5 Rules for Travel: An Antidote to Frustration - a blog, in 1000 Words or Less
Last week’s blog reminded me how difficult travel has become. This is not some, “…back when I was a kid…” story. Only three short years ago, traveling was markedly easier than it is today, what with ongoing Covid restrictions, the ArriveCan app, staff shortages, and the man-child’s unnecessary mask mandate, not to mention always arrogant customs personnel and never efficient security checkpoints. Twenty-one years after the fact, we’re still paying the price for some zealot’s attempt to blow his toes off with a shoe bomb. There are more details to consider than ever before; Lonely Planet and Frommers need to add a section to their respective guides, maybe label it 5 Rules for Travel: An Antidote to Frustration.
Rule 1: Have a plan.
I can already hear people groaning and saying vacations are supposed to be relaxing affairs, a time to get away from rigid schedules and the tedium of routine. I understand. I have a habit of deciding where I want to go and then researching everything I could possibly see and do while I’m there. My wife, who makes lists to keep track of her lists, will speak up and tell me we don’t have the time to do it all. We generally compromise with a loose daily schedule that satisfies my inability to sit still and her need to know what comes next. If that still sounds like too much planning, I suggest going minimalist. Let almost everything take care of itself but commit to the following three instances when having a plan is a virtual must…
...unless your idea of a good time means sleeping on the back seat of your rental car, parked in an all-night truck stop on the side of a Belgian autobahn because late one night, the manager of the only hotel you found with a Vacancy sign, grumpily yelled, "Go away!" from an open window, before switching his sign to read, "No Vacancy."
Knowing where you’re going to stay on the first and last night of your vacation is crucial. Travelling is hard on a body. You’ll be sleep deprived after what feels like endless hours sitting in an airplane seat. You’ll have a dehydration headache and your GI system will be unhappy with you, after several poor-quality airport meals eaten on an unfamiliar schedule. You’ll most likely be experiencing low level stress because of unfamiliar foreign procedures. Why not collect your luggage after deplaning, go directly to a pre-booked hotel, have a shower, a nap, a snack and then open your iPad and look up likely options for the following night, without time pressure and the indecision brought about by all the uncontrollable factors I just mentioned?
Or, I guess you could avoid making a plan and instead, put yourself at the mercy of a Venezuelan taxi driver with limited English who says, “I know a place,” before driving you through dark, garbage strewn streets to an unmarked hotel surrounded by high walls and razor wire, guarded by an individual holding an AK-47.
Knowing where you’re going to stay the night before you depart for home is also a great way to alleviate stress. Do you really want to be struggling to find your rental car drop-off location because you entered the wrong town into your nav-system and now the GPS has lost its shit and doesn’t know where it is, and neither do you, and tick-tock, your flight is leaving in like, two hours? Or, why not get a good night’s sleep and a complimentary breakfast at a Holiday Inn within walking distance of the Glasgow airport, and deal with the GI-GO nightmare the day before you’re supposed to fly home?
Rule 2: Know how you’re going to move about while on vacation; have it figured out before you leave.
There’s a myth that a person can travel across Europe on a single train ticket, from London to Podgorica, if that’s where whim takes you, but it doesn’t happen that way, what with borders, various currencies and different fare classes. Trains in Switzerland are a sparkling marvel of efficiency; if the schedule indicates a train is departing at 13:52, you better not show up at 13:53. Italy…not so much, unless graffiti is your thing. And, heaven forbid you need a restroom in an Italian train station if you don’t have loose Euros in your pocket. Before you get to the water closet, you’ll need an ATM. Then you’ll need a convenience store for a package of mints (you don’t really want), in order to break the twenty you withdrew, just to get past the turnstile blocking the restroom entrance.
Once you’ve reached your destination, how are you going to get from the train station / ferry terminal / airport to your downtown hotel? Uber? Taxi? Maybe the city subway…except there seems to be two subway companies, the schedules are all but indecipherable and strangely, neither line stops at the main train station or comes within twelve blocks of anywhere you need to go.
A driving holiday is always nice. What’s not to enjoy? A potential scenic viewpoint around every corner, new towns to explore, frequent ice-cream stops, lunch in out-of-the-way pubs you never would have otherwise discovered, exorbitant European gas prices, multiple-lane roundabouts, driving on the wrong side of the road (and the car), narrow shoulder-less back roads, traffic signs written in foreign languages…good times!
Of course, a driving holiday assumes a person can lock down a rental car in these Covid times, and can afford the vehicle without taking out a second mortgage. Assuming you do obtain a car, is the highway you plan on driving, a toll road? If it is, do you have local currency to toss in the hopper, just in case the toll booth doesn’t have a credit card tap feature?
If a ferry is part of your travel plans, does it operate on a seasonal schedule?
