Q and A with Phil and Carol White, Travel Writers

Interview with Phil and Carol White, authors of Live Your Road Trip Dream: Travel For A Year For The Cost Of Staying Home.

Could you tell our readers something about yourself, why did you want to take off a year to travel around the USA, and what prompted you to write your book?
Phil and I are fairly typical baby boomers (no hippies here!). We went to college, got married, raised our families, stayed in one job all our lives and never really did anything just for ourselves. So when our children were on their own and we were lucky enough to leave to workplace early, we decided that the time had come for us to live that long-held dream of the “loooonng” vacation. We wanted to get out and see this great country of ours.

Phil and I are both very friendly and love to talk to people we meet everywhere. So it was only natural that when we were on our trip, we would strike up conversations all along the way. What came to us was how often we heard the same refrain. We would love to do a trip like yours, but how did you? And the specific questions began. Everything from what did we do with our house/cars, to how do we possibly get along 24/7.

Soon we realized that there must be a market for this information, so when we returned we did some research, and sure enough, there is no handbook on how to do all the things required to actually get out of town for an extended trip. So we set about writing one!

I am sure you visited many interesting cities and had many exciting experiences. Which five cities or geographical locations would you suggest to our audience as being the most romantic and why?
We are naturally a pretty romantic couple. This is both of our second marriage and Phil gave me a card and a gift every MONTH on our anniversary for the first five years. His friends said he was making them look bad!

We love romantic get-aways and continue to take them regularly. We had quite a discussion trying to decide on our Top 5 for this interview, but here is our final answer!

The Greenbrier Inn – White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. A place I have wanted to go for a long time and it did not disappoint so elegant, so stately, and so romantic. It is situated in a beautiful location far from the bustling crowds and has an ambience of old world charm. The staff was always there, but never there never intrusive, but attentive to your every desire. The grounds were impeccable, the rooms perfect, the amenities more than you could partake in, and the food and drink incomparable. Our single most expensive night on the trip!

Key West. Who cannot love Key West! With the presence of Earnest Hemingway at every turn, and the lively atmosphere throughout this very walkable town, this is a place you can just lose yourselves in. Quaint cafes (albeit with chickens underfoot everywhere), steel drum bands, the slapping of the ocean on the shore, the party at the pier every evening, and a hang loose atmosphere, this is not to be missed.

The Furnace Creek Inn Death Valley, California. Out of the midst of absolute desolation comes this mirage of a hotel. Lots to do and see all through Death Valley National Park, but when the day is over what a home to come home to! Built in 1927, this hotel offers charm, an unusual environment and gourmet dining in the middle of the desert. The pool is so pure that it is neither heated nor treated, being fed by a deep spring. The pool and hotel are set amongst a true oasis of palms, tropical vegetation, walkways and the spring. Even a non-romantic couple can find solace and romance here!

Newport, Rhode Island There is so much to see and do in this water-side gem. The Gilded Age Mansions (the elite who came here each summer called them cottages) tell of a time gone by when elegance marked the summer season in Newport. The wealthy would gather for 6-10 weeks of parties and entertaining and these stately mansions remained uninhabited, except for staff, the rest of the year. Truly remarkable, just visualizing yourselves in that era is a romantic experience. But the water activities of the Bay, the charming downtown, the friendly people, and wonderful restaurants all add to the romantic atmosphere here.

Sun Valley, Idaho A unique combination of a historic town (Ketchum) and a glorious resort The Sun Valley Resort. So many films have been made here and so many historic figures have visited, you can’t help but be impressed. Again, with lots of activities to enjoy together from golf to bicycling to hiking to fishing to winter skiing, this location has something for everyone. With a wide variety of accommodations, there is a fit for every budget and type of romantic nest! Don’t miss just walking the grounds of the resort you will feel like you are in a Norman Rockwell painting.

As a follow up to the last question, if you were to chose five unique wedding venues to celebrate a marriage such as an exotic park or gorgeous beach, which ones would your choice be and why?
Of course a wedding is such a personal choice for location, and already such a romantic time that you almost can’t miss. Any of the above mentioned locations would make outstanding wedding venues, but we will focus on a wide variety of places that we consider unique and perhaps little known.

Grand Canyon Lodge, North Rim Grand Canyon: Built right on the edge of the canyon with huge picture windows overlooking the canyon. Either indoors or outdoors would provide a spectacular setting. The north rim is much less crowded than its better known counterpart, and we thought it was more breathtaking. A short hike out to Bright Angel Point with just a few friends would also be a memorable site.

Jeckyll Island, South Carolina: Another place where the elite used to meet. The whole island used to be a private club. This is an elegant location with a variety of views and vistas to suit every need and a classy feel to the surrounding area. The veranda and courtyard of the old club, now a hotel, would be charming.

St. Elena Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Texas: This would be a venue for the truly spirited and physically fit! Walls of stone rise 1500 feet on either side of the Rio Grande with emerald green vegetation all along the canyon. The US is on one side and Mexico on the other. A canoe or rafting trip takes you into the canyon. This would provide a spectacular backdrop for the most special of days.

