The Joys and Pains of Research Trips

accidental-slip-542551_1920Whatever doesn’t kill you … will likely humiliate, challenge and confound you, and eventually, if your’e a writer, end up in a story.

I start every research trip with grand ideas, usually triggered by my rather explosive imagination: I’ll visit fun and ecclectic places (usually coffeehouses–lots and lots of coffeehouses, unique neighborhoods, and hidden-away restaurants), talk to all sorts of experts, and basically become a modern day, urbanized, Lewis and Clark.

This past April, I did all that and more, and brought my dad along for the ride. Our destination? Austin, Texas, not because the city really fit the tone of my story. But rather, due to popular request. (Seems y’all love this unique and diverse area!)

So, to Austin we went. And had a fabulous, discombobulated time. If I were to share it all, you’d either think I was completely dizzy or wouldn’t believe 2016-04-02-12-16-56me. Or both. So how about I share “a day in the life”?

To provide the backdrop, one of my biggest goals was to find a perfect, “everyone knows your name” neighborhood to set my story in. Mid-week, having visited numerous pockets in the Metro without landing any closer to my goal, I decided to shift my big-picture scouting aside and move to local setting locations, primarily places frequented in the novel. With this in mind, my dad and I revisited the downtown area.

You know I had to go dressed all cutesy, right? I mean, I’d be talking to restaurant owners, potentially asking for research help. And besides, it was spring in Austin. 😉

So there I was, wearing white capris, my favorite, rust colored, two-layered blouse, and a pair of cute yet comfy wedge sandals. It’s getting near dinner time, and my dad and I are walking up Fifth, when all of a sudden, he pushes me.

I stare at him, thinking he’s making fun of how I’m walking (like, seeing if I can remain upright when knocked off balance). (You read about how graceful I am in raised shoes, right?)

Nope. He was shoving me aside so I didn’t step in … a mess. I’m trying to think of a tactful way to share exactly what type of mess this was. The smelly kind.

Did you know I’m a germaphobe? Picture me grimacing, fighting off a gag reflex, while scraping my left sandal with every step. I beeline for a patch of grass and do my best to get the gunk out of all the grooves lining the bottom of my sandal.

I’m pretty sure all I did was embed it in further.

But determined not to let a little … ick … ruin our evening, I put on my happy face, and we 2016-04-05-17-49-46resume our trek in search of a nice yet unique restaurant. Of which Austin has plenty! And they all smelled fabulous–thankfully overpowering any scent that may have been wafting from my left foot.

After having passed at least five restaurants but no closer at reaching a decision, we stand on a street corner beneath a nice, green tree.

You know where this is going, right?


Something hit the sidewalk in front of me and splashed back onto my foot–the other foot–and my leg. I didn’t know what it was, so I glance around. And up.


Then came round two.


Our restaurant search ended then and there as we made dashed into the nearest facility, heading straight for their bathroom where we got cleaned up as best we could.

I was oh, so tempted to toss those shoes.

What we writers must endure in order to capture that perfect setting!

What about you? Do you have any travel horrors to share? Tell us about them in the comments below. Who knows, I just might use your example in my next novel. 😉


About Jennifer Slattery

Novelist and speaker Jennifer Slattery, also writing as Jen Pheobus, uses humor, grace, and truth to inspire God's children to live abundant, Christ-centered lives. She does content editing for Firefly, a southern fiction imprint with Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, and is a regular contributor to; Internet Cafe Devotions; Faith, Friends and Chocolate; and manages the social media for Takin’ it to the Streets, a ministry that serves Omaha’s working poor and homeless. She’s placed in numerous writing contests and her work has appeared in numerous compilations, magazines, and e-zines.
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