Traveling in comfort
I jerk awake from a sleep so deep that only a black bear in January could understand.”What’s the matter?” my wife asks groggily.”Oh, nothing,” I pant. “For a second, I didn’t know where we were.”She scans the surroundings. “Where are we?””… I don’t know.”I hadn’t wanted to confess this because it might indicate that travel had defeated me. Whether on a lonely highway hours from the last identifiable landmark on the map or suddenly awake in a place momentarily unknown, it is not my nature to admit that I am lost. My personal travel philosophy is always that I am “here.”As it turned out with the incident I just described, we were at home in our own bed the night after returning from an expedition to an isolated village in Mexico last spring, toward the end of which we spent consecutive nights in a motor home, a brand-new Mexican friend’s unfamiliar pueblo home, and finally, a cramped bus for 17 hours.I admit that I love this side effect of harried travel through multiple time zones, cultures and unfamiliar settings. It’s a reminder that I have gone with the flow of changing custom and comfort to find myself alive and floating in the placid and soothing pool of travel memories.That said, you can imagine my delight in learning of the prospects for vacationing in Europe with my wife, three pre-teenage children, and the in-laws – the later two subsets of humanity being at opposite ends of the spectrum in willingness to try new foods, communicate with different words and bathe without a shower curtain draping over the tub.Now, you will have to excuse me as I succumb to the age-old and irresistible urge of travelers to immerse unsuspecting individuals who find themselves in the path at the end of someone else’s sojourn, to give an account of everything that happened. In many cases this can take more time than the actual trip.I am no different than anyone else in this regard; thus, you will have to endure my tale. I can only ask you to bear with me, taking comfort that I will not direct your attention to six hours of video footage we created for YouTube and knowing that the conviction that my details are interesting will pass in a few weeks. It will seem like no time at all before I am busy crabbing about local issues again.I do not intend to bore you with descriptions about the magical sounds of Big Ben striking midnight; the impressive demeanor of the brave Yeoman Warders at the Tower of London; the connection I made with the writings of Shakespeare at the new Globe Theatre; the exquisitely fine wines I sampled at St. Emillion, Boudreaux; the 17,000-year-old cave drawings that spoke to my soul; the stormiest seas I have ever seen off the coast of Biarritz; Sunday brunch with the locals at a roadside café in the French countryside; treading the steps of our ancestors through the narrow cobblestone streets at countless ancient, walled villages; my newly inspired theories on the origin of the Mona Lisa’s smile; the excitement of getting swindled by panhandlers at Montmartre; the inspiring hike up the Eiffel Tower stairways; my discovery of the absolute best unknown restaurant in Paris; or my predictions for this year’s Tour based on personal inspection of certain sections of critical race stages.Even less will I drone on about the lovely, and frustrating, rural custom of businesses closing daily between the hours of noon and 2, except on Sunday, when they are closed all day long. There is no better way to remember, and try to forget, this than by going to bed hungry after attempting to satisfy your appetite with wine, which is somehow always plentiful anytime, anywhere in France.I will not even proselytize about the European wisdom in developing incredibly convenient, inexpensive-to-use public transportation systems funded by taxes that push gasoline prices to the Belgium side of $7 per gallon, their practicality in setting aside egos to drive tiny, fuel-efficient cars in the cities, and the eco-friendly additional charge they impose for plastic bags at the grocery stores.No, I will not go on and on about any of these things. What I really want to write about is survival. The great parts about a vacation come back only after returning home to good rest and downloaded photo albums. But these memories will be useless if you don’t live to experience them.Thus, I write this column safely aboard a 10-hour return flight home after braving the confusion and crowds of Paris’ Metro and the train to the airport, which would have been nothing if they were not the beginning of a deep, painful wade through the gooey muck that passes for crowded international airports.This is not about encounters with charming foreigners, interesting sights or fascinating customs. It is about dealing with people, who at times, can seem like the grouchiest and most irrational on this planet, or any other that may someday be traveled to. It’s about rushing around with those who woke up too early and didn’t get enough bathroom time on the mad scramble to meet an endless schedule of sightseeing, punctuated with arrival and departure times. It is about people coping with the intoxicating surrealism of crossing a twinge of homesickness with the dull pain of jet lag. In short, this is about sharing travel with people you would go to any corner of the world for, and beyond. This is about exploring with people you love!There has been much advice given to travelers about taking along comfortable walking shoes, choosing comfortable clothing, and the importance of getting comfortable with local customs. Many will tell you about the best way to travel with children and where to get the best exchange rates. Most tell you where to stay. Everyone tells you where to eat. Some go so far to tell you how to pack your bags. This is all simple stuff.The most important, and often unheeded, travel advice is to take trips with people you are comfortable with. Successful trips are not so much dependent on touring with those who can tell you exactly where you are all the time. To relieve the many stresses of travel, it’s important that your companions feel free to sometimes tell you exactly where you can go.
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