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#BTReads: Our Favorite Travel Books

By The Budget Travel Editors
January 5, 2016
Books
Amy Lundeen
These stories have broadened our worldview and inspired us to visit far-flung places. Our picks will entertain you on a long flight…or curled up by a fire.

A Room with a View (E.M. Forster) manages to be a romantic comedy, travelogue, and deeply moving rumination on art and mortality at the same time. No small feat, but Forster (author of Howard’s End and A Passage to India) is no small writer. When Lucy Honeychurch arrives in Florence from the U.K. with her uptight spinster cousin, Charlotte, she has no idea that accepting a “room with a view” from a quirky neighbor at their pensione will, over the ensuing months, open up a more figurative “view” that will change her life. Spoiler alert: best literary kiss ever. —Robert Firpo-Cappiello, Editor in Chief

Bill Bryson’s love letter to Australia, In a Sunburned Country, has quickly become my all-time favorite travel book. I’ve always dreamed of doing what he did—driving from city to city, meeting locals along the way, and writing about it. Bryson’s style of storytelling keeps you captivated and following along with his adventures like you’re hearing about the travels of a close friend, and all the while he’s delivering historical context in a hilariously entertaining way. As Bryson says at the end, “You see, Australia is an interesting place. It truly is. And that really is all I’m saying.” —Kaeli Conforti, Digital Editor 

My favorite kind of novel is one in which I can relate to the characters—or at least get the urge to venture alongside them. Bernadette Fox, the protagonist in Where’d You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple,isn’t someone you’d readily admit to seeing yourself in, but she’s so real, so fierce, so flawed, so…infamous. She’s a non-conforming Seattle mom, an esteemed architect, a humorist, and a best friend to her daughter. As you might infer, one day Bernadette disappears. What I love most is it’s not so much a mystery novel as it is a psychological exploration of an endearing character through travel-related occurrences. —Whitney Tressel, Photo Editor

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, set in New York City, makes me see the city with fresh eyes. There is so much history hidden in plain sight in New York, and the author, Michael Chabon, brings out the city’s romance, energy, and mystery. I’ve lived here all my life, but when I read this book, it makes me want to get a map and a bike and explore. In Kavalier & Clay, the cousins work in the Flatiron District, and many old buildings that are referenced are still standing. It feels like the characters could be there now. —Amy Lundeen, Photo Director

A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway, might seem like an obvious choice, but when you dive into the stories about Hemingway’s time in 1920s Paris, hanging out with the likes of Gertrude Stein, you’ll see why the book remains a classic. Hemingway’s tales of arguing with wannabe literary critics in cafés, nursing a drunken F. Scott Fitzgerald (whom he was clearly jealous of), and drinking Châteauneuf du Pape with steak frites at lunch make Paris vibrate as a freewheeling, energetic, creative place where writers are welcome to linger at bistros perfecting their masterpieces. When I’m lucky enough to go to Paris, I always visit one of Hemingway’s old haunts. —Jamie Beckman, Senior Editor

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Inspiration

Spring Flights From Under $100!

Our friends at Southwest are offering some pretty amazing airfares for winter and spring travel through May, but you have to act now: The sale ends as the ball drops on New Year’s Eve. Book through this Thursday, December 31, to lock in travel in the U.S. through May 25, with travel to/from San Juan, Puerto Rico, slightly more limited to dates from mid-January to early March and late March to May 25. Some of the deals on one-way flights that especially caught our eye include: * Denver to Los Angeles from $94* NYC to Nashville from $118* Chicago to Ft. Lauderdale from $134 This sale can nab you a bargain even if you’ve already purchased a Southwest ticket for these travel dates: Visit change air reservation to check for a lower fare.

