Nevin Martell, courtesy of photographer Scott Suchman
From Ship to Shore‘s Hannah Josi recently sat down with Freak Show Without a Tent: Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji and Other Family Vacations author and prolific D.C. food writer Nevin Martell to talk crazy travel adventures, D.C. food culture, and writing tips.
HJ: Thanks for meeting with me. I really, really enjoyed the book. It was wonderful how it wasn’t just a travel book—it was a coming of age story…Now, you end your book when you’re in your 30s with your dad, but in the chapter before that, you were seventeen. So, in the space in between, what were you up to? You mentioned a couple of trips—did your travel continue into your twenties or did it kind of fall to the wayside?
NM: When I went to college and then moved to New York City I had, at first, fewer chances to travel but that was just because I was a broke kid out of college with his first job trying to make his way in the world. It kind of picked up steam, though, as I got a little bit older in my mid- to later-twenties. I went to Cuba with my father and my sister, and I got a chance to go to Finland, and I had a chance to go to Costa Rica a couple times, and I had a chance to go to Mexico a couple of times. I tried to travel somewhere new internationally at least once, about twice, a year. That was kind of my goal, and, you know, for the most part I was able to follow that philosophy…
My wife and I, when we first got engaged, we ended up in Honduras, in the Bay Islands, and we tried to travel a lot, up until we had our child a year and a half ago—you know, we’re waiting to take our first big trip with him. He’s been to California a couple times, he’s been all over the East Coast, but we’re just gearing up for the right international opportunity. But, um, no, in the in-between years, I would say my love of travel grew and, you know, I was always just looking for the best way to make that happen and the most feasible way…
Now that I’m in this new stage as a father, it was interesting writing the book because I look at the way my family traveled as a kid, and then think like, “Okay, how do I want to do this with my own child and wife, and where would that take us, and would we go to some of the same places that my dad took my family? And, if so, would we do the same things?” Probably not, but how could we do them in the right way for us? So travel is something that’s been super important, and it’s something that I can’t wait to introduce my son to, because travel was always something amazing for me, and I think he’ll really appreciate it, too. I definitely think it’s important for forming a world view.
HJ: So once your son does grow up a little bit and he is able to travel more, do you think that you’ll kind of go the route of your father and try to go to these really exotic, authentic, crazy places—for those who haven’t read the book, Nevin’s been to Fiji, Venezuela…all over. Do you think you’ll go that route or are you going to play more by the book?
NM: I think it’s going to be somewhere in the middle. I’m certainly not going to be a pre-packaged, Club Med kind of guy, ever. You know, that doesn’t really have any appeal for me…But by the same token, do I necessarily want to take my son fishing for piranhas and things like that? Maybe not. I would love to show him some of the far corners of the world, and I would love to introduce him to some really lesser-known elements of the world, but I want to do it in a way that—no offense to my dad—is a slightly saner way to doing it.
For example, top of the bucket list are like Morocco—I would love to do that. But really top of the bucket list is my wife’s home country Ghana, which I haven’t visited either. So, I would love to take him there, introduce him to his relatives…spend some time in West Africa. But then I would like to do some crazy things, like…since I was a little kid I always wanted to go to Stonehenge, for example. I think that would be something fun. I’ve always wanted to go to Easter Island, which I know is not the most practical of destinations because it’s literally the most remote point on Earth, but I think, again, it’s something he would really enjoy. I think it’s going to be somewhere in the middle, probably closer to my dad than I’m probably thinking, but as I say in the book, more airbags, more seat belts, more helmets.
HJ: When it comes to actually going out there, finding the right spot to vacation, finding that nice balance between authentic but visitor-friendly, do you have any advice?