Rules of the Road: Ways to Make Travel Fun and Easy
By Travis Pickens
If you haven’t noticed, cruise lines and airlines are filling the airwaves with ads touting discounts and deals. One travel service pitching a Hawaiian vacation has set up webcams at a couple of idyllic locales and you can check the weather and the views from your desk, 24 hours a day, while you while away the hours responding to someone’s pesky discovery requests. The service also has a screensaver clock that automatically counts down ‘til the day and time of your flight. Whether you travel a lot or a little, there are some tips that can make it a better experience.
Travel light – The best advice you always hear but never follow. Bags get lost. You can carry one bag on and never worry. You will tote half the weight and can always wash your clothes after a few days. Don’t take your shoe collection, take two pair—one for walking; one for dressy restaurants and nice events. Buy “travel” clothing that is permanent press. It’s great; only the obsessive and annoyingly finicky will be able to tell a difference. Remember blow driers and irons are not new-fangled gadgets. Every hotel over $50 a night has them. Use the free razors and shaving cream every hotel offers. Buy your books when you get there, not the day before you leave. Read the magazines provided on the plane. Also remember that you will likely never see these people again. You can wear the same outfit to dinner and lunch the next day. Share your valet kit with your spouse. Your private ointments, pills and creams haven’t been a secret since the night of your honeymoon.
Webcams and digital cameras – Invest in a webcam for the house. While on a business trip, you can log onto MSN Instant Messenger and still see and talk to your darlings every night before they go to sleep. If your spouse is on a business trip, send him or her digital pictures of the dogs, the kids, the weather or whatever in a PowerPoint document with your goofy comments that only she will appreciate… a little slice of home.
Walk and use the buses, trolleys and subways – Cab rides will bankrupt you if you are not on an expense account. Walking is better in every way unless you are in a bad part of town. It’s cheaper, healthier, more interesting, etc. If you must ride, ride the bus, the trolley or the metro; they are dirt-cheap and only take a minute or two to figure out. Bus and trolley drivers are usually helpful if you keep your questions short and snappy, like “is this the right bus for Yankee stadium?” Also, remember buses and trolleys run in repeating “routes.” The worst-case scenario is that you will end up where you started.
Eat right and exercise – Don’t eat “big” all three meals. Splurge on one meal a day and eat sensibly the other two. You can enjoy the vacation and the local culinary wizardry without having your stomach pumped. Besides, you don’t want to sleep away the vacation sluggish and napping in the room. If your hotel does not have a gym, then buy an elastic cord from any high-end sporting goods store. You can do all kinds of exercises and it packs into any suitcase. One such gadget is called the Adjusticizer. It is an elastic cord that adjusts in both tension and length. Take the stairs and walk (see above). Drink alcohol responsibly. Buy some wine and a corkscrew when you get there and you’ll save a ton and enjoy your hotel balcony all the more.
Go Local – Experiment with the local food. Remember almost all countries pretty much use the same proteins: beef, poultry, pork and seafood. It’s just a matter of how they are prepared and seasoned. You will likely not die from a dish that is unfamiliar to you. Two questions to ask: What is fresh? What is local? Avoid chain restaurants unless you have been gone for two weeks and miss an Egg McMuffin. Again, another reason to walk and use the local transportation. If you want to travel without mixing with the locals, go to Disney World and Epcot Center (“Gee, Circle-vision is just like going to China!”). The Golden Rule applies. Learn some phrases of the local language. They love it and will treat you right. It’s about respect. Not everyone agrees that English is the universal language, especially when it is an American saying it slowly, loudly and with a patronizing attitude. The best advocate of taking the local route is Rick Steves. His “Back Door” approach and Web site are great. See www.ricksteves.com.
Watch out – Remember you’re not in Kansas anymore. Especially in large cities, there are pickpockets and thieves waiting for people like you dressed in Burberry scarves and carrying Louis Vuitton luggage. They can work in teams, one distracting you with dropped change or glass, and the other snatching your wallet as you wheel around to see what happened. Keep your personal space and keep moving. Be alert, and then loud and unapologetically rude if accosted on the street, especially at crowded markets and rail stations. Grabbing your purse while you are leaning over to take your luggage from the conveyer belt is a favorite ploy. Keep your valuables in the hotel lock box, along with a copy of your passport. Split up your credit cards so that if your wallet is stolen, you are not left stranded.