In early 2016, I was road tripping and van living with my partner, Fuko. We were hitting a string of North American cities at a fairly rapid pace. Often trying to keep up with our freelance work at the same time, we were regularly stuck without any day plans.
We liked to spend our evenings imbibing local craft beer, cooking on the fire pit or getting our fingers greasy in north western diners. But the idea of hanging out at the end of the night in the back of our 2007 Dodge Grand Caravan researching things to do the next day with shoddy, stolen Wi-Fi under the headlamp just wasn't that enticing.
While we always had a good time, we continually experienced this sinking feeling that maybe we had missed something. Was there was some essential sandwich style loved by locals, or a flaming cocktail served out of a Peruvian puzzle mug that we should be drinking?
What we really needed was a hit-list of the right things to do. So, we decided to start brainstorming ideas in advance while we were driving. We'd often even test ourselves to make sure we got them all in—writing a list and making it a challenge to check them all off.
We'd only ever stay a few days in one place, because you know, the road is always calling when you've got to go back to work in a month and you’re running out of funding and fuel. It was therefore absolutely essential that we clustered our must-dos (food, drink, activities, art and experiences) together. There was no point in bouncing from one side of the city to the other and back, all the while wasting precious time trying to park our beast or jammed in a metro car trying to interpret a subway map for half of the day.
The next thing was to make sure we had back-up plans. The travel gods are not always on your side. Even Google sometimes gets it wrong. There is nothing worse than finally arriving at some majestic corner of a city only to find your port of call is closed for renovations. So, we needed alternatives nearby that ran a close second in our researching and brainstorming stage!
We also needed a mix of destinations—Fuko likes arty spaces, Sam likes learning how booze is made, and we both love greasy food and appreciate a touristy experience or two along the way. Diversity on our trips is key, and god knows that if I didn't plan for it, I was going to be spending 8 hours a day hanging out with Fuko, Rembrandt, Picasso and Pollock slow-walking Museum Mile.
We both have a huge love for music—we would frequently be hanging out on NME or reading Wikipedia as we drove past the exits to towns, hard punching thumbs to the screen to see who was playing tonight, or what bands grew up around the corner.
Having a playlist of songs queued up that represents the city you’re in can teach you a lot about the streets you’re walking. The sounds of the scene are also a welcoming companion for the solo traveller or when the person in the passenger seat is sleeping—not to mention less people bother you when you've got your headphones on during metropolitan strolls.
The comfort of recommendation
The final thing that has really rung true to me my entire life is paying your travels forward. I absolutely treasure when a friend (or a friendly bartender) writes down a list of his or her favourite spots to check out the next day. I also dig it when I rock up to a youth hostel and the departing traveller dumps his or her knowledge on you. Finding the right 'know it all' will help you cut out the clutter.
Having spent time in a few major cities around the world, I regularly write lists of my hidden treasures to share with others before they depart on their journeys. After a while, I decided I really kind of wanted a template I could use to do this in the future. An easy way to hand all these discoveries onto my next fellow adventurer.
Most of all, I wanted this thing to be small and compact and stored in something I could thrash about—especially because I've destroyed so many maps to the point I can't even read them anymore.
So, from 2016 to 2018 we set off further exploring the cities that had meant the most to us in the past, all the while compiling a mixture of what people had to see and what we loved the most about those places.
The final list of cities included New York, San Francisco, London, Tokyo and Melbourne.
In mid-2017, Hardie Grant stepped in to help me revise and publish the guides I had constructed. The advice and help from the team there was pivotal. It's not hard to see why they're one of the most on-trend and on-point publishing groups.
A huge thanks to Susan Paterson and Megan Cuthbert for their literary expertise and the advice they could provide as a result of their extensive experience in the travel industry. Thanks so much to Melissa Kayser and Astrid Browne as well for allowing me to give it all a go and having faith in what I could do.