Wednesday, December 23

Posted by Laurel Garver on Wednesday, December 23, 2009 3 comments

Yesterday my family and I took a trek up to NYC for some holiday fun and a wee bit of research for me. How I landed on a New Yorker MC rather than a Philly girl (which would require less travel) is something I'll have to elaborate in another post. I thought I'd take the opportunity so share some of my best tips for day trip research travel. And, of course, share some fun pictures of my cute kid.

1. DO dress comfortably and weather-appropriately. You want to be able to chase sensations without going completely numb or limping. I highly advise waterproof hiking boots and warm clothes for winter trips.

(Side note: If your most weather-appropriate outerwear is obnoxiously bright, DON’T expect to blend into the crowd, DON'T be surprised if you get a few stares--and more importantly, DON’T care. New Yorkers are weirdly color-averse. Ditto with Londoners. But hey, I’m a Philadelphian—we’re known for being a bit outrageous and tacky a la the Mummers Parade.)

2. DO plan your trip. Have a sense of which locations you want to visit most and plan out an efficient route. Pack maps so you don’t get hopelessly lost when the spontaneous urge to tail a fascinating stranger strikes you.

We knew we wanted to see all the best holiday window displays: Macy’s, Saks, Lord and Taylor, and our perennial favorite—Bergdorf Goodman. And who could miss the madness that is FAO Schwartz three days before Christmas?

3. DO pack essential supplies: a camera with fully-charged batteries, a pocket notebook, good pens not prone to ink freeze, light refreshments. If you’re a gadget person, a sound recording device can be handy also. Video recorders I’m not so keen on. The machine gets between you and the experience.

4. DO have a reasonable agenda. To make the most of your trip, it’s best to know what sorts of information you need and how you hope to use it. Unless you’re planning a several day intensive trip, limit yourself to a few agenda items. This was my fifth or sixth NY trip and I was looking specifically for sensory images to build “memories of childhood Christmases in New York.”

5. DO be open to the spontaneous. I built my agenda around my daughter, since my focus was on developing backstory for my MC’s childhood. I paid special attention to what engrossed her, and let her lead us to side adventures. She wanted to go into the NY Public Library, and there we discovered the REAL Winnie the Pooh and all his Hundred Acre Woods friends that once belonged to Christopher Robin Milne (bequeathed to the library by Milne’s publisher). It was quite a thrill to discover something any New York kid would have grown up with, hidden away in a basement room.

Claire was also especially engrossed by the skaters at Rockefeller Center and would have gladly watched them for hours.

6. DO engage all your senses, and make sure you record at least one detail for every sense. How does this place smell? What textures do I feel here? What unique sounds can I discern? What flavors are unique to this place? What sights are ubiquitous or striking?

I was delighted by the handsome young Arab vendors selling hot dogs, pretzels and roasted chestnuts on every corner and jamming to the sinuous sounds of Middle-eastern music. One even drummed along to a song, banging on bin lids with spoons.

What are your best tips for on-location research? Any wonderful discoveries or disasters you'd like to share?

Are you planning a research trip in 2010? I'd love to hear about your plans.
Categories: ,


  1. Would it be wrong of me to plan a novel set in Paris, just so I had to take a research trip there? Yes? Darn.

    Nicely done, Laurel. Glad you and the family had fun in NYC, and survived the FAO Schwartz stampede! (I shudder to think of taking all three of my children there!)

    Merry Christmas!

  2. Very interesting post. I like the way you have a plan and don't try to pack everything into one trip.
    If I had unlimited funds, I would be globetrotting for several stories. Some I've been to before, some not. But my wish list is huge: China, Hawaii, rainforests of Brazil, Alaska, Scotland, Greece. Sigh. It would be grand, but maybe I shouldn't set my characters on such adventures.

  3. Simon: I still question frequently the wisdom of having some NYC scenes to contend with. Travel IS a pain and google street view only helps so much. Fortunately it's only a 2 hour drive and we have a number of NY friends who've let me pick their brains and stalk their neighbors. Paris would be far more tough.

    Tricia: your wish list sounds amazing. I did do some overseas research for WIP-1, but it was a 12 day trip with no kid in tow. But even touristy family trips can be useful when you put your mind to it.