Saturday, July 7, 2007

Tripping Out

Illustration by E.F. Brewtnall.

Long before we pull our suitcases out the door, I start to travel. I search my map collection, browse my travel section and happily begin to plan. I get to take every trip twice! The first trip is in my imagination as I pore over the maps, and research cities, hotels and scenic drives. The second one is the trip we actually take, with all the curves in the road, unexpected bumps, and delightful surprises.

Travel is one of our top priorities. We've traveled rich and we've traveled poor, and there's not much difference in the level of enjoyment. We've stayed in the finest hotels and the tiniest, unknown B & B's and everyplace in between, and we've discovered that the amount of money spent doesn't really matter. Fabulous French restaurants and sidewalk creperies each have their own distinct charm. Buses are as fun as taxis, and collecting free pub coasters is as memorable as collecting sterling silver charms. Scouting out ghost towns in our own state has satisfied us when we couldn't go anywhere else.

"Travel is intensified living---maximum thrills per minute and one of the last great sources of adventure. Travel is freedom. It's recess, and we need it." Rick Steves

Right now books are open on top of maps and spread all over my desk. There are colorful post-its everywhere, labeling some landmark, or spectacular view. We are going to Ontario, Canada to research a book Dee is writing. Because this is an area we are totally unfamiliar with, I'm starting from scratch. I'm on the planning trip.

The first thing I did was list the places we need to visit. I'd never heard of any of these towns and cities except for Ottawa and Toronto, so I got out the Atlas and circled them all. (I needed a magnifying glass to find some of them!) This gave me our route. I could see which airports would be convenient, so I got online to find the best deal. We could fly into Detroit easily, but it wasn't cheap. Toronto was cheaper but not as direct. Dee's airfare is paid on this trip, so mine was the big expense. Dee recently volunteered to be bumped from a flight, and I found that his voucher would cover my ticket, so we chose the most direct flight this time.

I made a list with each place we'll go in the most logical order. Each location has a separate line on the page. I then listed what we will want to do. (Kingston: visit old cemetery, find location of farm. Niagara-on-the-Lake: photograph street signs, shop, visit Niagara Falls).
Using the Atlas, I figured out mileage and distances, so I could plan how far we'd need to drive each day. I'm very generous in my timing, allowing for a spontaneous drive down a country lane, or a quick visit to an antique shop along the way.

I copied my list onto a new sheet, with columns: Days, Places to go, Distances, and Where to Stay. I grouped towns and activities into days (Friday: Kingston--Cornwall--Morrisburg with visit to Upper Canada Village--Ottawa. 117 miles. Stay Ottawa. )

I'm now at the planning stage I enjoy most. I get to decide where we'll be staying each night, and for how long. I try to imagine how we'll feel after each day. Will we want a hotel in the center of the action, or will we want a lodge by the lake? Will we arrive early enough to explore, or will that be on the next morning's docket? Which hotels offer free parking? How much extra to park at a downtown location? Should we stay in one hotel for several nights and make day trips, or do we want to try a beach cottage one night and a romantic B & B the next? I research hotels online, and read comments by recent guests. I look up bookstores and restaurants, shopping streets and tourist attractions, and find a hotel that matches up. I don't book online, because I've been stung. They take your money immediately, for the whole stay, and sometimes you can't get a refund if your plans change.

I always call the hotel directly, ask for their best rate, and then say, "Do you have anything for less?" They always do! If that price is higher than what I saw online, I tell them. They then lower it to the online price. After I've secured my rate, I ask about the room amenities, telling them I want a corner room (they are bigger), a good view, etc. and I get what I want for the best price. They hold the reservation with a credit card, but I'm not obligated and I can cancel within 24 hours with no charge.

I haunt the library and bookstores and read everything I can about where we're going. I find novels, and movies, and read a little history so I can be open to the things we'll see. I leave time for serendipity, but I like to have an itinerary. We have often changed plans in the middle of a trip because of weather, or unexpected diversions, but having a general idea of where we're going and what we want to see eliminates stress.

After the planning trip, the real travel begins. With the research propped behind me I am free to be totally flexible. We always expect the unexpected and delight in the contrasts. We see life with new eyes, appreciating both the circumstances we are familiar with, and those we're observing. We are overwhelmed with the goodness of people and the variety of lives. We gain a new perspective.

Travel is addicting. Dee and I began our life together traveling, and I hope we never stop. In fact, one of our favorite activities while we're on a trip is to start planning our next one!


mama jo said...

sounds very fun....go to the cn tower in toronto..unless you're afraid of's the tallest tower in the world...pretty cool....have fun

Annie said...

I wholeheartedly agree. I feel empty without a trip on the horizon + love the planning and scheming almost as much as the adventure itself. I inherited my wanderlust from my grandpa, who has been known to book a trip to Germany or Italy or anywhere interesting at the drop of a hat--often enough so that people suspected he was in the CIA (he wasn't)! Happy trails in Canada!

MissKris said...

I have a younger brother who travels all over the world with his wife. They're avid bird watchers. Me...I'm the Emergency Number at home for anyone to call if something happens to them along the way. I traveled some as a single woman but Dear Hubby and I haven't ventured any further than Oregon and northern California together...there's so much to see here! And I'm a lousy traveler...I have suffered from bad motion sickness my entire life. He travels on business every now and then around the US but that's about it for us. I do my traveling via my imagination from books for the most part. But I LOVE to look at photos of OTHER people's trips, haha!