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Award-winning travelers pull into Salem

Posted by boston.com  October 28, 2013 11:58 AM

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Most people come to Salem in October for the Halloween festivities. But for John Ellis and Laura Preston, National Geographic’s Travelers of the Year, Salem was a place to rest.

gordon.png After days on the road, the couple arrived in Salem on Sunday, Oct. 20, parking their Airstream travel trailer at Winter Island Park, one of only two RV spots in the North East. Since the middle of 2012, Ellis and Preston have been doing what many Americans only dream of: traveling across the U.S, Airstream in tow, driving back roads and highways to see the diverse regions of the country.

It’s a journey they call, “The Democratic Travelers,” referring to their crowd-sourced travel itinerary that’s decided by others through their website, www.thedemocratictravelers.com. Friends and strangers alike visit the website, suggest a place where the two should travel, or vote on the suggestions of others. If a place receives multiple votes in its favor, “The Democratic Travelers” will turn its camper in that direction.

While no one voted for the travelers to come to Salem, they came anyway to stay at Winter Island Park, glad for the chance to visit and restock their supplies.

“We heard Salem gets pretty exciting around Halloween,” said Preston. “It’s been great to catch a glimpse of what that means.”

The couple also used their time in Salem to get some work done, which finances part of the trip. Ellis, 28, works as a freelance webpage designer and Preston, 25, as a virtual assistant. While here, the pair ventured into Cambridge for some Ethiopian food and bluegrass music, and hoped to visit the Salem Witch Museum before leaving the area.

The crowd-sourced idea for the trip began over two years ago, four months after Ellis and Preston began dating in Brooklyn, New York. Eight months later, on February 1, 2013, the couple departed in their Airstream travel trailer from West Palm Beach, Florida, for the west coast.

What was originally going to be only a one-year trip to those democratically selected sights has since turned into a journey of indefinite length.

“It’s a lifestyle,” said Preston. “You get in the routine of having no real routine. And you get to see so many beautiful places in the process.”

But it also requires the two monitor their funds on a regular basis. “It costs about $100 to fill up each time we hit the road,” said Ellis. “Because we’re on a tight budget, we try to spend about three to four days in each area we visit. It lets us maximize our finances while giving us a good chance to check out the sights.”

So far, their favorite sights have included Texas’ Balmorhea State Park, Big Sur and Yosemite National Park. They also enjoyed visiting the Grand Canyon, which garnered 19 votes, the most of any location.

Over 100,000 people visit Salem in the month of October alone, according to Stacia Cooper of Destination Salem. But statistics for travelers in Airstream trailers were not available.

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and the Gordon College News Service.

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