Thank me later: travel tips

30 Jun

I have always had a personal rule against weaving anything into conversation that could be found printed on a mug in the Cracker Barrel “gift shop” or found stitched on a hat sold next to a five gallon jar of pig’s feet.  I’ve got standards.  Sue me.  But I know that every rule has an exception and I have recently discovered mine.  Recently, when asked about our family trip via cruise ship in the Mediterranean, what rushed out of my throat was, “I need a vacation from my vacation.”  Did I really say that?  Yep.  And I meant it too.  There was not trace of irony on my tongue.

Remember that movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles with Steve Martin and the late John Candy?  Things went screwy.  In the end, it was heart-warming and everyone learned something about patience, giving up control and finding forgiveness.  Well, if this movie were being remade today, which, thanks to Hollywood’s shortage of original ideas, is high on the probability-o-meter, and starred my family it would be called Planes, Trains, Automobiles, Boats, Donkeys, ATVs and Wheelchairs.

I am still absorbing it all and can’t possibly recap it in just one or two posts.  Instead of forcing you to sift through what would amount to a voluminous slide show, I am just going to begin by imparting some lessons learned during our inaugural trip of the summer.  It should be noted that the last time I left home for this long with suitcases and multiple stops, there were no babies on board.

The first stop of our 18-day “vacation” was Venice, Italy.  It’s beautiful and old.  It looks every bit like what you have imagined from movies and postcards.  Yes, there really are no cars there.  And yes, there really are canals everywhere with a jillion bridges that were all built hundreds of years before any sort of Disabilities Acts and inclusive building codes had been thought of and imposed.  And those bridges aren’t smooth ADA ramps.  There are cobbled steps.  Lot’s of them.  And the hotel where you might stay if you are visiting Venice…it doesn’t have an elevator or ramp of any kind either.  Don’t go if you are gimpy.

Rule 1  Pack as few bags as possible.  If at any point during your “vacation” you are going to be handling your own baggage, rethink what you are taking with you.  Pull a page from the Johnny Cash fashion chronicle and just pack a few black separates.  Consider exploring going commando, too.

We make a habit of traveling with another family.  It is great for us and for our kids to be with someone else.  Odds are favorable that because we travel together we will be doing all of our excursions together too.  That means that when it’s good it’s great and when it’s bad, you are ganged up on by double the kids.  There is a lot to see that kids may not think is too thrilling.  There is a lot of walking involved in getting from one boring Church to another boring Church.  Oh, and it’s hot.

Rule 2  At least a month before departure, cross-train your kids.  Go for long walks after dinner.  Break in new shoes.  Make them carry stuff up and down the stairs at home.  Turn off the AC on the weekends.  Give them a water allowance.  Trust me.  In fact, just go all Lou Gosset Jr. and boot camp the hell out of the kids.  It’s bad enough to hear them complain about regular stuff, don’t give aching muscles, side stitches and blistery feet a chance to enter into the mix.

If you are a regular reader of HDCA, you know that I am “aware” of potties.  This is by no means a fetish, but I do appreciate a nice bathroom.  Unfortunately, outside of the US and Japan, I am set up for disappointment.  It is ironic that a continent that values having bidets in any dwelling, puts up with what passes in public.  I will say that Europe has gotten a little more together as far as tissue is concerned, but that has been the only advance that I can speak of.  Thank God for small miracles, right?

Rule 3  Cross-train your bladder.  The only way that you are going to get through the day without the heaves is to limit the amount of time you spend in any restroom outside of your hotel room.  The solution is not to limit your fluid intake.  That would lead to dehydration.  That would be bad.  Simply put, you gotta learn how to hold it.  Don’t be fooled by the “pay-for” public restrooms.  They are worse than the others.  And on a side note for the ladies:  You will not find a purse hook in any WC.  Learn to do the hover with purse straps around your head.  It’s harder than you think and requires practice.  While the kids are doing stair drills in their cross training, you might do well to practice squats with a weight yoked around your neck.  Those strong quads will be your friend.

Because we were gone for so long and good advice, like what I am giving you, is gleaned from hindsight, we had a lot of luggage: five suitcases, four carry-on bags and two purses.  Too much luggage.  See Rule 1.  Do not let any part of your stash ride shot-gun with the cab driver.

Rule 4 Chain yourself to your bags.  At the very least, make a kid sit in the taxi until everything has been removed and counted from the car.  Believe me, no driver is going to inadvertently take off with a sweaty kid whose itouch has lost its charge.  My carry on continues to be staying out late and making friends in Barcelona, long after I have returned home.

My last tid-bit is the most important.  It is my new mantra and one that I just might have stitched on a trucker hat or screened onto a mug:

Rule 5  Buy Travel Insurance.  Things can go wrong.  Things can also go horribly wrong.  You could end up admitted in a Sicilian hospital for five nights, for example, where no one speaks English.  Worse still, it could happen to your child.  You could need to get somewhere afterwards.  One day it might be funny, but in the thick of it…not so hilarious. And it will probably never be funny if you are still figuring out how to come up with tens of thousands of dollars that just weren’t in the plan.  Regular health insurance will cover you at Wally World or the Grand Canyon, but it usually doesn’t cross international borders.  If you are taking a passport, take out a policy.  Trust me.  And for extra giggles, find out everyone’s weight in kilograms.

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3 Responses to “Thank me later: travel tips”

  1. Tracy Wilson June 30, 2011 at 11:47 am #

    I just don’t know where to begin on commenting on this one, so I will go with this:
    AMEN SISTER!

    Next blog topic: “How Red Wine Helped My Mediterranean Cruise (but not the wine from Greece)”.

  2. Laurie Ford July 6, 2011 at 10:37 am #

    GREAT one Charlotte!! Just some additions you need trip insurance at the grand canyon if you decide to put yourself in a small raft a go “floating” down a swollen colorado river! Also packing light is the only way to go!! Finally after 5 days of #1 in the colorado river I have that squat thing totally down! I still have the urge just to stop on a walk and squat it got to be so easy!! Keep up the good work!!

  3. Hot damn, Charlotte Ann! July 7, 2011 at 10:26 am #

    You know, the squat is an acquired and practiced skill that takes time to master. Men don’t get that and are somewhat unappreciative of women who have developed a splash free, no touch technique. I applaud you! On a side note, Big Daddy wants our next family trip to be to Yosemite. In light of that whole “man gets mauled by a startled mama bear” thing, that trip will likely require some sort of insurance rider too.

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