he's gonna shake the dust of this crummy little town off his feet, and he's gonna see the world!
November 21, 2011 7:05 AM   Subscribe

Please help me choose the right Christmas gift for my future intrepid traveler.

My son just turned 16 and is beginning to plan his first solo adventure. He will be Greyhounding/Amtraking/cycling from our small eastern city to points west for one week next summer. I would like to give him some inspiration in the form of a good DVD series on American travel. He is at this point more interested in being lost in a crowd in, say Chicago, than in hiking the AT.

We've hosted many couchsurfers over the years and loves the idea that travel is all about being open and enjoying whatever happens, rather than sticking to a strict itinerary. Even so, some research and planning are in order. I'd like to find him something along the lines of Michael Palin's travelogue or Globe Trekker, esp. Ian Wright's episodes, but for U.S. destinations. I'm not interested in travel guides per se though, as right now he's just looking for inspiration/ideas rather than planning details, so the Lonely Planets will come next. Right now it's more about travel stories that are somewhat accessible (no Jaguars Ripped My Flesh and nothing nostalgic for What Used To Be). Any ideas?

(Also, NY/DC are not on his list but if they're part of the series that's fine.)
posted by headnsouth to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Some of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations episodes are set in US cities; I think eating your way through a city is a pretty good way to experience it.
posted by craven_morhead at 7:12 AM on November 21, 2011

Ah, should add perhaps that the kid is a vegetarian. Bourdain, not so much :)
posted by headnsouth at 7:17 AM on November 21, 2011

Getting in before someone else mentions Stephen Fry in America.
posted by gimonca at 7:31 AM on November 21, 2011

The vegetarian aspect may be not-so-well addressed here either, but Alton Brown's Feasting On Asphalt series are generally more on the theme of "let's support these smaller independent food merchants while we go on a motorcycle road trip" than they are "let's go get some really good ribs".

Ewan McGregor and his friend did a wild round-the-world trip entirely by motorcycle, which kind of blows my mind; it is a bit adventurous, but the last portion of the trip was in North America, so that episode may suit.

The crew at the UK show Top Gear are also a bit of an acquired taste, but they did have a couple of special episodes set in the U.S. - they're more about cars than they are the trips you take in them, but that may be a fun thing to look at. (I think one trip they're in the West, journeying from San Francisco to Nevada to take part in a speed contest in the Nevada desert; that episode has some stop-to-take-in-the-surroundings moments.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:41 AM on November 21, 2011

Bill Bryson's A Walk In The Woods is all about the AT, but I think it is still inspiring in the go off and do something wild sort of way.

And kudos to you, mom or dad (checks profile, no help there...) for letting your teenager go off on this adventure. So many parents today would be helpless with fear about all the terrible, yet highly, highly unlikely things that might happen to a solo teenage traveler.
posted by COD at 9:03 AM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

If he has time or wants to take some reading for when he's traveling I would recommend On The Road, The Fool's Progress (might be a bit off topic, but has similar themes to traveling, as well as Delaying the Real World (might be ahead of his age, but it could give some good ideas of things to do along the way!).

I'm in my 20's now and wish I did something like he did at a younger age. I commend you for encouraging/supporting this kind of opportunity and he will learn so much about himself and others from the experience.

p.s. you mention couch surfing, he could also look into WWOOF if he likes doing things outdoors and doesn't mind getting his hands a bit dirty. A good cultural experience I think if done in the mid-west on a farm or even in the Pacific NW.
posted by melizabeth at 9:42 AM on November 21, 2011

If he has time or wants to take some reading for when he's traveling....

Yeah, I had some reading suggestions too, which I was holding back because you'd asked about DVDs, but books was actually more fertile a field. In case you want to consider books as well, seconding On The Road. Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas may also be an option.

Also, you mention no "Jaguars-Ripped-my-Flesh" kinds of things, but the outdoor/humor writer Tim Cahill, who really did write a humor essay collection with that title, also wrote a great road trip book called "Road Fever" -- it's his own account of the time he and adventure driver Garry Sowerby set a world record for fastest time driving the Pan-American Highway, from Argentina up to Alaska. (It's something like 24 days, and I think the record still stands.) He writes only briefly about the United States portion of the drive, but the book is more about the drive itself rather than the sightseeing and is great fun.

(There is a section about halfway through where he writes about the two of them descending in to delerious nonsensical giddiness somewhere in the middle of Panama, that is tremendously fun.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:10 PM on November 21, 2011

Stephen Fry is great, but he doesn't really do the type of travel your son seems to want to do. Bourdain is great, whether or not you're a vegetarian - but it's obviously more about food than travel.

I think it's pretty awesome that you are encouraging and helping him do this. Maybe a better gift would be books he would like that are representative of each place. Sometimes I'm way more interested in my destination after reading a book that talks about the place and the things you can see. I'll give you examples, but all mine are foreign travel...one would be My Traitor's Heart by Rian Malan. After I read that, I couldn't WAIT to get to South Africa and get lost in a Cape Town crowd.

Also Idiot Abroad (Ricky Gervais' friend Karl Pilkington) has a few US episodes, including one where he drives on Route 66. Not quite what you're looking for, but enjoyable and a different kind of travel program.
posted by guster4lovers at 1:10 PM on November 21, 2011

Some of these answers look great for down the line a bit -- no WWOOFing until he's 18+ and although he may be ready for Kerouac, Hunter Thompson, and long dangerous (and expensive) motorcycle journeys, I'm not! He can find those things on his own ... they're unlikely to have the same mystery & cool factor if they come from his mom.

I think the Stephen Fry looks interesting and will probably get it. Globe Trekker does have about a dozen U.S. episodes, but no U.S.-combo-pack so I'd have to buy them separately at ~$15/each on amazon. He can stream them instead.

Thanks for the ideas & if anyone has more, please share.
posted by headnsouth at 12:48 PM on November 22, 2011

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