The “NBO” tour (Not Bleedin’ Obvious)

Does anyone know where the toilets are?

Do you ever have days when you just can’t seem to grasp the obvious? Oh yes. And when you’re traveling and in places you’re not familiar with, it’s twice as frustrating when something that should make sense doesn’t. This recent trip to British Columbia and Hawaii was one of those.

It could be something as simple as trying to work out how the shower functions. In all my life,  every hotel room is different and every single shower works differently. Some are easy to figure out but some are hugely confusing. The one in our lovely hotel in Vancouver had a diagram for the shower but even thing, we had difficulty working it out.

Trying to find the breakfast room wasn’t obvious, either. It was called the Stadium Room which sounds more like a function room to me, than a little breakfast room.

The fan expo in the convention centre was an exercise in “not obvious” when it came to trying to find the “ballroom” where the main panel discussions were. There was no map in the Expo guide. Well there was but for everything except the ballroom area. We asked several people and got a different answer from each one, at least the ones that did know. Or said they knew. Down that hallway over there just before you get to the big doors, turn left. Nope. There were escalators there and nothing resembling  ballroom at the top. Turns out you go *through* the big doors into the lobby of the convention centre and there it is.

Now we’re in the airport trying to navigate the screens of the check in area. I did check in online and I did get a boarding pass sent to my phone but it seemed to be only the one, not one for both of us. The Best thing to do was check in with the code and get it all printed. That worked. Why let you check in both people if you’re not sending the boarding pass, either two to the one phone or one each? Even when you do print off boarding passes at home, the airline invariably reprints them for you in the airline standard style, in my experience.

Another machine to work out at the US departure area for pre-screening. You try to follow instructions but they’re…not always obvious but someone came over straight away to help. Over to the security scan. We saw other people taking shoes off but there were no signs to say we had to. But they did ask when it was my turn. Why not put up a sign? Too obvious? Likely.

Don’t even ask about the frustration getting hooked up to the airport wifi. My phone doesn’t seem to have the capability to open the corresponding website to agree to Terms of Condition. It’s happened a few times but works with other connections. Even with my laptop it was a bit of a production because it kept trying to connect to an open network and I didn’t know what it was.

The un-obviosity didn’t end there. (yes, I know that’s not a word but stay with me). We’re in Hawaii now and we rented a car for a day to drive around the island. Nice day, now we have to fill up the gas tank before returning the vehicle. Never mind trying to get to the gas station across several lanes in heavy traffic, when we got to the pump, we had a heck of a time getting it to accept our credit card. Gas has to be prepaid but the instructions just weren’t comprehensive and we weren’t the only person trying to work it out. After I went into the attendant in the shop and got some instructions, it went better, much better than it subsequently went trying to find the right ramp to the parking garage to return the car. Let’s just say I’m glad we purchased the extra insurance coverage and leave it at that.

After an overnight flight back to Vancouver, we are faced with electronic customs clearance. I was aware of this and downloaded an app to enter all the information and generate a scannable code to save me time. Except there was no instructions for scanning that code, not that I could see so we had to enter the information all over again. Maybe I could have scanned the code as a first step even though there was nothing to say I could. Certainly not obvious. Even then, it wouldn’t have saved a whole lot of time because after that information was processed, we then had to have the most grotesque photos in the world taken. How the border guards could look at those and look at our faces and connect them as the same people or the pictures in our passports I have no idea.

Never mind. We’re finally back on home soil and after two overnight flights in a few days, we both need time to recover from our vacation!

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The Final Countdown

With little over a week to go, we’re on the final countdown of things to do before our trip. Last minute laundry, print off all the tickets, vouchers, etc (I like having a hard copy), decide what to pack (two climate zones!), distribute contact information to the family (note to self!), last minute touch base with friends and family that we plan to see, airport drop off / pick up to be arranged where necessary. I’m sure there’s more on that list.

