Jones near Jackson’s Merci Train.

by Paul Wolf

There’s nothing to do around here?

Jane Jones, owner of More Than a Tourist says, there’s plenty — if only you look outside your own back door.

The Fondrenite has recently returned from two weeks exploring the state.

For the “first time in forever,” her annual French Riviera trip didn’t make. “What else was on my bucket list?” she recalls.  “A two-week Mississippi road trip! So it worked out.”

“I tried to put myself in a traveler’s shoes, someone who goes in not always knowing everything. The road trip wasn’t a super inside view. My goal was to discover what’s accessible for people coming in.”

Jones laughs when asked where her travels took her.

“Okay, I can do this!” she says recounting her list of cities. “Jackson to Kosciusko, French Camp, Starkville, Columbus, Water Valley, Oxford, Tishomingo State Park, Holly Springs, Clarksdale, Cleveland, Merigold and Yazoo City. I spent pretty much a day and a half in each of those spots. Some were day trips I took while staying in the bigger places.”

Jones thinks we’re misguided when planning our own getaways.

“We get it in our head that a vacation – an adventure – has to cost a lot of money or be far away or you have to take an expensive flight,” she explains. “And you don’t. There’s cool stuff that makes you feel like you are farther away than you are — right here.”

Born and raised in Mississippi, Jones took a detour in her educational days, studying French – including semesters abroad in Paris – while classmates studied Spanish. Unhappy with a desk job after college, she decided to put her experience in Europe to work for her, leading tour groups there.

While these overseas trips are still Jones’s love, her “insider’s look” mentality about traveling made home turf trip planning a must.

“I don’t have to take people on a five day or seven-day trip; I don’t need to be with you,” she explains. “But I can facilitate your itinerary and the time you spend here, from Memphis to New Orleans. There’s not that ‘one agency’ [a foreign traveler] can go to to help plan their Mississippi trip. Sure, there are agents in Europe that can help, but they’re looking at websites. It’s not ‘a person’s experience.’ I can help them do that.”

Take an American football experience, specifically, an Ole Miss game day experience for example.

“It was my first Grove experience [in Oxford] and I had the best time, “she says.

“It’s been written about before, one of the ‘top 20 things — don’t miss a Grove experience’ — yet it’s really inaccessible to travelers. You need to plan ahead to buy a ticket, understand parking and find a place to stay. Once you’re in, you’re good! People invite you in, showing that Mississippi hospitality. It’s no problem getting something to eat or to drink once you’re there. But it’s the logistics. How do you get there? I know.”

What did she learn about her home state? “That people love their towns,” she says. “They’re really proud. People were happy about their place, what they had, even if it was, ‘We’ve got these three things and these three things are great.’ Everyone says it and it’s true: it’s the hospitality.

Jones met travelers from New Zealand while she was in Clarksdale, they on their way to Memphis from New Orleans.

“I told them what I was doing and they said they had only budgeted four days in Mississippi,” she recalls. “They told me they should have stayed longer. And why? The people. ‘Everyone I’ve met is so nice.’ I’ve heard that for years. They connect with us. They really do love our food and music. They say have to go on a diet when they get home! Wrap that in a neat package and they get that experience here.”

Jones has begun offering more local tours for locals. “About a month ago, the tour sold out, so a lot of folks have asked when I will do it again.” She says the next tour is planned for December.

Jacksonian Jenny Breaux was on that sold-out tour and says Jones helped her see Jackson in a different light.

“She didn’t just read off facts and dates,” Breaux says. “[Jane] described the time period and what was happening during the time of a building or a Civil Rights protest site.”

Breaux noted a stop at Jackson’s Merci Train — parked behind the Old Capitol Museum. “Every state has one,” she says, “Now, it’s on my bucket list to see them all!”

Millsaps College’s Director of Admissions and International Perspectives Program, Molly West, says her admissions counselors benefited from a recent Jones led tour, too.

“Given that half of Millsaps’ strategic plan – entitled ‘Across the Street and Around the Globe’ – is focused on the opportunity in the city, it is important our staff have an understanding of Jackson,” West said. “[Jane] facilitated a fun afternoon getting to know the city from a visitor’s perspective.”

Jones believes creating your own adventures requires a bit of scratching around.  “It’s not always right in your face,” she quips. “Dig a bit! Sometimes there’s too much going on and you can’t do it all.”

Jones’s Advice for a Mississippi Day (or Overnight) Trip
“Many people love going to Natchez. It’s like a little trip back in time. It’s one of, if not THE oldest settlements on the Mississippi River. It drips with history. The French, Spanish, British and Americans all had a hand in shaping its course. A quick trip is not enough, but if that’s all you have time for you won’t be disappointed.

From Jackson take the Natchez Trace Parkway and stop for a picnic either before or after stopping off at Windsor Ruins in Port Gibson. There are many stop offs on the Natchez Trace, so take your time and get out for a stroll on the easy trails and enjoy the day. Take some time at Windsor Ruins checking out the once exquisite antebellum home (milepost 30.0 or 41.0). At Mile Post 41.5 you can see a segment of the original Trace at the Sunken Trace stop.

Keep heading on to Natchez. Whether you want to learn some history, take in the Mighty Mississippi with a great view from the gazebo, eat or drink well, shop and meet some very interesting people, Natchez will prove well worth the trip. Stay for the day or stay overnight at one of Natchez’s hotels or bed and breakfasts.

Originally seen in The Clarion-Ledger’s Upside section, November 8.