Inspiration

Ultimate Southwest Girlfriend Getaway

Show of hands: Is it a jerk move to taunt someone who says they’re afraid of ghosts by making them listen to dramatic ghost stories? Looking back, perhaps that wasn't the kindest, gentlest way to kick off a girlfriend getaway road trip through New Mexico with BT Photo Editor Whitney Tressel. In my defense, she revealed her phobia after we had pulled up to the Lodge at Cloudcroft, a Titanic-era haunted mansion perched high in the Sacramento Mountains. And I honestly thought she was kidding. Over dinner in the candlelit lodge, I pumped our server, Tonya, for information about "Rebecca," the hotel’s friendly, lovelorn ghost who “makes herself known” by moving small objects. I was riveted. Whitney was terrified. “I’m going to sleep with you tonight,” she said. Again, I thought she was kidding. But she followed me upstairs, dragged her suitcase into my room, changed into a psychedelic T-shirt and pajama pants, climbed into bed, and fell asleep. As I lay stiff and wide awake on one side of the four-poster Victorian-style bed, under a portrait of Mexican-American War hero Zachary Taylor, tapping out notes about our trip on my smartphone, my world-weary Louise to her excitable Thelma, I heard Whitney whimpering. Should I break the touch barrier to wake her up? I nudged her shoulder and found her skin clammy. She had goosebumps. And it was my fault. “Jamie...?” she said, voice wavering. “Thank you. I just got a’scared.” Caring for others isn’t my strong suit, but in that moment, my heart went out to her in a way that the closeness of a road trip fosters. “It’s OK,” I said in my the most soothing tone I could muster. “Everything is going to be all right.” Rebecca never did reveal herself, but we did have some certifiably spiritual adventures in the desert, where women have gone for centuries to be reborn. Come along on our journey through the Southwest, a fabulously inexpensive bonding trip of a lifetime. Day 1: Cloudcroft to Albuquerque Whitney at the wheel, we wound down through the mountains from the Lodge at Cloudcroft (from $99 per night) on Highway 82 in our rented Volkswagen Bug on our way to White Sands National Monument. Driving into White Sands, a vast, 10-acre desert scape of sparkling gypsum crests, mounds, and drifts, is like discovering a portal to another universe and pushing through to the other side ($5). We parked six miles in, where a ranger told us the “scenery gets good,” and I bent down to scoop up a handful of gypsum sand, fine and soft to the touch. The tops of the dunes’ curves are almost feminine—they move and change with the wind, the bone-dry landscape constantly shifting. Only the strong plants and animals survive—the ones that are able to adapt. Like the bleached earless lizard and the defiantly vibrant pink sand verbena. And, I might add, Whitney and me. On rented purple and green plastic discs, we sledded down the dunes together, shouting, “I’m the winner!” “No, you’re the winner!”—sometimes taking rough tumbles instead of elegant swooshes. Over and over, we stood up after falling, yelling, “I’m okay!” before clambering back up the dunes in our leather boots and jeans, eager to go again. Sand in our clothes, we drove to Albuquerque on 25 North through pounding rains and angry navy-blue skies, looking in the rear-view mirrors at the clear blue sky and fluffy clouds that trailed behind us, as though we were inhabiting two separate worlds. When the radio turned staticky, I fiddled with music on my smartphone, searching for tunes we could agree on—Whitney explained to me who rapper Fetty Wap was; I quickly scrolled past my extensive Frightened Rabbit collection—before we chose an album we both loved, the lyrics inscribed on our lives years ago: Scarlet’s Walk, by Tori Amos, about a coast-to-coast journey through America. Perfect. We belted “A Sorta Fairytale” in unison: “Down New Mexico way, somethin’ about the open road / I knew that he was lookin’ for some Indian blood / Find a little in you, find a little in me / We may be on this road, but / We’re just imposters in this country, you know…” We took a detour in Carrizozo, New Mexico, to the homespun Carrizozo Café, furnished with wood paneling and mismatched kitchen chairs, and shared a Rocky Mountain Mudslide, the Everest of indulgent desserts, part fresh-made “ooey and gooey” brownie, part pecan pie, part vanilla ice cream, and part whipped cream ($5, 575/430-9708). At the counter, we sat next to a sexy, weathered, real-life cowboy named Dave—black cowboy hat, plaid shirt—who ordered steak and beans and called