All hotels are booked, even the single overnighters. Rental car is booked for an overnight visit to see friends on Vancouver Island. Transport from Victoria to Vancouver is booked and we were lucky there, it includes hotel drop off! Bonus! Still don’t know how we’ll get from downtown to the airport hotel but taxis may be involved even if just to get the luggage to the nearest skytrain stop downtown. There’s a skytrain stop near the hotel and the hotel has a shuttle to the airport.

There’s an airport bus from the Honolulu airport into town so we’ll probably get that. Or a taxi. It’ll be fairly late so that might be the more comfortable option. Two activities are booked (Pearl Harbour, and an Atlantis submarine tour!), the rest is open to possibilities because we don’t want to schedule every minute. We will be meeting up with a friend that my husband has known online for many years but there are no set plans as to when or what we’ll be doing yet. We won’t get through the list of all the possible things we might like to do/see but the five days in Oahu will at least be a sampling in the sunshine!

Back to Vancouver for a couple of days with family before heading home again. Two overnight flights back to back is too intimidating so we needed a day or two in between. At least the flight from Vancouver to Toronto overnight is in business class! Thank you, Aeroplan!

Must get the suitcases out of the storage room this weekend and start throwing things in. I can’t do it all last minute like Mr. Mister can. One more recharge session for the laptop to make sure it’s ready to go, all updated etc. Should put my pdf documents on one of the cloud services, too, like Dropbox or Google drive. I do have them on my phone. Overly organized, you say? Me? Perish the thought!

This will be fun. I’ve been to the west coast before, twice and it’s his first time there. Hawaii is new for both of us which is nice. I’m looking forward to seeing various family members again and a few good friends as well. When you live in a country that covers 6 time zones and 5514 km (5780? depends on which source you look at. It’s over 3400 miles, give or take.) from the farthest east to west points, and you have friends and family scattered across the country, you don’t get a lot of real time with them.

Traveling with “stuff” then and now

I’ve been traveling regularly for the past 25 years with occasional forays before that. I read this on the Conde Nast Traveler site just now that mentions things that used to be common in travel that are no longer a “thing” anymore and it made me think of things I used to do/bring/consider when I traveled and how things have changed.

Travelers’ Checks (Sorry, Travelers’ “Cheques” here in Canada) were the safest way of bringing your money with you when you traveled. Remember going to the bank to get them and you had to sign every one in front of the bank clerk? In my very early days traveling, I would buy them in US dollars because that was more accepted. That changed to Canadian dollars or I would buy them in British Sterling. You’d have to go to a bank, or the  Thomas Cook or American Express office to cash them in most of the time. Sometimes, a shop would let you purchase things directly with them if the TC was in the local currency but you’d have to provide your passport and an armful of ID to go with it.

Even when ATM cards started to be more commonly used and your local bank card was on a network that could be used outside the country, I took some TCs just in case though not as much. When I made it through a trip where I didn’t use them at all, I cashed them in when I got back and never bought them again.  I’ll often pre-pay a load of spending money I’ve saved on my credit card before I go to avoid interest charges, especially if I need to use it for a cash advance because occasionally the foreign ATM won’t accept my bank card. I still bring two different credit cards with me, one of which is just a backup and I always buy a bit of foreign currency to start me out. You always need a bit of cash for taxis or a snack in a cafe on that long airport/train/bus station layover.

Royal Oak phone boothHow to communicate with folks back home? I could call collect from a pay phone through an overseas number for Canada Direct, speak to a real person and the call would go through. Calling collect these days is all automated and it’s more and more difficult to find a pay phone. Then prepaid calling cards were invented and that worked pretty well but mobile phones are now our best friends and long distance rate charges are super low. I bought an unlocked phone and a local SIM card for the UK and used it there and in continental Europe. I could top it up online to keep the number active in between my annual visits and hit the ground with hit already loaded with enough to get me going. When I switched to a smartphone, the first one I bought came already unlocked. It was a Google Nexus through Telus, I think. Perfect. I’d land in the UK and pop in my local SIM and away I went. I still do that when I’m going to be away more than a few days out of the country.

