Greetings from the Ridge.
The more I travel the more I become convinced that traveling with the right folks is every bit as important as where you go and what you see. Your fellow adventurers can make or break your trip and unfortunately there is no website called nincompoop.com to get a rating on these people before your plane takes off.
I could write a book on how to be a lousy traveler but I’ll give you a few of my observations on the type of person who can make any trip an absolute joy. The ABC’s of a great vacationer.
To begin, “A” is for Adaptability. The stereotype of the Ugly American is the gal who will fly half way across the world to see different things, experience different sights and experience new tastes, then become completely discombobulated if her new world isn’t exactly like her home neighborhood. “My fork only has three prongs!” (The way you eat, you should use a one-pronger.) “The toilet flushes funny!” (Can you think of a better place for a little humor?) “These don’t taste like the tomatoes we have at home!” (Maybe that’s because they’re not.) “I feel so cramped in this little hotel room!” (Fine. Move in with the folks living in tar shacks on the part of the tour your itinerary conveniently omits.)
I once traveled with a lady who brought most of the contents of her living room when she’d travel just so her hotel in Moscow would look as much as possible like her home in Illinois. She even brought a can of air freshener so it would smell the same. The numbskull spent $4,000 to go as nowhere as possible.
Happily, according to many foreign tour guides, the Ugly Japanese and the Ugly German are quickly deposing the Ugly American. I guess there are a few categories in which it’s a relief to no longer lead the world.
“B” is for Behavior. Waiting in line is a prime example of something you must do if you want to travel, and many of our fellow countrymen get upset if they’re second in line to get a McBurger in their own neighborhood. When Herb and I went to Alaska last month we waited in line for everything from the airport to the Grand Buffet, and being a naturally talkative soul, I had some of the most delightful conversations of my trip with my fellow standees. There’s nothing like waiting in line with little to do to open you up to a new friend.
It’s an unfortunate fact of life that we all tend to generalize, and the French waiter who you deem to be typical of the entire country of France will no doubt make an equally mistaken impression of all Americans when you complain about getting only two ice cubes in your water glass. That’s just the way we think when we choose not to think.
Our behavior can easily become the symbol for an entire nationality. “The hotel clerk hardly spoke any English!” (Wow. Where does this Spaniard think he is, Spain?) “All these people do is push and shove!” (It’s hard to get to work when the sidewalk is filled with baggage-toting tourists.) “I had to shout for the sales clerk to understand me!” (Good move. A second language is much easier to understand at high volume.)
A small dose of good behavior can make the difference between a calamitous vacation and an unforgettable adventure. Which brings us to the “C” of happy traveling,
Once upon a European trip our travel plans got totally bolloxed and instead of a delightful meal at a nice hotel in Zwette, Austria, we ended up on a converted warehouse staffed by four delightfully frumpy housewives near the Czech border. Both the food and the décor were industrial but there was a piano in the corner and so our little group of Midwesterners had the night of our lives singing the night and the cold potatoes away.
Travel is not a matter of finding the ideal, but dealing with what you’re given and finding the ideal in the adventure. My most wondrous adventures in traveling have been those that came around an unexpected corner or at the result of a botched itinerary. I think fondly when our tour of Ireland’s Ring of Kerry was interrupted by a bicycle marathon clogging the narrow roads so our guide pulled the bus over to the farm of a friend who gave us a demonstration in sheep herding with his intelligent dogs. I don’t know what we might have done on that rainy day in Ireland, but I know that because we compromised a bit, our group logged an experience that will forever stand out in our memories of the Emerald Isle.
Ready to travel? It’s as simple as ABC.
You ever in Coonridge, stop by. We may not answer the door but you'll enjoy the trip.