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Gross credit Tracy ShamSo, we’re in a chic, if somewhat anodyne, hotel room, somewhere in the Northeast, and it’s raining outside. Perfect setting for an interview.

If you say so.

 

Why so crabby? You should be happy. This is the kind of situation you live for: you’re exhausted, you’re far from home, and the weather is bad, but you’re warm and dry and have nothing to worry about.

You’re right, of course. But I’m in that right now—I don’t yet have your kind of perspective on the situation. Maybe later, tonight or tomorrow or next week, I’ll look back on today and think, I had it good. At this second, however, I just want to curl up. Except, of course, I’m happy to talk to you!

 

Well, that’s good, I suppose. But are you faking the enthusiasm? I mean, can you really switch moods so quickly?

I guess I can. It’s one of those things I learned while traveling—how to force myself to shift my thinking, to adapt on the fly, when things get tough: when the bus doesn’t stop at the rural crossroads, when the beach is closed, when some parasite lays me low. If you can believe it, I feel both miserable and ecstatic at the same time, but I can sort of choose which to display and that becomes the dominant emotion. So I’m ecstatic!

 

I’m not entirely sure if I believe you, but that’s immaterial. And I’m guessing there’s a bit of this kind of stuff in the book, huh?

Somewhat. One of the large points of The Turk Who Loved Apples is that you can go halfway around the world, but you’re always still stuck in your own head, and that how you think about things is key to experiencing the world properly.

 

Are you experiencing the world properly right now?

I hope so. I went running this morning and I’ve had a good lunch, so there’s that. But what’s proper? Is there one particular way, or set of ways, I should be experiencing this New England coastal town?

 

Probably. There are standards, there are musts.

That’s true. I’ve been here before, and on this trip I visited some of the same shops and shacks I did on previous trips, partly out of deep nostalgia. I’m not sure that’s subtantially different from visiting destinations because they’re must-see items in a guidebook—both approaches bind you to a preset itinerary. And surely there’s overlap as well; my own personal map of this place isn’t really so personal and unique.

 

I thought you shunned maps.

No, I love maps! There’s nothing I love more than to page through a good atlas or to scan a dense map with my index finger. But I have a good memory for maps, and sometimes I like not to know where I’m going—to explore blindly—and in those cases I have to avoid them entirely. In fact, although I’ve been where I am right now several times, I don’t have a good sense of how the roads all connect through here, and I don’t necessarily want to. I’m happy to stumble a bit.

 

Isn’t this a strange position for you to be in? You’re supposed to be the travel expert, and yet you shun expertise and often advocate such “stumbling.”

I like to joke that I’m trying to put myself out of business: I want people to become experienced and independent travelers to the point that they don’t need to rely on “experts” such as myself for advice. Of course, to get to that point of experience, they tend to need a lot of advice. You tell me: Does it help to present myself as a mistake-making everyman? Or is it false modesty?

 

Oh, false modesty—totally. You know what you’re doing way better than most people. I mean, think of how many times you’ve had to explain what Airbnb.com and Couchsurfing are? Regular people don’t know about those things.

Look, I don’t know what “regular people” are like—how they travel, what they expect, what they want from the world. I can try to imagine it, but I don’t want to underestimate them—that’s not fair. What I do know is what I like and want and expect, and if travelers can glean something valuable from that, then fantastic! I’m content simply to be an inspiration. Although if they want to hear me talk about, say, buying airline tickets, I’m willing to provide a few tips.

 

Such as?

However you search for fares, try to buy at the airline’s own website—that way, if something goes wrong, the airline can’t try to foist you off on Expedia or whoever. You are their customer, their responsibility. Also: Sign up for the damn loyalty program!

 

Nice. I feel satisfied.

I’m going to take a nap.

 

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Gross_TurkWhoLoved_PB_mech.inddMATT GROSS has written nearly 200 articles for the New York Times Travel section. He lives in Brooklyn. His latest book The Turk Who Loved Apples is available from Da Capo Press.

 

 

Author photo credit: Tracy Sham

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TNB Nonfiction TNB Nonfiction features some of the web's best essays, excerpts of up-and-coming books, self-interviews, profiles, and humor from a wide range of authors. Past and future writers include Emily Rapp, Mira Bartók, Nick Flynn and Melissa Febos, among many others. 

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