For outside Canada travels on short journeys, I’ve tested out my provider’s travel package which was a bit pricey but covered roaming charges and gave us some data to work with. I see our provider has another travel scheme that looks like it might work as well, charging $5 a day if we use data, calls or text but doesn’t charge if we don’t. (wi-fi is wonderful and increasingly common!) We’ll see how that works when we go to the US in November.

Another category that site mentioned was disposable cameras. I’ve never bought one in my life to take traveling. I’ve been a lifelong photography enthusiast so I’ve always had my own camera, either point and shoot or SLR. In the old days, I would have to stock up on film. I take a lot of photos. Always did even in the days of film. I’d generally buy a dozen rolls of film, a mix of 24 and 36 exposure and shoot all of it, possibly buying more on the go if I did a lot of sightseeing . If I was traveling with a friend, we’d both takes a lot of pictures, then get them developed with double prints and share. There was always that moment of fear and excitement when getting the pictures back from the developer hoping and praying they all came out ok. Mind always did but you never knew if the exposure was wrong or if the developer messed up something.

I worried about airport x-rays ruining the film so I would buy lead lined bags for it. Later, If I was staying somewhere for a few days, I could get my photos developed while I was away and that was always great. As digital became popular, I remained faithful to my film camera but started to take advantage of the offer to be provided with digital scans of my photos on CD along with physical prints. It was great. Saved me time scanning and gave me a backup of all my photos, too.

Eventually, I went completely digital and about 5 years ago, I bought a small laptop, just a little bigger than the low end “netbooks”. It was a fully functional one with a good size hard drive and decent memory and I always back up my photos from the camera to it every night. This has saved me losing a lot of photos at least once when the camera broke and corrupted the memory card.

The things I have left behind included those travelers’ cheques, rolls and rolls of film, and preprinted postcard labels. I still send a few postcards if I’m going somewhere new to 2 or 3 people because I know they enjoy it. I used to send cards to a dozen or more people but these days, a blog post, a Facebook post or an email to touch base is far more immediate! I still often bring a printed travel guide or two if I’m going somewhere new and print off a few local maps with things marked on it. Google maps is fine and I guess I could customize them but the paper ones are better for that, I find.

The other things I bring now that I never had to before are all the various chargers and rechargers. The laptop must have a mouse and a power cord. Luckily, my phone and ereader use the same charge cable. I have a plug converter that is a necessity as well and a voltage converter just in case the laptop power cable isn’t a dual conversion one. Naturally, I have the phone, ereader, camera and laptop. I use the camera phone occasionally and reluctantly for an Instagram hit or other social media posting and I like the way it does a panorama photo better than my main camera. I don’t have a tablet because it’s more messing around to backup my photos from a camera to it and I can’t type a travelogue update on it without a separate keyboard.

I guess I haven’t really saved myself much space in the suitcase. Technology has made some things easier but I’m not 100% there yet. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The Golden Rule of Travel

In a travel email newsletter from Bite-Sized Travel this week, there was a link to a blog post at Outside Online telling Americans to stop telling people that they’re Canadian when they travel. You can read that here. The gist of it urges American travelers to stand up for themselves and their country to Make America Great again. Be proud of where you’re from. They say it makes the traveler lie to people they meet right from the start and it doesn’t fool anyone. (Krista at Bite-Sized Travel says the easiest way to tell an American from a Canadian is to pronounce the letter Z!) It certainly won’t make you any safer traveling abroad.

American travelers pretending to be from Canada is nothing new. It might be an urban myth but I remember hearing that American travelers and backpackers have been sewing the maple leaf on their jackets or luggage even back when I was young, in the 60s and 70s. I’m from Canada so it wasn’t an issue for me. I am what I am. American tourists had a reputation as “ugly”, that is, loud and rude when they travel so people from other countries allegedly didn’t care for Americans. From my limited experience, I can tell you there are loud and rude travelers from pretty much every country, *including* Canada.

Having said that, Canadians do tend to be polite and friendly on the whole. I have a small number of experiences with the perception of where I’m from by someone in a European country when they discover I’m from Canada and not the United States.

