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We are thrilled to welcome La Petite Rouge and her monthly travel column to our HW family. Look for her words of wisdom every month in this space or join our newsletter to receive updates.
There is a belief in some circles that travel must be uncomfortable, baffling, or intermittently painful with short bursts of relief. Those descriptors better fit a root canal or a children's music recital. There is nothing in the definition of travel that suggests only the worst possible outcome for the trouble of leaving home. One travels to the mailbox. One travels to the drug store. A trip to the mailbox doesn't usually require Dramamine or an after-dinner mint, but it's often helpful to have both on hand. So while you're at the drug store, pick up a few things. These are the souvenirs of daily life.
The intrepid traveler knows to be prepared, but the following advice is clearly targeted to the trepid, those borderline agoraphobics who count on cable television to broaden their outlook. It's not that they are lazy. Some are inherently fearful of the customs and languages of foreign lands. (Fail one high school French quiz, and a good portion of the world will forever be off limits.) Others are fearful of unusual food, no matter how artificially colored/flavored/nuanced their evening meal. Still others are worried about natural disasters. Sure, the primary causes of Tsunami are all natural (volcanic eruption, earthquake, underwater landslide, meteor impact), but that doesn't automatically suggest that every one of those possibilities will occur the moment you book your Polynesian sailing trip.
The best approach is to narrow the options, make a commitment, and prepare for every possible outcome, including the one where you have a wonderful time, meet some great people, and arrive home relatively unscathed.
Narrow the Options:
Decide where you want to go. No, this isn't about where someone else wants to go. You can't always be the people pleaser. This isn't about fulfilling your late grandfather's dream of returning to the old country. (If you're already in the old country, think about going somewhere new.) If you're paying for the excursion, you have the right to be selfish. After all, this will not be cheap. Despite whatever backwoods hostel experience you have in your mind, erase that image immediately. Do you know why they call them hostels? Because a couple days of sharing a bunk bed in Tashkent with a stranger of indeterminate origin/sex and very questionable hygiene will make you hostile. And you won't be traveling for days on end by bus or train. You are going to fly in a commercial jet, not a three-propeller job owned by a guy named Spud. You will not get into any floating vessel for an extended period that does not have proper facilities. The point of the travel is not the time you spend actually being transported. It's everything in between.
Make a Commitment:
A good way to force yourself to do anything is to put down some cash. Signing a contract helps the brain to understand that it's not okay to change your mind. You are in control of your brain. You are deciding it's time to see the Isles of Scilly. It's time to walk the streets of Curacao. It's time to learn to make moonshine.
But if your brain doesn't know that there is a possible out in case of a true emergency, it might explode. So if it's just for a weekend, work through your anxiety as best you can. If you are committing to three weeks in Borneo, sign up for the traveler's insurance. Make sure it's the kind that will airlift you back home in case of accidental dismemberment. While we live as one on this planet, some of us simply have a better concept of health care.
There is no such thing as overpacking. Whether you're traveling for a week or just an overnight stay in Boston, you still have needs. These needs include an impressive amount of hygiene products, your own blankets and pillows and an emergency first aid kit. You'll probably also need your own personal entertainment devices. If you're suddenly stuck in a Northeaster, you'll need foul weather gear. And you will always, no matter where you go, need sun block and a moisturizer.
The aforementioned will go into bag one. In bag two, you need a ten-day supply of clothing, four pairs of shoes, two bathing suits, one set of work out clothes, one set of exercise bands (or free weights if you're ambitious), and one formal outfit. Your luggage should be on wheels and be well within your ability to maneuver. You will have to check in your bags. (Your luggage will not fit into the overhead compartment.) In your carry-on bag, take your legal prescription medication, three books, sugar free mints, a notebook, five pens, a comb, a brush, dental floss, toothpaste and toothbrush, stain remover, sleep mask, ear plugs, and sunglasses. Don't forget your travel itinerary, wallet, passport, pocket translator, money and cashews (raw and unsalted).
It would be foolish to say that these were merely suggestions. You will need everything on this list at least once within your first 24 hours out of your home. If you didn't bring something, then you'll have to barter with a stranger on the street, and you won't get exactly what you want. There may be thirty brands of dental floss, but will they have cinnamon-flavored?
If it helps you get into the spirit of travel, give your excursion a title, just like on the cable travel network. Name your luggage. (My favorite is called Bagzilla.) Put a happy face on your neck pillow. Now you are ready to travel.
Copyright © 2008 by Pamela Miller