ROBERT REID: Yeah. And when would the
honeymoon be? AUDIENCE: July. ROBERT REID: OK. Do you speak other language–
well, everyone speaks English in Scandinavia. Well, I don’t know
what to say. I mean, it depends
on what you want. I think England and Britain is
one of the most underrated destinations, because
it’s so different. We live in New York. All of our namesakes here
in this country are linked to there. And you can talk to everyone. And there’s stories
on every street. I lived in London. I love it. I actually like it more
than New York. I don’t say that often. But I do. And you could have
a fantastic time. Oh but, oh my gosh,
you get the fjords and stuff like that. Great food in Scandinavia. Oh my god. I had a great time
in Copenhagen. Go way up, way all the way up. Just go to Norway
all the way up. It’d be hard to beat that. It’s beautiful. I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t know. How would you get around? You would get around by
train, a train pass, or you would drive? AUDIENCE: Probably
mostly train. [INAUDIBLE] ROBERT REID: I would be tempted
to do Norway and back down through Sweden. Go all the way up past
the Arctic Circle. You can get the train
pass and do that. Go to the fjords and
stuff like that. That’d be great. That’d be great. I haven’t done that. So that’s what I would do. If you need a third,
let me know. Any other questions? Yes. AUDIENCE: Do you travel
with a [INAUDIBLE] or do you [INAUDIBLE]? ROBERT REID: You mean
for my hair? No, you mean like someone there,
that’s helping you research and stuff like that. No, I mean when you did
guidebooks, I would go often anonymously in places. And I always love when
they say well, Lonely Planet never came here. Yeah, actually we did. We just didn’t tell you. So a lot of it was very,
very independent. I worked in Colombia
on the Columbia guide a few years ago. And my Spanish kind of
dipped sometimes. And so I got some people to go
around, just travel around with me and I hired some kids
and stuff, essentially to help with language barrier, because
I thought it was important. And I’ve done that a little bit
in other places, but most the time completely
on your own. You have to figure
it out as you go. It’s crazy. Do you all like travel? AUDIENCE: Yes. ROBERT REID: Oh, OK. That’s good. Most people do, I think. Yes? AUDIENCE: Any tips about
being a travel writer? ROBERT REID: To be
a travel writer? Yeah. Well, it’s kind of the best
time, in some ways. Kind of the best and worst. There’s never been more travel
writers, because of self-publishing. I mean, people create blogs. And that’s the way to start. It used to be you had
to get clips. You had to have something. I got into Lonely Planet,
because I’d written for a newspaper in Vietnam, an
English language paper. And so I said here’s clips. I can write. Look at this. And now you can publish
yourself, so it’s easier to get in. And then some people are
blogging, and they create their little niche– plastic stool, street eats,
or something like this. Very niche kind of things that
you have to eat on a plastic stool and talk about that. Whatever it is. I’m just making stuff up. But if you develop your niche
and persona, without worrying about money initially, through
the blog, then things happen. And it’s funny, for better or
worse, we’re at a time, when writers are increasingly doing
things connecting with marketing and PR. And they’re getting sponsorship
deals with Expedia and things like– I don’t know if I’m allowed
to say Expedia here. Are you allowed to say that? I don’t even know. With Bing? No, I’m just joking. And so people are finding more
unique ways of doing it than just the old newspaper way. You could argue there’s a
downside to that too. But more people are writing. And a lot of people want
to be travel writers. There isn’t a lot of money. Rock stars, music stars,
movie stars, they all– you know who they are. Famous travel writers? You probably don’t
know how to name. I mean, there isn’t a lot of
fame, and there’s isn’t a lot of money in it, but
you get to travel. But I think that I would
start writing first. Guidebooks used to be a very
easy way to get in. It’s a lot harder now. Lonely Planet isn’t looking for
authors right now because they have so many already. And so that changes, but
they look for people with a local expertise. I mean if you know Delaware
better than anyone in the world, you could be the Queen
of Delaware and govern all Delaware travel content. Because they want to find
someone that really knows it. It’s not the best example,
but I’d like to know about Delaware. Can you tell me about
Delaware? Do you know? Oh, OK. Any other questions
about anything? Well, thank you very much. I hope that was fun. Work hard this afternoon.

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  1. /sigh.. when his microphone went down by 10dB at 12 minutes in I was disappointed in production, when audience participation was whatever mic gain you had from his and the camera mic…. /sigh.
    (at least at 36:50 he nods toward production values… how'd he know?)

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