As an automotive writer, I frequently attend press launches for new cars. They're usually held in interesting locations, with an eye toward ensuring the cars are tested on challenging routes and photographed in rich, varied environments.
During the drives, we're usually paired up with other journalists and set off on a route that can stretch for hundreds of miles, allowing us to fully experience different features of the new car. We take the drive—stopping frequently for photos—and arrive at the hotel, and then have dinner meshed in with tech briefings. After that I usually have to crack open my laptop to get work done.
But I've developed a bit of a new habit during these test drives, if not an actual obsession: Going rogue. Finding detours and worthwhile diversions. Folding bonus road-trips into the road trips I'm already on. I look at the route either before the trip or even while on the road, and figure out whether there's anything nearby that's worth investigating. Maybe a local attraction, or a well-known bit of landscape. Maybe it's a famous bridge or a particularly cool piece of architecture. I do this for both selfish reasons--because I want to see something cool and have a bit of a side adventure—and for professional reasons, because I like my photography to be different from the other journos on the drive. Placing the car someplace novel and intriguing is a great, rewarding challenge. Plus, if I'm in an amazing place, I want to grasp as much of it as humanly possible.
Sometimes I'm able to make the detour while on the drive—sacrificing some of the route in order to accommodate the diversion—and other times I'm able to secure a car from the media reps when they aren't being used, perhaps after the drive but before dinner, or at the crack of dawn. I've been remarkably successful in these diversions. Last fall, while driving the new Jaguar XF in Sedona, I noticed that we were quite close to the Grand Canyon—just a 50-mile hop north from the highway. An hour later, my driving partner and I were relishing the beauty of the epic scenery. (Fortunately, nobody has never turned down any of my detours. I pity the first poor slob who does, as I sit there simmering next to him or her.) Also last year, we snuck off course from a Mercedes C-Class Coupe drive in southern Spain to go see the Rock of Gibraltar, which I've always been curious about. It was only 25 miles from our hotel, and it was awesome—a huge, well, rock surrounded by a small city, accessible by crossing an airport runway that they block off when airplanes are coming and going.
Earlier this year, during a Rolls-Royce launch even in Las Vegas for the Wraith Black Badge, I asked if I could break off solo with the car during the last stage of our drive, in order to photograph it in the desert with the night sky above—hoping to capture the sublimely cool Starlight Headliner option in the car in a compelling way. They graciously consented, and I vanished with their $400,000 machine, whisking it off to Death Valley, California, more than a hundred miles to the north. (Btw, I realize how fortunate I am to have these opportunities. It's absolutely not lost on me ....) Death Valley is another place I'd always been curious about—and it, too, was spectacular. I arrived before sunset, enjoying ridiculously twisty roads, and caught the beautiful glow of the diminishing light on the landscape. Then the stars came out, and the view of galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae was extraordinary. I got my shots and cruised (very luxuriously, and VERY fast) back to Vegas, arriving after 2 a.m. It was an amazing night in an amazing car.
Then there was southern Germany, just a few months ago during the launch event for the new Porsche Panamera. I realized that our hotel was about an hour's drive from the famous Castle Neuschwanstein in Bavaria. I asked if I could access a car before dawn so we could tack the castle onto our route—and catch it at sunrise, to boot. Again, my co-driver was down for the adventure, and again they said yes. We found our way there just in time to watch the fog drift away and reveal the fairy-tale scene.
My point in all this is that you're never quite as far away from something amazing as you might think, if you just do a bit of research and are willing to cover the distance. Besides, what's an extra two hours when the payoff is the Grand Canyon—even if you're just checking it out from the rim for 20 minutes? I've learned to calibrate this thinking into my other travels, as well, whether on other assignments or out with the family. I recently added a mere hour to a trip to the airport on Hawai'i just so I could drive a fantastic, undulating ribbon of asphalt to the top of the volcano Mauna Loa. (It's amazing. Do the more tourist-friendly Mauna Kea nearby, for sure, but the road up Mauna Loa is a work of art.) Of course, you might have to re-calibrate your idea of what counts as "close" sometimes—remembering that an extra few hours here or there can be accommodated just by getting up earlier. What are you going to do anyway? Have a leisurely breakfast? Sleep? You can sleep when you're dead! This is how adventures happens—by finding something great and then sneaking it in to the rest of your life, however you have to do it.
Question for you: When was the last time you went rogue while traveling?