The first time came when I was on a school trip to Paris. A few of us were trying to explain to someone in a cafe that we wanted hot dogs but couldn’t quite manage the French needed to make the waiter behind the counter understand. He seemed dismissive and we were getting frustrated. Our French teacher arrived and within the space of a minute, after she explained where we were from and what we wanted, the waiter was all smiles. “Oh, les Canadiennes!” What we got wasn’t quite a hot dog, more of a sausage in a bun but it was served with a smile.

Because the general Canadian English accent isn’t really that different from many of the American regional accents to the foreign ear, I often get mistaken for American and I’m always pleasantly surprised when someone recognizes my accent as Canadian straight off but I do think that my East Coast Canadian accent is a bit more recognizable. I do remember someone asking me a question about products on a shelf in a pharmacy in London that we were both perusing and when she heard my accent, immediately expressed her sympathy. It was about 2 weeks after Sept. 11, 2001. It was very kind of her but I did tell her where I was from but that it was quite frightening to have something like that happen so close to home and there were some Canadians that had died in the towers.

I’ve taken a few bus tours over the years. Most of the time, at least half of the passengers have been from the United States with various other countries represented as well. Sometimes, there have been fellow tourists that have been loud and opinionated and yes, they were from the USA. But there have also been some very lovely passengers from there as well. One older single lady traveling on her own complained through the whole trip. Everyone else sympathised with the other single traveler that was paired with her to share a room (saving that single supplement cost) and the tour guide must have had his work cut out for him. She was from Canada. In stereotypical response, most of the rest of us Canadians on the bus always felt like we should apologize on her behalf! (Canadians have a reputation for apologizing a lot and it’s true, we do!)

One last anecdote: On another bus tour through Italy, a group of 5 or 6 Canadians from Montreal kept themselves to themselves and didn’t join in at all with the rest of the passengers. They used the bus for transportation only and went off on their own all the time while the rest of us mingled and chatted with each other about our own cultures where our respective native languages made it possible. For most of us taking a bus tour, the camraderie between tourist from different countries is part of the fun. So, you see, tourists of all stripes and attitudes can come from any country.

Mainly, though, I haven’t really experienced any difference in attitude in people when they learn where I’m from, one way or the other, though I have had a friend say she’s noticed a thawing from a frosty service person when she’s self-identified as Canadian. It is true that there are a few countries on this planet where the USA is not welcomed and perhaps some travelers feel safer pretending to be Canadians out on the streets. For me, I wouldn’t travel to a country where I wouldn’t feel safe but I’m not an adventurous traveler.

I have had it (smugly) suggested that I am still considered an American because I’m from North America. That person happened to be from Scotland. Right. So, I suggested, it’s perfectly all right to call you European because the U.K. is part of Europe or perhaps I could refer to him as British because he was from the British Isles? That person’s national identity raised his hackles and he insisted that no, he was Scottish. I made my point. He conceded. (In fact, you won’t find anyone from the U.K. agree that they are European, in my experience, and even moreso now since Brexit.)

I think the writer of the Outside blog post is right, American travelers, (or travelers from anywhere) you should be proud of where you’re from and when you travel, just remember the Golden Rule. It all comes down to respect, doesn’t it? If you treat people with respect and use good manners, they’ll respect you in return. Don’t get cranky because things are not the same as at home. You aren’t home! You travel to experience new things. Why would you want them to be the same? If you find that people from other countries assume Americans are rude and obnoxious travelers, prove them wrong and change that reputation.  Travel, enjoy, come home with wonderful memories!

You can see what Krista at Bite-Sized Travel is up to here, and she does a great weekend mailing list with loads of interesting finds about travel, packing and planning and you can also read her blog posts about all the places she’s been and is planning to go.

Where Have I Been?