us “ma’am.” Back in the car, Whitney said what both of us were thinking: “Did you find him attractive?” “Yes,” I shouted. We half-joked that we wished he’d join us on the road. Two hours later, at Sadie’s in Albuquerque, appetites back, we taste-tested three fiery salsas and a green chile cheeseburger topped with freshly chopped chiles, washed down with a dainty sip of the famous $7 house margarita. Gilbert, the general manager, let us in on a local secret: If a server asks you if you’d like “red or green” sauce on your Mexican food, don’t say “Christmas.” Tourists say that. Instead, say, “both.” Spent and stuffed, we headed to tranquil Los Poblanos Historic Inn, a 1930s ranch turned B&B and lavender farm (from $165 per night). Four regal peacocks strut the grounds; lavender bushes dot paths to spacious rooms with soaking tubs. In the summer, the inn holds aromatherapy, yoga, and cooking classes. After night fell, each of us in her own room this time, we burned wood in our fireplaces, smoke drifting up the flue as the warmth from bright-orange embers kissed us goodnight. Day 2: Albuquerque to Santa Fe After filling up on organic blueberry pancakes and fresh-squeezed orange juice next to a table of six women on their own girlfriend getaway, we hit Los Poblanos’ Farm Shop for souvenir tubs of the inn’s Lavender Salve and other sundries, like blue corn mint soap and piñon incense (spa products from $4). Before leaving town, we popped by Grove Café and Market—better known as the place where Walter White poisoned Lydia Rodarte-Quayle with a ricin-laced Stevia packet in Breaking Bad, but much sunnier and lovelier in person. Our roasted tomato soups and farmers salads arrived quickly, works of vegetable art dotted with Marcona almonds, roasted golden beets, and local goat cheese (entrées from $8). The quickest way to get to Santa Fe is a straight shot on Highway 25, but we took the scenic route via the 54-mile Turquoise Trail (or State Road 14), named for the region’s turquoise mining history. It was worth the extra time to sail through golden sagebrush fields, sipping hot coffee from travel cups and watching the Sandia Mountains pass by, clouds brushing up against the tops of snow-covered peaks. Checking into downtown’s Hotel Chimayó de Santa Fe, a tribute to the village of Chimayó, was a religious experience (from $89 per night). Dark chunky wood furniture fills the lobby alongside Catholic candles set aflame, hanging Mexican blankets, a statue of the Virgin Mary, and wooden tiles painted with biblical scenes lining the fireplace. We ambled through Santa Fe’s downtown, past vivid street art and turquoise jewelry in shop windows. After two days of being on the road, I (a road-trip newbie) begged Whitney (a road-trip pro) for a cocktail break. The proprietor of a photography shop told us about a new secret bar nearby. Intrigued, we walked around Saint Francis Cathedral and took an elevator to the top floor of the unassuming Drury Plaza Hotel. There we found Bar Alto, a modern crow’s nest surrounded by sleek white-framed windowpanes with a sweeping view of the city (drinks from $5). At precisely that second, the sun was setting in a watercolor wash of tangerine orange and royal blue. We rushed outside, next to the outdoor pool, for the best vantage point. Back at our barstools, Joseph the barkeep, sporting an apron, fuzzy beard, and samurai bun, psychoanalyzed our tastes and our pasts (“What’s your favorite bar in New York?” “Where did you grow up?”) to pour us two perfect cocktails that eerily matched our personalities: a hot, dry, mezcal-and-tequila concoction for me, and a light, fruity old-fashioned for Whitney. Who knew she was a bourbon fan? I respected that. Relaxed, we pulled out our phones and compared photos from our trip, “liking” each other’s Instagrams and reminiscing about Cowboy Dave and our White Sands playground. We strolled away happy, ready for Mexican food at The Shed: an appetizer of posole, a Pueblo stew of fat nixtamal corn, pork, and red chile; fuchsia-hued prickly-pear and strawberry margaritas; skewered shrimp atop fluffy Spanish rice; and enchiladas smothered with spicy green chile sauce (margaritas from $8, entrées from $12). Day 3: Santa Fe to Taos Running late, we put the pedal to the metal on 84 North, our VW Bug climbing into the hills to Abiquiu, scenery bursting with fluffy tufts of burnt-umber leaves and thin, lemon-yellow trees standing stock-straight. Whitney and I affectionately called them “our flame trees.”  