I don’t know how to live without a filing cabinet. This may be a largely paper free world but I still need a few sheets of fibrous tissue to give concretion to my life. As I was setting up a new filing system — I had to break down and admit I needed more than a single 8.5 x 11 drawer that I’d been using in the coach — I came upon some travel brochures and realized there’s one thing I never wrote about: things we don’t do, and places we don’t go.
You see, making your travel plans — by RV, by car, by train, by plane, heck, making travel plans if you are hiking the Appalachian trail all depends on what you want to do while you are traveling. I know that we don’t do some things that are really popular with others, and I’m sure vice versa — we do some activities that others may not care about.
I picked up a visitor’s guide for South Padre Island a few minutes ago. We’d dropped it in the car on one of the first days after we arrived and to be honest I looked at it that day and haven’t cracked it open since then. On the inside cover was a two page spread about one of the resorts on the island. Guess what? We almost never go to resorts. It’s not that we don’t like to travel in style — it’s that if we are in a hotel we usually aren’t in the room very much of the day, and the pampering we could get at a resort really isn’t something we’re interested in. Similarly, we don’t golf. If you take out all the pages in the typical glossy travel brochure advertising resorts and golf courses you’ll have a pretty skinny publication!
My point, obviously, is that everyone is going to travel differently depending on their likes and dislikes. It pays to develop some references, or sources for the things you want to do. Also, it pays to learn to ignore the things that don’t interest you.
For example, if we are visiting a city or a region for the first time ever — not many of those exist anymore, but that’s beside the point — we’ll be sure to take in the official visitor’s information facility. Thereafter, unless we know we have a particular interest to research we’ll probably skip. Two years ago we stopped at the Harlingen Visitor’s Center and among the little gems we picked up was a directory of all the RV parks in the area. This year, knowing that listing was obsolete we stopped again — and that was about all we picked up — we just wanted an update on addresses and phone numbers in case we went house shopping (duh….).
We travel as two senior citizens — neither of whom like rollercoasters. So we don’t visit amusement parks. But we do visit botanical gardens, and wildlife refuges. But not zoos. I hate that animals are confined in zoos. I can’t bring myself to enjoy a zoo with confined (even if they aren’t in cages) animals. If we were traveling with our family, or if young folks were going to visit us while we were here, then we might, but there’s not sense in wasting brochures if we aren’t going to use them. That’s just sound eco stewardship. Don’t take what you aren’t going to use.
If you look through the typical city or regional brochure you’ll quickly see the dozen items that are common to all. I don’t need climate advice from the visitor’s center. I can get what I need online without wasting paper or ink, and up to date. Area Specific Safety warnings though are something that I am keen to know about. If we’re on the Ocean/Gulf then things like Rip Currents or Tides might be critical to know about, or Tsunami evacuation routes. Here too… you can get a smartphone app for tides. Perhaps also for tsunami warnings — I used to have one but I no longer use it. Historical information is helpful too, but here I find that I have usually done my research historical research long before we decided to journey to such a place and picking up what will be mostly advertising just isn’t ecologically sound. I’ll suss out where I want to go and plug the address into my GPS and that’s all I need. The information to be found at the place we are going is the whole reason for going there so I don’t need to read everything about the place before I get there; just enough to know I want to go.
If we were younger we might be interested in some of the more active sporting activities. But we have always been more into walking than into running or biking; and at our age there are limits to how far we walk at any one time so we aren’t as likely to do group walks or tours.
I rarely pick up brochures advertising the cheapest motels/restaurant/etc. I don’t like to spend more money than I need for goods and services — but I don’t want subpar accommodations and I don’t eat commercial fast food, a brochure showing me all the chain stores isn’t going to interest me at all. However, if there are food trucks, or street carts then I’m all in. For example, Portland has a district specifically for food trucks and there are more spread throughout the city. I’ll do research in advance to figure out where I might want to eat lunch and then to and browse the selections. No matter what I found online or in research, chances are good that if I walk around the block I’ll find something else that’s just as appealing as anything I discovered doing research and many of my faves have been the karmic-accidents, not the pre-arranged choices. For 5 years we haven’t visited many motels, but we will be doing so again. I have one or two chains that give a consistent cost/value mix that I like — I usually use their app or website to make reservations a night or two in advance — or if necessary, 4 or 6 weeks in advance — depending on the location and the demand of rooms. Yeah — I realize some of that is the result of a lifetime of travel and knowing what to look for, at which time of year, but there’s no shortcutting experience.
Yes, I do sometimes use services — like Trip Advisor for example. They have hotel, restaurant and activities reviewed and rated. The obvious problem with a service is that the recommendations are a function of who is doing the reviewing. As a result I re-rate their reviews based on what I read when I check out the reviews. If I see a lot of family reviews I know what kind of place it is: a place catering to large families. If it’s all seniors who are reviewing the place — obviously it’s a different market, a different set of expectations from the customers, and probably a different set of expectations about budget. No tool is perfect. Give a carpenter a hammer and he’ll make something beautiful with me. Give me a hammer and you might end up with as many hammer pocks in the wood as correctly nailed fasteners. You have to assess the tool, and who is using it if you’re going to use any tool wisely. In our case I find Trip Advisor provides me valuable information. Someone else might not.
The bottom line on all of this is simple. When you travel, do it purposefully. Research what is interesting to you, and pursue that. You don’t need to visit the same place everyone else is visiting. Disney won’t go bankrupt if you don’t visit, and if Disney isn’t your thing, don’t waste the day or the resources to visit something that could be a marginal interest. You don’t have to be a typical traveler.
My final thought about this aspect of trip planning is leave yourself time to be surprised. You needn’t plan every minute of every day. Give yourself time to explore, time to discover — some of my favorite experiences while traveling have not been the ones I planned. I did a 6 week trip through France on my own in the 90’s and I didn’t have a single reservation or plan. I had done my research and had a string of places I thought I’d want to see. In the end I only visited a handful of those. Instead I found myself fascinated by suggestions of strangers, the whimsy of a moment’s choice between two routes, and accidents of nature. I wish travel were only as popular today as it was then. Now I feel compelled to be a little more organized about my travel. But still, the moment’s change are the times I love the most.
Have fun, travel safe, explore.