Galway Bay, Ireland

Galway Bay, Republic of Ireland

It occurs to me that, while I have posted twice before about travel wish lists (here and here , both fairly similar posts, I’m afraid),  I haven’t really made a post listing all the various places I have visited. I’ve probably posted photos from every country I’ve touched down on, or a good many of them at least but a full list, for my own records as much as anything (and probably more detail than you’re interested in), includes:

Countries:

  • Canada (where I live): I have visited the provinces of British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, where I live. We’re going to BC again this fall, my husband’s first trip there, and hope to see a bit more of Vancouver Island and maybe outside of the Vancouver area if we have time.  My husband hasn’t been to Ottawa so we really should go there so he can see the capital of his adopted country.
  • United States. We’ve both visited (me alone and us together) the states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, New Jersey (that one’s just mine), Massachussetts. New Hampshire and Vermont were drive-thrus and New Jersey was for a training course so I didn’t see much of it aside from the hotel and training facility, and a little of the countryside on a bus between Parsippany, Newark to Manhattan.
  • United Kingdom including Wales and Scotland but not yet Northern Ireland. Obviously, I’ve spent a lot of time visiting England to see my fella before we were married but I’d already had a handful of visits there before I even met him, including a couple of bus tours.
  • Ireland (a bus tour, Dublin as part of the tour and also just to see friends, twice to see friends in Cobh including a wedding)
  • France (Paris, twice for me, once for him, and I was also in Nice with day trips both east a little ways and west into Monaco which were part of a high school trip)
  • The Netherlands (We took in Amsterdam and the open air museum in Arnhem)
  • Belgium (Brussels, Bruges)
  • Denmark (Copenhagen)
  • Italy (I’ve been on a bus tour around the country including San Marino, a short visit to Rome as part of my high school trip to Rome, Paris and the south of France and we visited Rome a few years ago)
  • Vatican City (Part of the high school tour,  bus tour of Italy and the two of us together)
  • San Marino (a tiny principality in Italy, we stayed here overnight on the bus tour)
  • Monaco (as a day trip from Nice on the high school tour)
  • Iceland (that was just in the airport, changing flights en route to London)
St Peters and Via Concilliazone

St. Peter’s, Vatican City

In the grand scheme of things, my list of countries I’ve visited isn’t that long compared to how many there are but I have made a lot of repeat visits to the United Kingdom.

 

I won’t go into the wish lists again, you can read through those links above if you have a burning desire to know. I won’t be insulted if you don’t!

I’ll never be able to afford to travel as much as I want but I enjoy what I can do and try to go some different places even if I’ve been to a location before, maybe just a museum new to me or a different day trip outside of a city.  I’ve been to London over a dozen times and *still* haven’t seen quite a lot of the areas such as Notting Hill and much of the East End which has a few really interesting museums and loads of markets.

I’m determined to lengthen that “been there” list a little more before I shuffle off my mortal coil.

Oh: Edited to add: I meant to add this link. I’ve got my own website where I have travelogues written for most of the trips I’ve taken, long and short journeys, here at The Voice of Reason.

The Travel Agent Kiss of Death

Greek Helmet, British Museum, London

Greek Helmet, British Museum, London

This is *not* a rant about travel agents. I’ve mostly always had very positive encounters with these knowlegable and lovely people that help me book trips and hotels. I do like to do my research online and I will often book things myself but if I have a larger combination of things to book, I will drop in to an agency and use their expert services. It’s done me well in the past, too. They have obtained some good hotel deals and can get flight bookings in combinations that the airline and booking sites don’t always present  after a search.

No, the “kiss of death” is me.

Over the past 25 years or so, I can tell you that nearly every travel agent I’ve ever used leaves me one way or another. They change branches, they retire, they just disappear and most recently, the whole agency closed down. I’m telling you, I’m getting paranoid.

Some people tell me they’ve used the same agent for decades. Lucky them! I never have managed to built up a rapport with a travel agent. I have a cousin that was a travel agent but I didn’t dare use her services for fear of her losing her job! I think the most I’ve ever used any individual agent was twice. The third time I went to book something, I hear “Oh they don’t work in this office anymore”. Of course they don’t.

