Traveling immerses us in the world, but sometimes in the less eventful moments in between destinations, we just need to escape. “The Layover” is a weekly roundup of books, music, podcasts, and other forms of entertainment brought to you by your favorite world travelers.
This week, we reached out to Briana Moore, a freelance photographer & writer specializing in community-driven storytelling, with a focus on lifestyle, travel, and portraiture. Briana is the creator of Travels with Quigley, a creative retelling of John Steinbeck’s travelogue, “Travels with Charley.” Today, she discusses the entertainment she turns to during travel’s quieter moments.
“Where’d You Go, Bernadette” by Marie Semple
“The sooner you learn it’s on you to make life interesting, the better off you’ll be.”
I’ve learned, with great difficulty, that I must carefully consider which books I choose to pack, particularly if I’m traveling with those who might want my attention. I’m an obsessive reader who lacks the willpower to close an enthralling book, sleep or conversation be damned. At the same time, if a novel is too flowery or dense, I will wind up scrolling mindlessly through social media at night in avoidance of a misfitted narrative and miss the chance to relax with the words of a talented writer. Approximately six years ago, I found my perfect balance in this hilarious novel by Maria Semple.
“Where’d You Go, Bernadette” is witty, well-paced piece of fiction. I can enjoy reading its plot for hours, but it’s never pressing enough to distract me from my surroundings. The protagonist, Bernadette, exhibits a staggering number of parallels to a dear friend who I met while traveling years before. While I was flipping through the novel’s physical pages for the first time, I was in the Philippines with a friend, a woman with whom I have now visited four continents. The plot revolves around a proposed family trip to Antarctica, which is the location highest on my bucket list right now. Whenever I think about my future Antarctic cruise, I recall a few hilarious observations from this book. If you love a bit of snark or playful riddles, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” is for you!
“Harry Potter” by JK Rowling
“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?”
I would love to sound more intellectual and list one of the many inspiring non-fiction titles that comprise my audiobook library but, let’s be honest, I adore “Harry Potter.” My connection to the story itself is deeply connected to travel. I’ve engaged in shameless tourist activities like riding the train over the Glenfinnan Viaduct in Scotland (as seen in every film), purchasing a discreet Ravenclaw scarf in London, and secretly giggling as I included “that rock” from “the Half Blood Prince” in my photo of the Cliffs of Moher. Not a day abroad passes without my desire to apparate between various points of interest. As any proper fan will tell you, this series has inexplicably woven itself into my psyche.
I typically can’t enjoy fiction audiobooks because I get distracted too easily. But, the “Harry Potter” series has not only proven to be the exception, it also has become a dear travel companion. When I’m tired or nauseated during long train or flight trips, I can sink into the world of Hogwarts as I doze off, not worrying about what I will miss as I fade in and out of consciousness. During months of solo travel on the road, listening to these familiar characters provided endless comfort. Additionally, I feel that these books are a lovely reminder to be open-minded while traveling. This applies to the people and customs in cultures different than your own (scientific studies have concluded that reading the series has helped instill empathy in a new generation), but it also can remind us to, quite simply, allow ourselves to be open to magic itself.
“In the Silence” by Ásgeir
Music is not a passive activity so much as an experience that engages all of our senses. When I sing along, I taste the warm herbal teas with lemon drunk copiously during vocal training. My body feels the ground underfoot as my toes tap to the beat, five little percussionists in a row. The emotional swells of a chorus often beget deep breaths in which we take in our surroundings more acutely. Music immediately transports us into powerful memories; specific songs help us to recall the moments in life that shaped us at our core. Like many travelers, this belief has influenced what draws me to press play. That is inherently what a thoughtful playlist becomes — the soundtrack to our adventures.
I stumbled across Ásgeir as I was compiling hours of music for a journey through Iceland and Scotland. “In the Silence” initially fit the bill for our specific destination (local artist, thematic, etc.), but over the years this album has become a staple for all of my trips. His intimate style that blends folk and synth, paired with vocals both engaging and perfectly unintelligible at times (causing me to dub him the “Icelandic Bon Iver”), culminates in a collection of songs that make the listener feel something.
My challenge: Listen to a sonically soaring track like “In Harmony” as you drive along windy, mist-filled roads, or as you approach the crest of a hike, or as you dig your toes into sand wetted by an unfamiliar body of water, or as you stare out the window of your train, or as you insert your preferred adventure here. Then try to keep your heart rate level, avoiding the feeling that you’ve dropped into the real-life version of an epic travel film. I bet you a pot of tea that you can’t. You can tell me all about the experience over said pot of tea in the future. I look forward to it.
“Obvious Child” by Paul Simon
“This Head that I Hold” by Electric Guest
These go-to dance songs have never failed me when I need to “dance it out” during rough moments on the road, nor have they let down the multitudes of people I’ve invited to dance with me over the years. Dance transcends language and culture, providing an opportunity to bring people together in a burst of unabashed joy. What better reason to keep a few trusted songs in the queue?
I first danced to “Obvious Child” as a child, during my many visits to New Orleans — tiny limbs flailing with abandon, my bare feet stomping against the wood floors in time with the drums. Since then, I’ve kept this tune in my back pocket (quite literally, since the age of the iPod). Road-trip sing-alongs frequently begin with this track’s jubilant drumming. I’ve played it during bouts of post-red-eye lethargy, lying on the bed and dancing only with my fingers until my body felt ready to join. I’ve lost count of the times that, waiting in a security line or for my subway to arrive, passersby have smirked as I play this on loop in my head, my head bobbing along shamelessly. When witnessing Paul Simon perform this live in concert, I flailed and stomped like that little girl in the French Quarter, a swirling mass of unabashed bliss.
“This Head that I Hold” has lovingly become my anthem for dancing with large groups of people who were, up until recently, mere strangers. My first memorable experience came during a photography workshop, an experience that combined travel, education, and the awkwardness of engaging with near-strangers. Despite significant tensions throughout our time together, after four days of photography training (and two pitchers of mango-jalapeño margaritas), a group of newly earned peers from across the globe clapped along to the chorus together, dancing poolside in Palm Springs. I further tested my theory of this track’s magic by slipping it into the playlist at a barbecue and observing as a group of people shed their inhibitions just a bit and the conversation turned to exuberant laughter.
During a visit to Italy, I was given a simple, but highly valuable tip in regards to journaling: When taking the time to put your days into words, be sure to write about every single sense. To put it plainly, title your location, list each sense, and make a note beside each. It’s incredible what stories this kind of journaling will trigger.
I sat in small villages throughout Tuscany honing this practice. Rather than noting the mundane activities (which were often detailed in snapshots already), I made it a point to take quiet moments where I stopped, completely enveloped in my immediate surroundings. A pop? into the local charcuterie shop, an act often transcribed in a single line of journal space, now generated a clear picture of the charm that embodied those few minutes. A thick, pungent wall of scent while passing through the doors. The sound of the shop owner and his friend laughing with their heads together. The neutral tones of their linen clothing, nearly camouflaging them amid the varnished racks brimming with cheese, pasta, and salami. The slick feel of a small coin being pressed into a sweaty palm.
I haven’t seen a photo of this moment in years, yet I can recall it as if it played out on my screen in high definition. This small habit has not only changed how I journal, but it has vastly affected how I perceive each location I encounter.