‘Eurostumble’ to new places

Fate seems to be keeping graduate student Andy Schrader in check.

As his backpacking trip in Europe the summer of 2004 came to an end, he met a publisher during a layover in the Chicago airport. Now, at age 24, Schrader has created a personal guidebook, Eurostumble: The College Student’s Guide to Europe, for those who want to travel but may be unfamiliar with its ins and outs.

A book launching party and book signing will be held at the Dale Mabry Barnes & Noble on Friday from 7-9 p.m.

As a fairly seasoned traveler, Schrader believes that a good understanding of the places you are visiting is key to having a good time. This book, which can be found on Cloonfadpress.com, highlights places to go in France, England, Ireland, Spain and Italy, and also prepares you for what it feels like to be out of your comfort zone.

“I want (students) to be able to read this and feel more confident in going somewhere, to have an idea of what it actually feels like to be in a place before you actually get there,” Schrader said.

“That’s a really valuable thing – at least to me. So, when they go to Venice and find that it’s dirty and the people aren’t very nice to them, they’re like, ‘Well, that’s all right. I expected that. Somebody told me about this already.’ The thing is, if your expectations are so high, chances are there are a lot of things that will disappoint you.

“It’s like, if a buddy of mine asked for information about what to look for on his trips, this is the letter I would write to him. It’s kind of like a 60,000-word letter to a friend.”

Although he is studying to get both his bachelor’s and master’s degree in civil engineering, Schrader has always been a writer at heart. Since the ninth grade he’s been putting his thoughts on paper. First, poetically, which he described as “torrid” and “really awful.” Then, after taking some interest in musical theater, the influence of a teacher, Christie Gold, and a girlfriend (who thought he should write because the students who worked for the paper were nice) led him to Gaither High School’s newspaper, The Pony Express, where he began to write features stories as a senior.

One story in particular shed light on Schrader’s innate talent as a writer, which not only led him to win a National Scholastic Press Association (NSPA) award for story of the year, but also got the attention of editors at the Tampa Tribune.

It was a story about a fellow student who had a rare disability. He had the exterior, physical symptoms of Down syndrome and could not speak, but was incredibly smart, taking honors classes and doing exceptionally well in them.

An editor at the Tribune took notice of Schrader’s work and asked him to join the team. Right out of high school, Schrader became a correspondent for the northeast Tampa Tribune bureau and wrote for a section called “My Hood,” which focused on different neighborhoods in the area.

After traveling to Costa Rica in 2001, Schrader wrote his first travel story and pitched it to the travel editor at the Tribune, Karen Long, one of the people to whom Eurostumble is dedicated. She liked what she saw, and Schrader has periodically written for the travel section ever since.

“He’s a very conversational writer,” Long said, who has been the Tribune travel editor for 12 years. “He goes to a place and just absorbs everything and meets interesting people, and then he writes about it as if you were with him. You know, a lot of travel stories are dull and a lot of them sound like guidebooks. His are more people-oriented.

“I think he writes like he comes across as a person. He’s very friendly and easy to approach, so he brings out the best in people, I think.”

After reporting about various places such as Costa Rica, Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas, Mexico, Italy, France and the zydeco stomping grounds in Louisiana, Schrader decided to take his second trip to Europe, for two months, where he planned to write more stories for the paper.

But on the way home, an unexpected turn of events caused him to write something different all together. Coincidentally, he bumped into a friend of his – who planned a trip to Europe completely separate from his – during a layover in the Chicago airport.

“We were in a restaurant talking, shooting stories back and forth, and this guy next to us said, ‘Excuse me,'” Schrader said. “I thought he was going to tell us to shut up because we were annoying him or something, but he said, ‘Your stories are really interesting – Let me give you my card, maybe you can write some of those stories down. I’m a publisher.’

“I kinda thought the guy was BSing. We were both looking at him (funny) because nobody says that to you, you know? I was just like, ‘Uh, OK, thanks for the card.'”

But later, Schrader e-mailed the man, who did in fact own a small publishing company.

“I just sent him just a couple short pieces that I had worked on, and he was like, ‘Yeah, I like it. Just keep writing,’ and I did,” Schrader said.

About four months later, Schrader finished writing his book, which includes humbling and funny anecdotes (offering a sandwich to a toothless man) and a plethora of practical information, such as how many pairs of socks, pants and shirts to bring and what to ask people about the places you are going.

“I was happy writing for the paper, I had never ever given thought to writing a book. It never, ever crossed my mind. It just happened to be that I met that guy by accident and it worked out – It’s crazy. It’s really crazy.”

In the book, Schrader’s tone is conversational and confident. His candidness is what makes it readable. His humble approach to traveling is comforting, considering all the things that can go wrong when you’re far away from home. It would entice even the most timid and inexperienced traveler to give traveling alone in unfamiliar places a shot.

“It’s hard not to lie to yourself sometimes – to be honest with yourself that you really were scared or to be honest that you’re not some big adventurer, (that) you’re just some little kid walking around with a backpack,” Schrader said. “That’s exactly how I felt, especially in England.” He refers to a time when he was crossing a street and, by instinct, looked to the left instead of the right.

“That’s where I almost got hit by cars a bunch of times,” Schrader said. “You wouldn’t think it would be hard to cross the street safely, just rewire your brain to look right first. But – it really is.”Traveling alone does have its upsides.

“It’s funny, when you’re traveling by yourself – I think you learn more about yourself because you’re free to do just the things that you want,” Schrader said.

Schrader continues to write on the side for the Tribune but is mainly focused on graduating in spring 2007.

One of his professor’s finds his knack for writing a rarity.

“I was surprised to find that he’s written a book,” said Rajan Sen, a professor of civil and environmental engineering. “You know, we’re basically number crunchers, so I was pretty amazed to find someone who was not a number cruncher, somebody who could actually write, who was good enough to have it published.”

Schrader hopes to continue to pursue both writing and engineering.

“I do engineering because I’m decent at it, and it’s a guaranteed job, but definitely, my passion is in writing,” Schrader said. “It sounds kind of (bad) because you want to be like ‘follow your dreams’ – but dreams don’t pay bills.”

At the rate he’s going, this time, they just might.