A nightmare Airbnb experience, a haunted motel in the middle of Arkansas and one helluva road trip through the Deep South. According to Amy Lovat, you must remember this…
When it comes to travelling, Amy Lovat prefers to wing it, though the 27 year old writer from Newcastle is willing to plan the bare minimum for the people who matter.
“I always try, mainly for my parents’ sake, to have a rough semblance of a plan. Whenever I’ve been by myself or with a partner or friend I’ve been like ‘This is the amount of time I have, here’s where I’m staying on my very first night, here’s my flight details and the rest I’ll let you know as I go along.’”
It is by no means an approach for the fainthearted, but Amy is no stranger to trekking the globe - she’s been to the UK eleven times, has worked her way around parts of Europe (she’ll be back), and most recently she set foot on American soil for the fourth time, in September last year, for a journey through the Deep South.
“One of my best friends, Lauren, is a country music singer. She had always wanted to go to Nashville and I’d always wanted to do the Deep South, so I suggested it to her for her 30th birthday.” Shares Amy. “We manifested the magical funds - it almost didn’t happen because flights were so expensive, then one day we were having lunch, lamenting the fact it didn’t look like it’d work out when Lauren decided to check SkyScanner one last time. Prices had dropped by 50%, so we booked it!”
And so the two set off with an open itinerary, booking their first night’s accommodation in Dallas, a Dollar Rentals hire car and tickets to Austin City Limits, the music festival being their only activity set in stone.
“America is the driving country,” says Amy, “but especially the Deep South. All the cool stuff is outside the places in the guidebook. Talk to everyone, because they are always interested in your story when you’re a traveller and they always have the best recommendations. We asked all of our UBER drivers, our bartenders and waitresses where we should go next, as opposed to googling it. We took a random back street somewhere in Mississippi and drove past actual cotton picking fields. We ran through them of course. You just don’t get those types of experiences when you fly in, fly out.”
As for the Deep South itself, Amy says the southern hospitality stereotype is true. “Absolutely 100% true. I’ve always found Americans to be really friendly and cool and polite, especially as an Australian, but we met some of the loveliest people there.”
And FYI ladies, according to Amy, every Nicholas Sparks male protagonist is real! “The whole ‘southern, raised by his mumma, good christian boy!’” Laughs Amy. “You go out in Melbourne or Sydney and people get up in your grill, but in the Deep South they come and ask you to dance. Real sweep-you-off-your-feet gentlemen. We were just fascinated by the huge cultural difference.”
Despite said differences, one thing that does translate whilst travelling is the presence of old faithful Airbnb, but as Amy found out, familiarity doesn’t always mean reliability.
As per her usual travel traditions, Amy had booked an Airbnb for the first night of their trip - a cool house they’d be sharing with two female artists, right in the centre of Dallas. It wasn’t until they were in the UBER on the way there that things started to seem suss. “The host had specifically said it was right in the city, but we were driving further and further away from it. We drove into this suburb and our driver was like ‘Ohh this is a bit of a dodgy area... lots of crime here and lot of homelessness… I wouldn’t walk around this area.’ Finally we pull up at this little run down shack.”
They knocked on door, once, twice, three times. No answer. “We thought maybe they weren’t home yet, so we sat down for a bit. It was sweltering hot, we were getting eaten by mosquitos and the sun was sinking lower in the sky.” Says the ever poetic Amy. “I took a walk around the side of the house and could see there were lights on and I could hear House of Cards playing on tv. Knocked again, no answer. Down the backyard there was a huge windowless shipping container/shed thing and I got this really weird vibe. Maybe I was being a bit dramatic due to jetlag but sometimes you have to trust your gut.”
It was dark by then and they ended up leaving, driving back into the city and they shared their experience with the receptionist at Crowne Plaza, who, charmed by their Aussie accents and sob story cut them a pretty sweet deal - “Moral of the story, trust your gut, always have a credit card handy and have a sob story! If you’re just nice to people and tell the truth they want to help you anyway.”
Although she doesn’t like to do things by the rules, as a bookworm, there’s nothing like the feeling of a real life guidebook for Amy. “I like Trip Advisor but I’m definitely a Lonely Planet girl,” she says, “But in my recent travels I just bought the chapter PDF online, so the chapter for Texas and one for the Deep South. I keep it on my phone in my iBooks and it was really convenient, better than lugging around a book.”
There was one instance where Amy failed to consult travel guides and she and Lauren ended up having something of a supernatural experience in Littlerock, Arkansas. “We stayed in this motel where it felt like the floor was moving, we both felt it and I kept getting headspins for hours.” Tells Amy. “We had a really rough night, barely slept and it was ridiculously sticky and hot even though it wasn’t that hot outside. I kept waking up gasping, feeling like someone or something was pushing down on my chest and I couldn’t breathe. It’s happened to me in the past at a friend’s house that I swear is haunted, I just had this sensation of being pushed down into the bed.”
If that doesn’t freak you out enough, the next morning at checkout they were asking the guy for recommendations and cool stories about the area and he went on to tell them that the motel is apparently haunted. On checking a travel guide later that day, they confirmed their supernatural speculations with tons of reviews that mirrored their experience. Thanks Amy, that’s one we won’t be checking in to...
All in all, Amy’s laid back approach to travelling has served her well so far and she can successfully tick the Deep South off her bucket list. For the times where things haven’t panned out according to plan however, this chilled out traveller always looks on the bright side.
“There have definitely been experiences where maybe it would have been better to plan in advance but it always works out for the best,” she says, and then like a true writer she adds, “but anyway, that’s where the best stories come from!”
Top four road-trip destinations in the deep south
Nashville for SURE! It’s a really cool city. You wouldn’t guess it, but it’s hipster-ville. Of course there’s the country music and Broadway, the main street for all the bootscootin’ bars, and that’s fun, but once you’re outside the main strip it’s so cool. Great bars, great coffee and everything you wouldn’t expect from a Deep South city.
We really loved Littlerock in Arkansas - totally underrated and kind of like Newcastle in that it’s a city but a town. Just the most beautiful, big, old colonial houses and really nice little organic deli’s. It’s the kind of place that flies under the radar. It's completely unexpected and non-touristy.
Graceland (Elvis’ house) in Memphis, Tennessee is a serious must, despite how touristy it is.
New Orleans is definitely a must. Everyone needs to go once in their life. It’s the city of the blues and amazing live music and swamps and history - so much history! Of pirates, witches, vampires, voodoo magic plus some amazing cemeteries. I’d definitely suggest doing a cemetery tour and also a Gator/Swamp tour.
AMY’S TOP ROAD TRIP TIPS
When it comes to accommodation, don’t book in advance
When you show up at a motel, particularly roadside, and haven’t booked in advance, it’s always cheaper! They put the prices up online because they have to pay booking fees and taxes, but if you arrive after dark, their prices have already gone down a little and they are just trying to fill rooms.
Keep your options open
You never know if you’re going to like a place. You might find that you really don’t like a particular spot, you want to move on and you’ll wish you hadn’t booked five nights there. Another reason to wing it when it comes to accommodation!
Be savvy about your ride
When hiring a car, don’t trust the prices online, they are usually wrong and don’t be afraid to haggle. The lady at Dollar Rentals tried to sell us a GPS system for an extra $17 a day and we said no, because we could buy one at cheaper Walmart for the entire three weeks. Turns out it was already attached to the car anyway, she was just trying to charge us more.
If you’re just passing through for the night, don’t stay in the city
It’s always cheaper to stay in roadside motels just outside the city/town limits as opposed to being in town.
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