How do you prepare for a trip?

I don’t mean in terms of packing, or reading and re-reading a guidebook, or even booking your flights. I mean preparing for the place itself – the landscapes, the music, the food, the history…

I usually try to read up on a bit of history and maybe catch a movie or read a good novel about a place before I visit. I read Rudyard Kipling and Rohinton Mistry before I visited India, and watched Manhattan and Annie Hall before heading to New York City for the first time. But right now I’m preparing for a month-long road trip around the American South, and I’ve taken my “cultural” preparation to a whole new level. I’ve been reading books and articles on the history of blues, country, gospel and soul music, and digging around on YouTube for clips of the songs and artists I’m reading about. I’ve taken half of William Faulkner’s works out of the library and I’ll be renting Gone With the Wind and Fried Green Tomatoes this weekend. I even bought Gourmet’s special “Southern Cooking” issue and tried to figure out how to make a proper biscuit! (Okay, who am I kidding – I skipped straight to the recipes that involve bourbon and a tall glass of ice.)

I’ve basically been trying to eat, sleep and breathe Dixie. And someone asked me recently if I wasn’t going a bit overboard: was it possible, they wondered, for me to ruin the trip by discovering too much before I even got there?

What do you think? Is it possible to over-prepare or over-immerse yourself in a destination before you’ve arrived? Do you have any pre-trip rituals involving books, movies, music, food, or something else I haven’t even thought of?

For myself, I don’t think any number of Muddy Waters clips on my laptop will spoil the experience of seeing a guitar-pickin’ contest in a small juke joint somewhere in the Mississippi Delta, should I happen to stumble upon one… and it’s those lucky finds that we never can prepare for, right?

Posted by | Comments (6)  | January 31, 2008
Category: Notes from the collective travel mind

6 Responses to “How do you prepare for a trip?”

  1. Lola Akinmade Says:

    Hey Eva!

    I do believe we can over-prepare.

    My 2 cents – travel needs to be as organic as possible. Granted, you need to know where you’ll be arriving and spending your first night. But for the most part, follow sights, sounds, and your intuition.

    Some preparation is necessary, but one can over-prepare by delving deeper into other people’s experiences about a place which may subconsciously taint your overall view.

  2. Jen Says:

    I love preparation…even for things like a weekend at the in-laws I need to know EVERYTHING about their town and what they might do.

    There’s a blog about roadtripping/vagabonding Americans that I know covers the Southwest and might also cover the south. You might like it, I’m addicted even though it isn’t super slick, the girl always talks about the history of places:

  3. Roger Says:

    I think Eva is acting on her preparation impulses, and her curiosity. These impulses and expectations can be very intense to some people and not so much to others. I don’t think you can over prepare by just reading up on a place and looking at a few books and movies. Who really has time to over prepare, anyway? At least do the basics, and if you like to indulge on a place beforehand, it’s still all a bit theoretical until you actually get there. I think that good preparation will only enhance your appreciation of a place, and intensify your curiosity, but it all depends on the type of person you are.

  4. Paul Russell Says:

    Make sure you head to Po’ Monkeys in Merigold, MS. The NY Times did a story on it and it is one of the last authentic juke joints in the country. I would recommend checking with the Delta Heritage Center (I believe that is their name) at Delta State University to see about any upcoming events.

    I live in Clarksdale, MS, the city where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in order to be able to play the blues well. I am here doing Teach for America in the Mississippi Delta.

  5. Eva Says:

    Thanks for the feedback, everyone – and thanks for the great tip, Paul!

  6. eric Says:

    I agree. Reading a vivid novel about the place gets you in the mental space. A Fine Balance is a great choice, or Shantaram perhaps!