I really don’t think it’s me that drives them away. Most of my bookings are straight forward. I’m not forceful, or pushy and I’m always polite. My credit card has never been declined (yet! knocking on wood just to keep the Travel Gods on my side).

I’ve been using the Flight Centre branch near my office over the last few years even when one of the agents I’ve used has moved on. I came into the shopping area at work one Monday morning a few weeks ago and the whole office was closed and the glass storefront papered up. There was no warning sign that I remembered seeing. I just shook my head, not really very surprised.

There’s still an agency in the shopping area and another one across the street. I’m going to be planning a trip for late this year. Do I dare? In fact, I probably won’t need flights booked because I’m going to be using Aeroplan points for one of the main flights and my best friend’s husband who works for another airline, offered to try to get us tickets on our other flight at a discount. All I need from there is deciding when I will need hotels and possibly a rental car for one or two days. Still, they can find good deals on hotels that may not be available online. That’s happened to me before.

We need a plan first. Then we will have to pick the hardiest looking agent, not one too near retirement age and not one too new. Someone tenatious, someone “hard”, someone with staying power. A Warrior.

The quest continues.

I’m a Tourist

See the people in the yellow caps? That's a tour group! Piazza Rotunda (outside the Pantheon). Rome, 2012

See the people in the yellow caps? That’s a tour group! Piazza Rotunda (outside the Pantheon). Rome, 2012

“Tourist trap”
“Too many tourists”
“I’m a traveler, not a tourist”
The word “tourist” seems to have a lot of negative connotations. The definition of a tourist is one that travels for pleasure. Where did the negative come from? There’s a long tradition of people traveling from their homes to far off places. Maybe the religious pilgrimages could be considered early tourists. In the glory days of empires such as the Romans, Egyptians and Greeks, it’s likely people went to the major cities and centres to see the sights, perhaps get a glimpse of the ruler. These ancient sites continued to draw visitors all through the centuries. Explorers could be considered tourists, too, even if they didn’t know what they were going to find before they got where they were going.

The word “tourist” was first used in 1772. That’s just about the time that wealthy gentlemen began taking Grand Tours around Europe and some of the sites of the more ancient civilizations. They became tourists. Baedeker published guide books and maps to assist building an itinerary. At first, tourism was mainly something that you did if you had money or if you were poor and wanted to go on a pilgrimage. But soon, there were more means of transportation available which got cheaper and cheaper, chiefly train travel which linked widespread destinations. Organized tours companies sprung up. Local people made money guiding visitors. The industry flourished.

The crowds became thicker. And it seemed people in them started to be less inquisitive, more interested in the status of being able to say “I’ve been to…”. They were rude to the locals, didn’t try to speak even a few words of the local language or observe some of the customs. They complained because things weren’t the same as they were at home, as if they should be. That one always baffles me. Even today you hear people whine. If you want things to be the same as they are at home, stay home. The tourist gained a bad reputation even if it’s the case of a minority ruining the reputation for the whole because let’s face it, there are millions of tourists. They aren’t all rude and they don’t all complain. The crowds can be off putting. The attractions and the souvenirs become tacky, with too much corporate influence. But sometimes, corporate sponsorship is the only thing that helps keep them open. That’s not always a good thing but mostly, it is, especially in the case of historic sites. And “tacky” is often a personal opinion. Others might call it kitchy or fun. Everyone has different tastes.

Our tour group from the UK tour 1993

Our tour group from the UK tour 1993

People are becoming proud of bragging that they are a traveler, not a tourist, and they go to places that are less popular, more remote, and “live like the locals” as much as they can. That’s great if it’s what you want to do. If you want to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Great Wall of China, or the Pyramids of Giza and elbow your way through the crowds, that’s great, too. There’s always a way to avoid the more crowded times if crowds give you the heebie jeebies. You can still living like the locals and see the famous sites, visit the galleries and museums, shop and enjoy a wonderful meal with local wine. Locals do that, too.

