I give speeches and lead workshops on writing, history, and travel. I've taught high school students how to apply a travel writer's eye to their own surroundings, spoken to community groups about the pleasures of getting lost, and was a featured speaker on a cruise ship, alongside luminaries like Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and civil rights leader Julian Bond. Yes, really.
I tailor every talk and workshop to the specific audience, offering a lively, engaging mix of travel stories, history, and Actual Insights. Note that each of these can be customized, combined, or reworked in a new format.
Enough With the Road Less Traveled (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Being a Tourist)
It's become a cliché of travel writing and of Inspirational Travel Speeches: You must get off the beaten path. In this talk, my most popular, I present a different view: Just because a million people have been somewhere or done something before you doesn't mean you can't approach it in a new way, and appreciate it on your own terms--it may take some extra effort, but therein lies the joy. This talk draws on my own experiences and photos from the beaten path, embracing the absurdity of the tourist experience while offering thoughts on how to see beyond the clichés.
Confessions of a Travel Writer
It seems like a glamorous life: see the world, meet interesting people, then sit on a beach and dash off dispatches while drinking daiquiris. The reality is ... different. This talk goes behind the scenes of the travel-writing life, offering anecdotes from the road and of the publishing process. I also offer advice on how to craft an engaging travel story and insights on how to get it published.
The Pages That Paved the Way: An Offbeat History of Travel Guidebooks
A good guidebook is a timeless, necessary traveling companion. Ancient Romans had their own versions, written on papyrus scrolls. Seventeenth-century English aristocrats referenced the bawdy Coryarte's Crudities. And today's travelers have their choice between countless online resources and dozens of printed guidebook publishers. This lecture tells the oddly fascinating history of the world's prominent guidebooks and their colorful founders. It examines, too, the role of guidebooks in shaping history--including as tools of war--and in altering the very cultures they document. (This is basically the lecture version of my book Europe on Five Wrong Turns a Day.)
The Joys of Getting Lost (Or, the Most Important App is the Off Button)
The internet is a godsend for travel planning and keeping in touch on the road. But there's also a downside to this constant digital connection: We miss out on the sense of being really, truly out of our elements and forced to adapt and learn on the fly. We lose out on genuine, serendipitous discovery. This talk examines how technology has changed the travel experience and how we can use it to make our journeys better, while also understanding its limits and when to turn it off and just enjoy the moment.
From the Marshall Plan to Facebook Fans: The Social History of Postwar Tourism in Europe
The Grand Tour has long been a favorite of affluent tourists, but it wasn't until the 1950s that the American masses arrived in Europe. This is the story of how and why they flooded the continent involves encouragement from the Marshall Plan, the restlessness of a prosperous society, and a little innovation called the jumbo jet, with an assist from the guidebook Europe on Five Dollars a Day, with stops in each ensuing decade to learn how, exactly, the beaten path got so beaten.
The Not-Quite States of America (Or, What's the Deal With the US Territories?)
The lecture version of my latest book, this talk explores the territories of Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands and how these often forgotten islands helped create the USA as we know it today.
Finding Hemingway's Chicken: Improving Your Writing Through the Telling Details
Writer George Saunders, when asked about great writing, tells of a Hemingway story set in a Cuban marketplace, the details impressionistic but for one: a man blowing on a rooster to prepare it for a cockfight. It's this odd but striking image that gives life to the scene, while the reader's mind fills in the rest of the tableau. This workshop guides participants on their own quest to find the telling details that bring their own stories to life, starting with a lively interactive slide show of local scenes and landmarks familiar to the audience and a discussion of what details stand out.
Not So Funny When It Happened: Turning Your Misadventures Into Humorous Stories
Part of the joy of travel is getting out of your comfort zone—you discover new things, gain new skills … and have incredibly awkward or dangerous experiences that leave you mortified or near death. But even the low moments have their place, because they often lead to the best stories. This workshop offers techniques for turning those low moments into tantalizing tales, drawing on masters such as Patricia Marx, David Sedaris, and Evelyn Waugh.