We arrived in time to catch the noon group tour of Georgia O’Keeffe’s Abiquiu Home and Studio, a sprawling Spanish-Colonial estate where O’Keeffe lived from 1949 well into the ’80s (from $30). We stepped gingerly through her courtyard, past a hanging cow skull, into the room she used to freeze vegetables from her garden, and through her kitchen before reaching her studio. Sunlight streamed through the massive plate-glass windows, our pupils contracting as we drank in the view of Pedernal mountain, its warm fall colors spilling down into the valley below, more inspiring than we could have imagined.  Back on the road, we drove south and then north again to Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort and Spa, an affordable, egalitarian place for a quiet soak in mineral-rich pools, picturesque cliffs rising in the background (access from $16). We changed into our swimsuits and dipped first into the warm iron pool, then the steaming soda pool, sharing the greenhouse-like space with guests from teenagers to seniors, their eyes closed, faces serene. If you prefer alone time, it’s worth the $45 to upgrade to a private outdoor pool—with wood-burning fireplace, Adirondack chairs, and rustic cliffside view—for an hour. We relished the heat in the crisp November weather, taking turns throwing logs into the fire and sinking into piping-hot water that coursed into the pool from a giant faucet. I told Whitney she had to try the Milagro body wrap with me, a $12 ancient ritual thought to release toxins. We walked into a hospital-like room full of empty massage tables and awkwardly shed our robes. A spa attendant swaddled each of us in blankets, tucking us in tight, putting a towel over our eyes. For 25 minutes, we were mummies, motionless, listening to chiming New Age music. I could hear Whitney breathing in and out; I knew she was meditating. I, on the other hand, surprised myself when I started to cry in the darkness, tears soaking the towel, stress melting out of me. Were those the toxins? Time passed like molasses. “Did she forget about us?” I whispered. But, no—the 25 minutes hadn’t ended yet. When the lights came on, Whitney and I turned and looked at each other sleepily. “I dedicated my love and kindness meditation to you,” she said. A lump in my throat, all I could think to say was, “That’s nice.” At twilight, we set out for Taos. It was impossible not to feel the girl power when we stepped into Palacio de Marquesa, a restored 1920s Spanish-style casa designed to pay tribute to Taos women (from $129 per night). The eight rooms, bearing names like “Matriarch Suite” for art patron Mabel Dodge Luhan, are awash in pristine ivory paint and vibrant works by local female artists, who designed everything from the blankets to the window shades.  Later, at cozy farm-to-table restaurant Aceq, we speared slices of ahi tuna and pork tenderloin doused in a heavenly balsamic reduction (sharable plates from $7). Day 4: Taos to Albuquerque Whitney and I had both long dreamed of visiting Taos Pueblo, a Native American community inhabited for roughly 1,000 years, a four-mile drive from our hotel. We pulled up to the UNESCO World Heritage site, with its unmistakeable adobe structures, passed down generation to generation, and took a free tour led by a tribal member. We began in San Geronimo Chapel and circling the property, listening to the tribe’s bittersweet history, from Spanish colonization to the government’s return of spiritually significant Blue Lake in 1970 (admission $16). Some of the pueblo homes are open to visitors—residents sell pottery, jewelry, food. Whitney bought a bundle of sage to smudge her new apartment ($3); I purchased a tiny teal-and-black box, painted by a grandmother who told me she worked all her life so her grandchildren wouldn’t have to spend their childhoods in day care. Swept up in the moment, I hugged her. In another pueblo, we sipped piñon coffee and devoured sugar-sprinkled puffy fry bread in a resident named Bertha’s home (coffee $3, fry bread $6). We bid Bertha tah ah—the phoenetic spelling of “thank you” in Tiwa, the native language—and drove back to Taos, peeking into art galleries before tearing ourselves away to catch our flight.  In the air, I peered at Whitney’s laptop, admiring how she deftly clicked through our trip photos and filed them electronically. On Georgia O’Keeffe’s dining-room sofa in Abiquiu rests an Alexander Girard pillow with a red heart formed by words: “ ‘love’ in many languages,” our tour guide had explained. In my language, “That’s nice” means “I love you as a friend too, Whitney. I’m glad we got to know each other better in this beautiful place. Also, thank you for driving.”