As for me, I’m a tourist. I really enjoy historic sites, museums (especially quirky small ones, but any will do), galleries, cathedrals and other religious buildings (because the art is usually superb). I shop a little, take a huge amount of photos and like to try local beers and wines along with my food. As far as the major class “attractions”, I find a large majority of them are over-hyped, over-expensive and end up a disappointment. “Is that all there is?” I pick and choose, depending on the value that I perceive it to have for me.

The White Tower, Tower of London

The White Tower, Tower of London

The Tower of London is expensive, but it’s very historic. The Crown Jewels? I’ve seen them but I found the armoury and museum far more interesting. I’ve been to the Eiffel Tower but I haven’t gone up to see the view, which is a bit odd for me because I usually like going up high places like that. I do, however, think it looks amazing now that there’s a sparkly light show at night every hour. The Roman Colosseum was all the better because we booked a tour and heard about the history behind it. That really added to our experience.

It really does come down to personal taste as far as what you would enjoy, what you feel is worth the money and effort. Be polite, be curious, be open minded and be flexible. Go with the flow and be on your toes, too, because another down side to being a tourist is that you might be a target for petty crime, especially in crowds.

Whether you consider yourself a tourist or a traveler, you’ve journeyed away from home to experience new things, different cultures, or just a change of scenery. Whether it’s around the world or a day trip to a nearby location, being a tourist means new memories. That’s never a bad thing.

More views on being a tourist on WordPress’s daily challenge, here.

 

 

Daily Post: Middle Seat

It’s not all too often that the WordPress Daily Post writer’s inspiration is a topic I can relate to travel but this one certainly is travel related from the get go. It’s called Middle Seat and they want to know how you handle a very chatty stranger that you’ve been seated next to en route to your destination.

As it happens, I don’t often seem to get caught with a very chatty seat mate on a plane. I’m a large person and I try to pick a seat that’s next to an empty one, hoping the plane doesn’t fill up. It makes things more comfortable for me and the person beside me. Sometimes I get lucky and the empty seat stays that way and sometimes it’s filled. The odds seem to be about 60/40 in favour of a seatmate on the long haul flights. Never, ever do I sit in the middle seat of a 3 or 4 seat section and in general, prefer the aisle so it’s easier for me to get out.

I do remember one flight where I had a very nervous seat mate. She jumped and squeaked and fretted at ever sound the plane made. She was white, she was fidgety, most definitely a nervous flyer. When the landing gear thumped down into place, I thought she’d lift right out of her seat. I joked, “Ok, if you *didn’t* hear that, we’d be in a lot more trouble !” I chatted to her, make a few jokes, and I think I distracted her enough.

One other time I sat beside a tiny French-speaking nun. She didn’t say too much and her English wasn’t too good. When she did make the occasional remark, mostly I just smiled and nodded because her accent was very strong and I couldn’t make out what she said. My French is very much limited to what I learned in school, 35  to 40 years ago! I can interpret numbers, food, directions but it’s not really up to holding a conversation and I suppose her English was about the same.

The last really enjoyable conversation I got into with a fellow traveler was in the summer of 2014 with my friend. We were heading to Montreal to see Queen in concert. She sat in the row behind me and got into a conversation with her seatmate about music and concerts and drew me in as well. It’s a bit more awkward, trying to talk to someone in the row behind but we managed. He turned out to be a Jimmy Buffet fan of great stamina, belonging to an online fan group whose members follow the singer religiously and travel around to meet up and attend his concerts. I can identify with that in my own way, since I have been known to travel under the same sort of circumstances to hang out with my online friends who are fans of Coronation Street. Fandom has given me lots of travel opportunities and has expanded my circle of friends enormously.

I have had lovely conversations with occasional seat mate but I’ve never got “stuck” with someone that prattled on and on endlessly, annoying or boring me to tears. When I have had  a seatmate that wanted to talk, they were friendly, and congenial. Mostly, though, whoever is beside me in the middle of the three or in the other seat, if it’s a “two-fer”, keeps to themself as do I. I am not a shy person but striking up a conversation under those circumstances seems to bring out the shyness in me more. It’s more than just small talk isn’t it, when you’re on a 6 hour+ flight somewhere. I am, however, pleased if my seatmate does want to talk and it all turns out ok.

