I was visiting an elementary school in St. Michael, Minnesota, last week, and thought to myself, "I have the best job in the world." I was teaching a fun lesson on a subject that I love, students were stopping me in the hall to give me hugs and hand me notes saying I was "cool", teachers were thanking me for getting their classes excited about writing, and everyone was telling me how much they liked my books. On top of all that, I was getting paid.
Visiting schools is one of my favorite parts of being an author. Unlike my friend Laurie whose job sent her on the road 157 days last year (for expert advise and entertaining stories, check out her blog site, The Accidental Business Traveler), I only have a handful of out-of-town travels each year, which makes my overnight school visits feel almost like a vacation. And because I feel like I'm on vacation, here are a few of the perks I indulge in when my school visits take me out of town:
* I strive to eat at only non-chain restaurants. I'll take a diner's hamburger steak dinner with American fries and Texas toast over the Perkin's special any day of the week. And always ask the locals for their favorite places to get a good meal; plenty of times the best cafe is hidden around a corner that I would have otherwise overlooked.
* I ALWAYS check out the local bakery. I can remember the small town's mint brownies, moon pies, and apple fritters, long after I've forgotten the name of the school I visited.
*The local library is another great spot to hang out, as are the antique shops, where I can spend several pleasant hours scouring the shelves for vintage Cracker Jack prizes to add to my collection.
*Time in my hotel room allows me the luxury of reading without a hundred household chores staring me in the face. Heck, I don't even have to make my own bed! I also get to indulge in television watching which I don't do at home. Ten minutes of tube time can sometimes be enough to remind me why I don't have a working television...and then I can go back to reading again.
*A swimming suit is a staple in my suitcase in case the hotel has a whirlpool where I can soak in the evening.
*And before any school visit that will involve a long drive, I stop by the library and check out a bagful of CDs. Showtunes, music from the 40's and 50's, and middle grade audio books are my favorites. They really do make the miles fly by. And I've been known to stay sitting in my garage after a five-hour car trip so I can listen to the end of an especially engaging audio book.
*Finally one last item I've learned to pack to make sure that my time away from home is pleasant: earplugs. Noisy hotel air conditioners and close-at-hand interstate traffic no longer keep me awake at night, and I get up in the morning well rested and happy to spend time with a new school of students.