Inspiration

Gorgeous Caribbean B&Bs from $69!

As winter arrives, we firmly believe that the Caribbean is always a good idea, and our friends at bedandbreakfast.com have come up with some “luxe for less” deals that we want to pass on right away: Westender Inn, Jamaica, is perched on the low-lying cliffs of the West End and starts at $69. You’ll want to relax in a hammock on your verandah or patio and savor authentic Jamaican cuisine (after your shuttle returns you from a fun day shopping in nearby Negril). Nab a table at Rick's Cafe on the Negril Cliffs for a scary/cool view of cliff divers. Gloucester Place, Tobago, starts at $70 and offers airy rooms that open onto a verandah with sweet views of the sea and fishing boats bearing the day’s catch (a.k.a. your dinner), plus an infinity pool that’ll make you feel as if you’re swimming to the horizon. Browse the small shops and outdoor market in nearby Scarborough and visit the historic 18th-century Fort St. George.   B&B Sombré di Kabana, Curacao, just outside the colorful capital city of Willemstad, starts from $150 and offers a soothing garden setting with tropical birds, pool, and Jacuzzi. Feeling a little adventurous? Some first-rate nearby dive sites will let you explore beautiful undersea coral formations.

Inspiration

Why You Should Visit Freeport, Maine

Freeport, Maine, home to L. L. Bean’s flagship store and dozens of other retail outlets, is a shopaholic’s fantasy. But even those without a tad of interest in shopping will enjoy a weekend visit to this tidy town on the shores of Casco Bay. If you’re seeking active adventures for a bargain price, you’ve come to the right place. Mother Nature shines in these parts and admirers of the great outdoors will appreciate the region’s beauty. Foodies looking for the next culinary “it girl” are flocking here to sample a tantalizing array of sweet and savory goodies. Freeport’s compact nature and walkability factor make it a pedestrian’s delight. With so much to offer in all four seasons, you’ll quickly see why this town attracts over three million visitors annually. Unleash your inner shopaholic If you think L.L. Bean is all about Oxford shirts, boat shoes and moccasins, think again. Sure, you can purchase these preppy staples 24/7 at the flagship store, but New England’s best bargain attraction is the L.L. Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools, where for $25 you can learn a new sport or perfect an old favorite, with expert instruction and all equipment included. In summer, try your hand at standup paddle-boarding, fly fishing, canoeing, or archery. In winter, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are popular options. Get back to nature Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park is a place of solitude and pristine beauty. Groomed trails provide glimpses of coastal scenery. Hike or just meander and soak up the sweeping views and fresh air. Splurge on local favorites You’ll find generic outlet stores such as Gap, J. Crew and Banana Republic here, but don’t miss the unique local boutiques and shops. Wilbur’s Candy sells rich and delish Maine-made confections. Casco Bay Fibers is the place to purchase yarn, fabric, beads and other crafty supplies that should appeal to do-it-yourself types. Maine Wicked Goods Mercantile is packed with heirloom and artisanal items representing the best products this Yankee state can muster. Foodies, rejoice! Check out these great local restaurants Portland swipes Maine’s epicurean spotlight, but Freeport is garnering plenty of its own accolades. Chefs are drawn here for the abundance of high-integrity seafood, collaborative food community and relatively low overhead costs. New on the dining scene is Stirling & Mull. Modeled after a German beer garden, the selection of craft brews and wine-by-the-glass is varied. Chef Anthony pleases patrons with casual bar food like fish and chips with an oatmeal crust and homemade soft pretzel bites. Bring the family; the kids can romp in the playground while the grownups relax with a drink by the fire pit. The Harraseeket Inn’s Broad Arrow Tavern’s authentic New England cuisine is mouth-watering. Don’t miss the award-winning Maine lobster stew or the flaky chicken pot pie. The Sunday buffet brunch is a scrumptious showstopper. One bite and you’ll understand why Azure Cafe’s Chef Christopher Bassett was named Maine Chef of the Year. He’s inspired by Italian, Spanish and French cooking traditions but not bound by them. He serves only seafood that is found in abundance, so expect local lobster and sustainably harvested Pollack. The sugar fairy has blessed this town with an assortment of sweet treats, so leave your diet at the state border. Frosty’s Donuts are hand-cut daily. Locavores won’t be disappointed with the maple or blueberry varieties, while purists can chow down on a chocolate frosted. Whoopie pie is Maine’s official state treat. If you’re not familiar with this Northern staple of two soft cookies with a creamy filling, it’s time to get acquainted. Wicked Whoopies sells the classic chocolate sandwich version as well creative takes like red velvet, Creamsicle and coconut. If you find yourself in need of a fix, they do a brisk mail order business and ship anywhere in the U.S. If you’re proclivities lean towards the liquid, Maine Craft Distilling uses local agricultural products to make small batch spirits that taste like New England in a bottle. Gin, whiskey and rum are all produced using farm to-flask methods for a distinct flavor profile. Stay at a lovely B&B The Harraseeket Inn offers some of New England’s finest lodging and friendliest service. Book one of the 93 luxury rooms directly through the hotel’s website and a generous breakfast and lavish fireside afternoon tea are included in the rate. If you prefer a Bed and Breakfast, the cozy White Cedar Inn is located right on Main Street. Innkeeper Rock’s morning meal is a fortifying way to start the day. How to get to Freeport Freeport is enticing visitors without cars thanks to Amtrak’s Downeaster stopping in the center of town. If you’re driving, it’s twenty minutes north of Portland. To plan your trip, go to www.freeportusa.com and www.visitmaine.com.

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