Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Belles without Borders: Happy Travels, Y'all

This week, my mom embarks on a two-week Alaskan cruise. Of all the people who should not, would not embark on an Alaskan cruise, I would register my mother right at the top of the list. Say what you want about what a fabulous trip that sounds like for you, but this is a woman who doesn't like travel, being cold, the great outdoors, or large meals. This does not seem like the best fit. I sent her off with a "bon voyage" and a reminder to make the best of every situation and adventure. And heaven help her travel companions, too.

We all know the basics when it comes to travel: pack layers of clothing in case you need more or less once you reach your destination, keep your medication in your carry on in case of lost luggage, wear sunscreen, and for women, pack at least 12 outfits and 18 pairs of shoes per day of your trip. Women need options. But I'd like to think I have figured out a few other travel hacks over the years, purely through trial and error (mostly error, to be honest).

This brings me to my first rule of thumb when considering travel: remember, different strokes for different folks. Just because your friend tells you she absolutely loved that island getaway does not make it the right place for you. My mom will not be impressed by the sight of a bear, a whale, or a glacier. Some people enjoy being active and doing things like hiking and climbing; I'm relatively certain that I will only experience the thrill of the hike if I severely mess up my walk with the Lord and wind up in the throes of hell, surrounded by raw vegans wearing comfortable shoes and being forced to trek along the fiery depths of Mount Hades.

To maximize your contentment while traveling this great big world, it's imperative to plan ahead and bring the necessary comforts of home. I'm not talking about your favorite scented candles or satin sleep mask--I'm talking about a modern day first aid kit to cure whatever may ail you along the way. Sure, you can probably find these things available for purchase, but as a girl who has frantically scoured the Bahamas for extra strength Pepto Bismol and found herself in New Orleans without migraine meds, it's best to have what you need, when you need it. You will realize you're getting older when you pack your gallon freezer bag full of Band Aids, Benadryl, nasal spray, and every pain reliever ever created, but it beats the alternative.

I'm told that as we age, there's a strong chance one will need to upgrade from a gallon storage bag to a larger size. It's nice to know there's room to grow. 

Mom and I in Paris, 2008. Let's just call this trip "memorable" and leave it at that.

In the spring of 2008, Mom and I took a truly unforgettable trip to Paris that ranks right up there with the maiden voyage of the Titanic and Gilligan's 3-hour tour. After a couple of days of pea shoot purees and medium rare salmon, I started to wonder if the American embassy would let me in...and if they might have snacks. I may have also made the threat statement that I would kill a man with my bare hands for a Little Debbie snack cake. This is why there is no shame whatsoever in my next tip:  go ahead and find yourself a McDonald's. No, seriously. Travel experts will tell you it's a great way to compare the local culture of wherever you are visiting with what you know from the familiarity of home. Plus, they will have cheeseburgers. Duh.

This McDonald's on the Champs Elysee in Paris was a most welcome sight.
The Royale with cheese may have saved my life.

It's also important to note that timing is everything. We heard rave reviews about St. Thomas, but it turned out we were there during the "off" season, when many things were closed and the majority of other visitors were vacation bargain hunters sporting fashionable resort attire like multiple tattoos and gold nugget ankle bracelets. Try as I might to rest and relax, it was just not my kind of crowd. My inner cheapskate tried to appreciate the frugality of bringing your own Styrofoam cooler of Busch Light out by the pool, but I just could not get on board. There's nothing wrong with traveling somewhere that's not in its peak tourism time, as long as you're okay with fewer choices and a slightly, er, different crowd that it may attract.

Know what you're getting yourself into. As my granddaddy was fond of saying, "Don't just buy a pig in a poke." You need to know what you're booking and what you're buying to be sure you get what you want, and that you pay what you want as well. Our family took a Hawaiian vacation years ago and stayed at a particularly luxurious hotel in Maui. Clint and I wandered down to the lobby our first morning there and were delighted to find a breakfast buffet fit for a king. We dined on macadamia nut pancakes with warm white chocolate syrup, omelets made to order, and other dazzling dishes while sitting beside a swan-filled lagoon. Imagine our surprise when the check came and our breakfast cost $75 a person! Or the guilt we experienced when we found out the rest of the family had enjoyed an economical bagel breakfast from room service. Oops.

Aloha from Hawaii, 2006. Some of us were decadently well-fed!

Remember that tip about timing? It's also paramount that, when you consider the length of your trip, you know your limits. Clint and I thought the idea of a full week at an all-inclusive resort in Cabo San Lucas sounded heavenly...until we got there and realized the strength of the sun in Mexico in July. By day five, we were hiding from the scorching heat in our tiny room, eating plain ham sandwiches from room service (not a huge selection at our all-inclusive locale, as it turned out) and watching Beverly Hills, 90210 reruns dubbed in Spanish. We overstayed our welcome and paid the price, amigo.

If all these travel tales sound horrific, rest assured we have had plenty of successful vacations in our time. There was an amazing trip to Italy where every detail was more incredible than the next, from the gondola-filled canals lining the streets of Venice to the Coliseum in Rome. Well, except that one hotdog topped pizza we were conned into eating in Florence--we're gluttonous American tourists and we can't help ourselves, what can I say? There's a lesson in there about not falling for touristy gimmicks, except we always fall for touristy gimmicks, so I'm not one to lecture in that arena.

From Dollywood to Dallas, to the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands and beyond, I'd like to think we've gotten some travel experience and learned how to make our trips the most enjoyable (and least homicidal).

Enjoying rooftop cocktails in Florence, Italy, with the famous Duomo in the background.

Summer travel season is upon us, and I wish you happy travels filled with fun, food, and adventure of whatever sort you crave. Pack that freezer bag to the brim, don't stay longer than you can stand, and just be aware that there are breakfast buffets that cost more than your outfit...which seems foolish since I'm certain there's a McDonald's right down the street. Bon voyage, y'all!

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