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Travel Talk

Travel Talk: Before your next big trip, do some research

Whether it’s domestic or foreign, travel presents the opportunity to learn about new cultures, experience the stunning variety of geography around the world, and even get a history lesson or two. Bud and I have found that more we know about the area we’re visiting, the more rewarding our travel experience is. So how do we research an area?

Books: Guidebooks are fine for facts and figures, lists of highlights and useful visual cues like maps. You should always pick one up before heading out. But nothing brings an area to life more than a good story – one with rich place-setting details and characters whose lives are interwoven with the sights, sounds and tastes that make a place unique. For us, this means fiction . . . compelling plots and prose that makes it impossible to stop turning the pages. Begin either at your local library or on Google, with a simple search for fiction set in, say, Ireland, Irish writers or Irish historical fiction. This will give you an idea of what’s out there. Some authors and titles could be familiar, but expect some surprises, too.

When I went through this exercise for an upcoming trip to Burma (Myanmar, now), I discovered that British author George Orwell of Animal Farm and 1984 fame was a policeman in Burma during the waning days of the British Empire and that both novels are widely thought to be reflective of his experiences there – as well as his fears for the future of the Burmese people. This, of course, led me to the genre of biography – another wonderful way of scoping out areas with which notable historic or literary figures had close ties. This led to U Thant, the Burmese Secretary-General of the United Nations who was instrumental in diffusing the Cuban Missile Crisis. We’ll visit his tomb while we’re in Rangoon.

Films: Cinema is another way to get a feel for a country or area before you go. Considering a safari in Kenya? Out of Africa with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford should be required viewing. Headed to England? Anne Hathaway’s 2007 Becoming Jane, Keira Knightley’s 2005 Pride and Prejudice will make each manor house, each rolling field and hedgerow-edged lane come to life.

If you know the authors, actors or movie titles associated with your destination, great! If not, start with Google by searching for movies set wherever you’re headed. You’ll find that wikipedia.org has organized lists of films by setting (more than 21 have been made in New Hampshire, including 1962’s Lolita and 1981’s On Golden Pond).

But beware! Stories portrayed on the big screen and little screen may be “set” in a specific locale, but in fact can be entirely filmed elsewhere! The best place to get that level of detail is IMDb.com.

Reading/viewing: Nowadays, of course, you don’t need an actual book, TV or movie theater to enjoy any (or at least most) of this. You just need a computer, tablet or e-reader to access the content and you’re good to go. Two years ago we started a two-month road trip with many, many pounds of books. Last year we bought Kindles and loaded them up with more than 30 titles.

This year, I’m learning all about my new iPad.

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