Go Away With … Neil Strauss

By Jae-Ha Kim
Tribune Media Services
November 3, 2009

His background as a New York Times rock music critic and Rolling Stone contributing editor made Neil Strauss the perfect candidate to co-write books with Marilyn Manson, Motley Crue and Dave Navarro. But few people expected that the intellectual, slightly built journalist would earn fame writing about his real-life experience as a pick-up artist in the bestselling book The Game. Strauss’ latest book is Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life.  Strauss talks about his love of the Caribbean, eating his way across America and experiencing a truly ugly American moment in Mexico.

Q. What is your favorite vacation destination?
A. St. Kitts, in the Caribbean, where I often go to write. It hasn’t fully become a tourist destination yet, so you can still experience small-island Caribbean culture in one of the most beautiful, temperate spots on earth.

Q. Where are your favorite weekend getaways?
A. I hate to give this one away, but the jewel of Southern California is a little coastal town at the southern tip of Orange County called San Clemente.

Q. What are your favorite restaurants?
A. In every city, there are great dishes I eat every time I visit. In New York, it’s the corn at Cafe Habana (www.cafehabana.com); in San Francisco, it’s the tea leaf salad at Burma Superstar (www.burmasuperstar.com); in Memphis, it’s the dry-rub ribs at the Rendezvous (www.hogsfly.com); in Los Angeles, it’s the chef’s choice at Sushi Nozawa (www.sushinozawa.com); in the Mississippi Delta, it’s the steak at Doe’s Eat Place (www.doeseatplace.com); and in Chicago, it’s whatever they’re inventing at Hot Doug’s (www.hotdougs.com) and Alinea (www.alinea-restaurant.com).

Q. When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?
A. No matter what, I always travel with a copy of Roadfood (www.roadfood.com) by Jane and Michael Stern. I’ll drive hours out of the way to eat somewhere they recommend. Everything else is replaceable. Except for one other thing: if it’s a work trip, I carry a USB stick with a backup copy of whatever I’m working on around my neck.

Q. What kind of research do you do before you go away on a trip?
A. I’m a passionate researcher. I buy the more independent-minded guidebooks, scour the Web for tips from other travelers and talk to friends who’ve been there. Even when I arrive, I’m still researching, asking locals questions like, “If you’ve just returned home after a month-long trip, what restaurant would you want to eat at first and what dish would you have?”

Q. Where would you like to go that you have never been to before?
A. My current dream trip is the Kingdom of Lo — now known as Mustang. It’s supposedly home to the most authentic surviving Tibetan culture and accessible only by a three-day trip by yak or horse up the Himalayas. I’m planning a trip there this year.

Q. What is your worst vacation memory?
A. When I was in college, I backpacked across Europe. Near Santorini in the Greek Islands, I got out of a boat to swim. While I was in the water, the boat took off with my backpack — which included my passport, my ticket home and all the clothes I had except the swimsuit I was wearing.

Q. How do you try to fit in when you’re a tourist?
A. I never really think about this. I just dress in a way that’s respectful to the culture I’m visiting.

Q. Have you ever been guilty of being an “ugly American”?
A. I hope not. Except for maybe when I was stranded in Santorini in nothing but a swimsuit. I think the ugliest American I ever saw though was in Mexico, sitting on the edge of a dock and trimming her pubic hair into the ocean.

© 2009 JAE-HA KIM
DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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