I am a terrible traveler.
I am a stress case, and an overpacker, and an underestimator, and a poor planner, and a hotel’s worst nightmare (I should know, because I work in one) – and lack all the general survival skills necessary to navigate any major city.
Here follows a hypothetical one-sided conversation with a local stranger – who initially takes pity on me, thinking I am a sweet, innocent lost young woman who needs his expertise but who gives up in exasperation in short order:
“I am lost, thank you so much for helping me! I’m trying to get to the east bay. Where in the east bay? I don’t know, they told me ‘east bay’. Is that not a town? Oh, I see. Well I’m supposed take the subway. There’s no subway? Just a train? Oh, I mean the train, then. Where’s the subway – I mean, train? Which way? That way? Like across the marketplace or around that building? So it’s underground? I thought it was a train. Wait – it goes UNDER WATER?! Yikes, I don’t like that. Can I take a cab? I see…that sounds expensive. Well how do I get there? I go ‘that way’? Well what kind of direction is that? Oh, around that building. So I go around the building – the one on the right or the left? The left? Got it. And then what train do I take? The blue line? The blue line going which direction? East? Okay, so I take the blue line east but then I thought I was trying to go north – oh, it ends up north? It doesn’t? Well where does it end? So do they take cash? No? Is there any ATM around here? Let me just get my wallet…. Preferably Bank of America if you know of one; I really hate those fees at other banks, don’t you? Especially when you’re traveling, I mean you spend enough on the flight and everything without… Sir? … Hello?”
And I look up and around to discover that the Good Samaritan has run for his life, departing in a flash of desperation that leaves only the faintest whiff of his good intentions behind.
It’s no better at the airport. Heaven forbid you be the unlucky individual whom I have requested to drive me there, as likely you’ll arrive at my home on time only to find me unprepared to leave and cramming last-minute attire and travel “necessities” into my suitcase, often including a piping hot curling iron from hair that has just been coiffed, a selection of 6 pairs of shoes that I won’t wear (and only 2 that I will) and a bag of makeup that I cannot decide upon (cool- or warm-toned eyeshadow? do I need both lash-extension AND waterproof mascara?). And then, in rushing out the door, I’ll realize that I’ve forgotten something (probably my jewelry) and will make a mad dash back upstairs to retrieve it – and then won’t be able to focus on conversation all the way to the airport, because I’ll be too consumed with worry about missing my flight (unlikely, as I always give myself at least an hour and a half at the airport before departure) and whether I’ve forgotten anything.
And somewhere in the midst of this, I’ll be calling the hotel – yet again – to confirm that my room does indeed have 2 queen beds and saying to the agent something like, “I know you can’t really guarantee me the garden view but could you check your inventory today and see if there’s a possibility of pre-blocking? The agent last night told me you weren’t at full capacity so I’d think there would be an early departure today and maybe you could put me in that room? I know I called yesterday, but I just wanted to double-check… How’s occupancy these days, anyway? Oh, sure I’ll hold. … Oh, thank you so much! I so appreciate it and will happily write you a great review on TripAdvisor – what’s your manager’s name? I just want to be sure he/she knows what a top-notch employee you are there. So I saw the cutest little one-bedroom suite online – any chance you might be able to get me an upgrade? I mean we are staying for three nights…”
When I arrive at my destination (we’ll skip over the hyperventilating on the plane, and the obsessive-compulsive checking of the seatbelt and emergency procedures before take-off – and for the record, if you sit the emergency aisle and don’t look like the kind of person who’d be up to the task of saving our lives, I’m totally judging you) I’ll change my credit card at check-in, and will have failed to note that there are actually 3 people in the room instead of 2 (asking the 3rd person to stand by at the elevator and look inconspicuous so we don’t get caught and charged the 3rd person fee) and will forget to have cash for the housekeeper. Finally, upon departure, I’ll find myself in the exact same predicament as when I left home – late, with too much gear (how do the contents of a suitcase seem to multiply by the end of a trip, even when one hasn’t bought anything new?) and not enough space for it and rushing to the airport (and probably in a bad mood, because it’s almost never fun to come home).
But these are just the logistics. Over the course of the trip, I will have eaten, drank and laughed (at myself, a lot, for my ridiculous travel tendencies); visited someplace new (or perhaps old and familiar and wonderful); seen longtime friends or made new ones, and discovered places, people, things and maybe even a bit of myself along the way, and will have made wonderful memories. When I travel, sightseeing isn’t important – nor is scheduling time for specific activities. When I travel, what I’m looking for is an immersion of myself in the destination – so that I simply enjoy being there. For as much time as I spend worrying about the logistics of getting away, I find that when I finally do get there the only thing that matters to me is simply being in the destination I’ve chosen. What I remember, at the end of the day, is what a great time I had while I was traveling – every part of it.
So perhaps I’m not such a terrible traveler after all. But I’d suggest giving yourself 10 extra minutes when you come to pick me up.