Know how you’re going to move about…
…unless your idea of a good time includes the red-eye from Vancouver to Charlottetown via Toronto, where upon arrival, you discover there isn’t a rental car available on this side of the Atlantic, and you don’t know what to say when a politely perplexed rental agent asks, “What did you expect on the August long weekend?”
Since we’re on the subject of driving, Rule 3:
Ladies, there’s never a good time to inhale sharply and clutch your heart / the dashboard / armrest while simultaneously working your left foot like Toyota manufactured its rental cars with an extra brake pedal in the passenger foot well. This kind of melodramatic nonsense serves exactly one purpose: it annoys and stresses the person driving.
And guys, you’re not off the hook. No matter how late or how lost you are, driving aggressively to compensate, isn’t going to help. I mean, if you’ve put yourself in a situation in which you’re driving the wrong way down a one-way street, into oncoming traffic and the least dangerous way to fix the problem is driving up, over the curb, onto the center median, and then down into the opposite lane, you deserve the mini heart attack you gave yourself, don’t you?
Those are rules 1 through 3.
Knowing and obeying them will help mitigate all the potential problems that arise when you ignore rule 4, and ladies, this rule is mostly directed in your direction, although there is a male equivalent.
“Whatever,” is never, EVER, under any circumstances, an appropriate answer.
“Whatever,” is static.
“Whatever,” is white noise.
“Whatever,” is a man’s noncommittal grunt, the sound you get when you ask him which pair of black high-heels he prefers, the pair you’re holding in your left hand or the pair in your right. Ladies, he doesn’t care. Maybe (probably) he should choose and then say, “I think you’d look spectacular in those ones,” but unfortunately, to his eyes they’re identical and he lost interest immediately after you told him, “Absolutely not,” when he suggested you buy the knee-high leather boots with the chrome tipped four-inch heels. Instead he grunts, which is the male version of, “Whatever.”
Neither the grunt nor the word, “Whatever,” constitute an acceptable answer.
“Whatever,” has a kissing cousin known as: “I don’t care.”
Years ago, I went travelling with a friend, someone I’ve known since I was a kid and I quickly learned something I should have already known: this person is incapable of making a decision. Indecision tops my pet peeve list. Not terrible if trying to decide between the red shirt or the blue, indecision becomes a huge problem when on vacation and your travel companion is not so cleverly trying to hide this annoying and unattractive trait behind a shrug and an indifferent, “I don’t care.”
“I don’t care,” is supposed to indicate casual nonchalance.
I’m cool. Either way; it doesn’t matter to me.
In actuality, “I don’t care,” is “Whatever,” in disguise. It’s almost always complete bullshit. There’s a simple test to find out the truth of the matter:
Me: “What are you thinking for supper?”
Him: Indifferent shrug. “I don’t care.”
Me: “I saw a Thai place a couple of blocks back.”
Him: “No, I don’t want Thai.”
Me: “So, you do care. There’s something you don’t want which naturally means, there’s something you do want.”
Refusing to decide is lazy and disingenuous. Presumably you’re both on the same holiday, intent on enjoying the same escape from everyday life. Why limit your experience by refusing to say you want ribs for dinner, rather than Thai? If museums bore you to tears, don’t go into one. Don’t say, “I don’t care,” and then suck up a miserable afternoon, when all you had to say was, “Museums bore me to tears. I’ll meet you later for beers!”
So, Rule 4: There’s never an appropriate time to use the word, “Whatever,” or its synonym, “I don’t care.”
Finally, Rule 5, which may be the most difficult rule of them all: be as flexible as you can and exercise as much patience as your able.
Just because the oysters you planned on eating at that Florida restaurant, the one with tables lit up by colored Christmas lights, the one with the deck built over a lagoon, with the red lanterns shimmering on the water and the chance an alligator might swim by looking for scraps, is full / closed / renovated / under new management, doesn’t mean there isn’t another option around the corner, possibly with a better menu and a more picturesque setting. You never know until you look.
As for exercising patience, well, I’m looking forward to a vacation with my father soon, a man who’s partially deaf and doesn’t take particularly good care of his hearing aids. And, by “…particularly good care…” I mean he loses them, doesn’t clean them, lets the batteries die and frequently forgets to install them. Since shouting everything I say is obviously out of the question and since I hate repeating myself, patience is going to be a challenge. A slow five count and a deep cleansing breath can help in this scenario, but if anyone has any other strategies, I’d love to hear them…
…because flexibility and patience are positive human conditions and these, along with the other four Rules for Travel, will make a vacation memorable for all the right reasons. After all, nobody has ever gone on vacation hoping he’ll come home with stories of misery and frusteration.
Disclaimer: all vacation snafu stories referenced above are products of the author’s imagination and in no way represent scenarios or situations he may or may not have experienced personally.
Note: The title of this post is a riff on the title of Jordan Peterson's best selling book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos
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