Mt. Washington Hotel, White Mountains, New Hampshire: Planning a fall wedding? How about a setting in the middle of the fall foliage of New England? This elegantly restored hotel has all the amenities a wedding party could want and preserves that formal feeling from the late 19th century. Sipping your champagne, looking out on the beautiful tapestry created by nature here would be inspiring.

Timberline Lodge, Mt. Hood, Oregon: OK, so we are going to cheat here a bit with a home favorite! Although we didn’t get married here, we have always thought this true mountain lodge would make a prefect wedding location. Built in the 1920s by the WPA, Timberline Lodge has been lovingly maintained and restored over the years. Located at 6,000 feet on the flank on Mt. Hood, it enjoys year round snow skiing (on the glacier above the lodge), views in every direction of the magnificent Cascade Range with accommodations and dining that will bring out your most romantic feelings.

I know, I know, we didn’t do a beach in our top 5, but none of the beaches on our trip rate in our Top 5 beaches! We think you can’t beat Waikoloa on the island of Hawaii, or any of the many isolated beaches on St. John, US Virgin Islands. If we had to pick a beach from this trip, it would have to be Sanibel-Captiva in Florida. It is a fine sand, shell-strewn, stretch of heaven.

During your journey you must have had the opportunity to dine out. Please describe to our audience five restaurants in five different geographical locations that you would consider to be unique dining experiences and why?
Trying the cuisines of the various areas was definitely part of our experience. We thought the number one city for interesting, excellent food was Charleston, South Carolina. We had delicious meals everywhere, but particularly enjoyed Magnolia’s and 82 Queen Street. She Crab soup yum!

With equally interesting, but totally different cuisine would have to be New England. From lobster in Maine our favourite was a tiny diner near the lighthouse in Portland to the Italian section of Boston — we enjoyed terrific cuisine throughout the region.

Another treat awaited us in Richmond, Virginia. There we chose to enjoy the historic Jefferson Hotel, with its Tiffany glass-domed ceiling, the location was intriguing, but their 5-star dining room was a true delight.

New Orleans is world renowned for their interesting foods, combining the influences of Cajun, French, and southern cooking into a cuisine all their own. We ate many wonderful meals there, but I think Pasquale Manale’s may have been our favourite with their huge gulf prawns served piping hot and with all their accoutrements still attached!

Our final pick has to be Santa Fe, New Mexico. Again, with food choices that mix several cultures this time Spanish with Native American and Mexican dishes. The results can be tasted all over town, but one of our favourites was The Pink Adobe with simple, yet unique, flavour combinations showcasing the best of this area’s offerings.

Although, I have to say that our most memorable meals on the trip were the home-cooked ones prepared by friends all over the country.

Which geographical areas of the USA would you counsel a honeymoon couple to visit if they were on a limited budget and why would you chose these areas?
My first advice would be to enjoy some of the natural splendour of this country and nowhere is it more magnificent that in the Grand Circle of Parks those that dominate southern Utah. They have done a terrific job of laying out routes so that you can enjoy all of these great parks in less than a week. From Bryce to Zion, Arches to Canyonlands, you can spend as long as you have hiking, camping, rafting and just plain gawking at these marvels of nature. Reasonably priced motels abound in the area also, if camping isn’t your idea of a honeymoon.

If you are looking for something a little less adventurous, we suggest the off-season in Washington, DC. Fewer tourists mean shorter (or non-existent) lines, less costly accommodations, and better weather (think humidity!). Stay outside of the district in a long-stay or all-suites hotel and take advantage of their marvellous Metro public transit system. Buy tickets to the hop-on, hop-off buses that go to all the many sites in the area, spend days at the free Smithsonian Museum and eat in some of the wonderful low cost, ethnic restaurants throughout the area.

If you just want to lay back and enjoy each other’s company, rent a house for a week in a beautiful destination. Much less expensive than a hotel, you have total privacy and can cook meals or go out as the mood strikes you. Some lesser expensive areas with beautiful locations would be the coast of Maine, the panhandle area of the Florida coast, around the Great Lakes, San Diego, California, Lake Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, or along a beautiful lake or river close to your home.

Returning to your book, how long did it take you to write the book? Did you keep a journal when you were traveling? How are you marketing the book?
The actual writing of the book took less than 200 hours but from a really good outline I had prepared for the large publisher that I worked with for nearly a year, before they pulled the project at the last minute. Was I ever bummed! But, in retrospect it was a blessing in disguise, because I now have total control over my destiny and can market the book without the corporate restrictions.

The second half of the book was essentially pre-written as we had kept an on-line journal on our travel website (accessible now from our book website roadtripdream.com and also mytripjournal.com).

The difficult part was condensing down a year’s worth of experiences into the most interesting items for the reader. I tried to focus on those learning or aha moments, so that the reader would get even more tips and ideas based on our experiences.

The response to the book has really been overwhelming in these first six months. Our first print run of 3,000 is nearly gone even ahead of our own optimistic projections! I am using a multi-prong, but low-cost, strategy to market the book.

