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We asked Chad Alligood, assistant curator of special projects at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, to share 10 of his must-haves on his recent travels around the country with museum president Don Bacigalupi. The duo visited close to 1,000 studios and logged thousands of miles to scout artists for the survey “State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now,” on view at Crystal Bridges September 13, 2014-January 19, 2015.
1. A good pair of Converse All-Stars. White ones are my signature shoe—they’re an American classic, functional yet good-looking. If you wear them right, you can wear them anywhere. Over the course of my travels, I walked through three pairs, but part of their beauty is that they’re easy to replace.
2. A solid, environmentally friendly rental car. I admire the modest footprint of a Toyota Prius. Its compact size makes it easy to maneuver (I’m a terrible parallel parker), and it leaves less impact on the environment than most cars. Whenever a Prius was available at the rental car counter, I knew I had good travel juju. I was traveling on my birthday this year, and when the rental car agent noticed that, he offered me my choice of any car on the lot. I asked for a Prius—I think I surprised him.
3. Sweet treats to remind you of home. My go-to favorite is the original glazed donut from Krispy Kreme, preferably when the “hot doughnuts now” sign is turned on. My grandfather was the general manager of the Krispy Kreme stores in the Macon, Georgia, area—the sight and scent of a good glazed donut brings back lots of fat-kid memories.
4. Caffeine to kick-start the neurons. Dark and thick coffee is the bedrock of my morning routine, and when you’re traveling so frequently, routine helps add some normalcy. Free hotel coffee is abysmal, though, so when I found a great cuppa joe, I took note. I can now proclaim with some authority that the best coffee in the United States can be found at the Donut Whole in Wichita, Kansas. Bold, dark, and earthy—the best way to clear the cobwebs.
5. Wise words from fellow travelers. Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass sets the gold standard here. Whitman exemplifies the American voice, and helps me find mine. There’s a particular passage that serves as a call to travel, a call to action: “Song of the Open Road.” “The road is before us,” he writes. “It is safe—I have tried it—my own feet have tried it well.” It’s a remarkable reflection on connection, adventure, and the inherent value of moving beyond the comfort of what you know.
6. Great art to inspire. Since I visited nearly 1,000 artists in their studios, there was no shortage of art to inspire my travels. Yet, because I’m such a museum nerd, I couldn’t resist the urge to drop in on exhibitions when time permitted. One show, at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, really stuck with me: “Drawing Inside the Perimeter,” curated by Michael Rooks. Textured, nuanced, and showcasing a variety of drawing approaches, the exhibition introduced me to some new favorite artists.
7. A stiff beverage to finish out the week … or the day. A whiskey ginger is my go-to drink: consistent, classic, and simple. As long as the whiskey is good, the drink is going to be great—an easy way to forget the pratfalls and peccadilloes of navigating multiple cities via GPS.
8. The chance to reconnect with nature. My schedule was so packed I couldn’t fit in visits to our national parks—a total bummer, since my NPS Passport was begging for stamps! I made sure I got out on the weekends, though, and the Ozarks provide endless opportunities to hike, camp, and canoe. My personal favorite: the Kings River, a gorgeous, untouched green-gold ribbon flowing through dramatic bluffs and wide gravel spits, perfect for camping. And of course, Crystal Bridges sits on 120 wooded acres, with miles of trails and a natural spring.
9. Fresh, regional food. Good nosh keeps you from being road weary. If you can dine on fare from that region, even better: it helps you feel a sense of place—combatting that “where am I?” feeling induced by months of travel. A personal highlight: Knife and Fork in Spruce Pine, North Carolina. Locally sourced, Southern-inflected food in an intimate and warm atmosphere, which was the perfect port for me in a driving winter storm. Cheat and get the house-made ice cream for dessert: it’s worth it.
10. Great driving music. A good travel album needs upbeat, aspirational moments, as well as more mellow passages for reflection and comedown. On my travels in the past year, I came back again and again to Bankrupt by Phoenix, an ’80s-throwback record replete with sparkling synth and playful lyrics that reflect the sometimes-overwhelming feelings of travel: “Run the avenues until the city unfurls / Won’t we have to know, do we have to know what truth is?”