I shouldn’t have jinxed myself like that. I’m flying out next weekend to the UK on the overnight flight. If I get a seatmate, it could be a disaster now that I’ve said I am usually lucky! Oh dear.

When plans change

passport_leafOff to the UK on Friday night and I’m not looking forward to the flight. I do love to travel but the process of getting there is not a lot of fun. There’s small, cramped seats. I can’t afford to go business class and these days, what you get there is a little individual “pod” which doesn’t really look that comfortable, either, except it can recline and there’s nobody squashed up beside you. The width of them doesn’t look all that much wider than a standard seat. Before these came out, business class seats were like big comfy lazy-boy chairs!

And I’m getting a cold. I have the sniffly stuffed up nose stage at the moment. If the travel gods are with me, it might not get worse than that, but I doubt I’ll be that lucky. Flying with a head cold will be awful and I figure I’ll end up spreading the germs and making a number of other passengers ill too, even though I try to keep it to myself. All that recycled air, though, isn’t condusive to health.

The other reason is that my plans have changed. We have had to cancel Paris. My partner’s father is very ill and we really can’t be out of the country. We don’t know how much longer we’ll have him so every day counts. We might get to London on Easter weekend depending on how things go but as I’m due to fly back out of London, I will have to go. If he comes with me, at least he can be back in Manchester by train in a couple of hours if need be. That’s easier than trying to get home from Paris.

Again, though, that still depends on the situation. I may need to change my ticket and extend my time in Manchester. I did get cancellation and interruption on my flight to the UK so any costs incurred in changing should be covered by that, at least. I didn’t get insurance on anything else because I’ve been burned on the “pre-existing condition” clause before and even though his dad seemed to be stable when I booked the France part of the trip, he did have a “condition” and I more or less figured a doctor could cite that when filling out a form.

That’s what happened to me the last time I tried to recover the cost of a cancelled flight. The doctor said the patient (my father) was not stable at the time I booked the ticket. That was news to me! While he was recovering from major surgery, we all thought it was just a matter of time. Turns out it was, but not what we thought. Looking back, the doctor was right, and looking back, we can see it but at the time, we didn’t know any different. We thought he was just longer recovering than expected. So after that, I’ve been reluctant to trust buying the insurance. I did this time because everything seemed like things would be ok to get to the UK and back. And this time, if I have to use the insurance, it will only be about changing the return date and those costs associated.

Having said that, I did or will get 3/4 of the money back for the pre-paid hotel in Paris and that will cover the cost of the flight and Eurostar which were also prepaid. That’s a break-even there. There are a few other things that got cancelled that were non-refundable but they won’t add up to a lot. Extending the rental car in Manchester an extra week didn’t cost me double, either, which was a nice surprise, it’s only costing another 50% and that wasn’t prepaid.

This will be a vacation from work, and we’ll be spending our two weeks together which is important when you live 3000 miles apart for the moment. I hope we’ll be able to get out for a day trip or two just for a drive somewhere. We’ll need that to recharge our batteries.

It’s the way life is. We help each other, support each other, and get through it. Paris can wait.

Inspiring Travels from Women – the Travelettes

Ana, The Habitual Runaway, posted a link on Facebook to a blog article on five films that make you want to travel. Of course that caught my eye, since you all know I like to post “Traveling through the movies” type things. These are all new indie films that the writer saw in a couple of film festivals in Berlin and Glasgow. The blog is a collaboration of a group of young women that call themselves the Travelettes with a great tag line, “Backpacking in heels”.

It seems their main objective is on backpacking adventures but they have loads of other posts about their travels and they encourage contributions from the outside world as well. I’ve already found their huge list of posts on London and more than a dozen on Paris, particularly timely as we’re heading there soon. I think I shall be spending a lot of time over the weekend having a good look through their site and maybe making notes for future trips!