Print publicity: I have utilized the services of KSB Promotions in Ada, MI to help me reach the media. To date we have had over 20 articles written about the book, including such prestigious publications as the Boston Globe, the San Francisco Chronicle, USAToday.com, ABCNews.com, the Associated Press (in hundreds of papers) and VIA magazine (AAA) with more already committed for the first half of this year. I have also utilized Travelwriters.com to do press releases targeting that group of media.

Radio and TV: We are getting pretty good at radio interviews, having done nearly a dozen, so far, with more booked for this spring. KSB Promotions has helped with some of this, and some I have booked on my own. This week I completed a 3-hour marathon for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp (CBC) where I did 10- to 15-minute segments for stations all over Canada. We haven’t done any TV yet, but that is in my 2005 plan.

Maximize the distribution channels: Baker and Taylor is my wholesaler to the book chains, libraries and independent book stores. I have utilized Book Sense (independents), Writer’s Universe (John Weaver) for the book chains, and EBSCO to work the library market. I also market directly through all three Amazon.com programs, Advantage, Associates, and Marketplace.

Internet presence: Have lots of interesting information about the book, and, increasingly, from my readers, on my website RoadTripDream.com, where I have shopping cart service to sell autographed copies and Traveler’s Gift Packs directly to consumers. We update the content regularly and have an active linking program with other helpful sites. The last time I googled the book name, we had over 870 instances on the web. Several other websites also sell the book, either directly (I supply them) or their websites utilize Amazon for purchases. And, of course, there are e-interviews like this one and articles and excerpts posted on a variety of sites. One road trip website, ROAD NOTES, is doing a whole series of monthly articles excerpted from our travels. Give me any appropriate location — I will try to get something going on!

Special Markets: I have a number of initiatives currently under development to co-market with or sell though specialty retailers and other companies with ties to the book. The only one I can talk about at this point is AAA. We are a featured presenter for them in the Oregon-Idaho area. We distribute through them and also give presentations in the Travel Stores. I have developed about a 50-minute PowerPoint presentation that talks about the planning of such an adventure and then takes the audience on a whirlwind trip around the US over 200 scripted and timed slides in 30 minutes! We also utilize this presentation for book store signings and at trade shows such as The Great North American RV Rally, held annually.

Trade Organizations: I belong to Small Publisher Association of North America (SPAN), the Publisher’s Marketing Association (PMA), the Travel Publisher’s Association (TPA) and soon, Northwest Booksellers Association. I believe all of these provide excellent value for networking, increasing contact and visibility, and learning more about the industry. All important elements of the overall marketing of any book.

Industry Recognition: I have not had reviews by any of the big four (e.g. Publishers Weekly, etc.), but I have had the good fortune to be reviewed by Midwest Book Review (October), Independent Publisher (October) and will be part of an article in ForeWord Magazine in March. In addition, I have submitted the book for several industry award competitions including PMA’s Ben Franklin Awards, ForeWord’s awards, Independent Publisher’s Ippys and Writer’s Digest Book Awards. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

I do have a written marketing plan and work it daily. My objective is to do at least three activities each day that move my marketing forward.

You probably met during your travels many interesting people. Could you describe to us about any unusual experiences you may have encountered?
We had so many great encounters with people all across the country. It really renewed our faith in the good qualities of people everywhere.

When I broke my ankle in the third month of the trip and was confined to crutches or a wheelchair for 6 weeks, everyone was so helpful. Phil particularly remembers the man who helped push me up the very steep ramp into The Big House (University of Michigan’s football stadium) to our handicapped seats.

We were eating alone (as always!) in a small restaurant in Ft. Davis, Texas. We wanted a glass of wine, but the protocol in this restaurant, unbeknownst to us, was bring your own and they would serve it. A nice local couple (from nearby Marfa) overheard our dilemma and immediately invited us to share their table and their wine. What a delightful evening we had with them!

As a follow up, were there any unpleasant experiences? If so, please tell us about them.
We did have one early in the trip that particularly sticks out in our mind.

We told the motel in Monte Rio, Ca where we had stopped for the weekend that we were staying a second night, but they forgot to change our key card in their system (a new system for them). They left the motel unattended and without an emergency number (isn’t that against the law?) for 4 hours — and we were locked out of our room. Were we ever mad! It is a good thing we had the van, or I don’t know what we would have done. We did manage to fill part of the evening with the local Pig Roast. They called him Elmer Fudd, and he was yummy!

What is next for Phil and Carol?
Well, we have such a tiger by the tail with the book, we can barely think beyond this interview! 2005 will be the year we hope that the book really becomes established. We would like to do another multi-month trip, this time through Canada. We also have a house-exchange in mind for Europe in the next few years.

We like getting out of the Oregon rain a bit in the winter, and will take our annual trip to Palm Springs from late February to early April. But we will have all our electronics with us and our new shipping manager will be on duty!

Is there anything else you would like to add that has not been covered in our interview?
We encourage any of your readers who would like more information to please contact us at carolandphil@roadtripdream.com or call us at 888 522-TRIP – we love talking to people about this extraordinary adventure.


The above interview was conducted by: Norm Goldman, Editor of Sketchandtravel.com.