It’s Probably More Efficient to Walk to Your Destination Than Fly Spirit Airlines

Virgin America Baggage Services
Virgin America’s baggage services seem to have little to do
JetBlue Baggage Services
JetBlue’s baggage service department seems under control
Spirit Airlines lost baggage
Spirit Airlines, somehow not surprisingly, seems to keep much busier losing their passengers’ luggage
Spirit Airlines no leg room, fees
I’m short and my knees hit the seat in front of me; and, yes, Spirit considers even a glass of water an upgrade.

Most of my posts are a bit more detailed; but this post will be short and sweet. Out of the three times I’ve flown on Spirit Airlines, Spirit is three for three in being delayed. My first two exposures to this dreadful excuse for an airline resulted in delays of three plus hours. As I sit here at Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport, the flight is slated as being 34 minutes late. I can only hope that will be the extent of the delay. One might ask me why I chose to fly Spirit Airlines again after the first two miserable experiences. Yes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. My answer is that I most certainly did not subject myself to this horrible airline of my own volition; I was booked by my company for travel to Chicago for training for my new position.  There is nothing pleasant about the Spirit Airlines experience. I paid the surcharge to bring a carry-on bag on the plane as well as another surcharge to have an assigned seat. I’m concerned that if we do eventually take off, they won’t allow me to breathe on the plane, as I neglected to pay a surcharge for on board oxygen. I’m all for saving money while traveling, whether for business or pleasure. However, Spirit rarely results in a savings of dollars, and the expense of your time and frustration is NOT worth the few nickels you may save on a discounted flight. Caveat emptor.

Where To, Mack?

One of the most difficult things for me insofar as travel planning is concerned is trying to figure out where I want to go next. Typically, the target for my next destination would be somewhere I’ve not yet been or at least a place where I haven’t been since I was a kid, so the experience would be new, as travel as an adult would most certainly be a departure from a visit to a locale as a part of a family vacation as a child. That being said, there are so incredibly many factors to consider when selecting a vacation spot that pinpointing where I want to go probably consumes too much of my attention and contemplation for my own good.

Usually, one of the first factors I consider is with whom I will be traveling. My co-travelers’ input would generally be something to consider; although, some previous and potential travel mates actually have little preference in destination, as they are just happy to tag along for the ride on whatever trip I have coming up, both because any destination I select would be new to them and/or because they’re happy that all they would have to do is pay their share and show up on departure day. Another important consideration would be the time of year I want to and am able to travel. My travels to date have been limited to being within the Northern Hemisphere. However, there are a few potential spots I’ve had on the short list for upcoming trips that lie within the lower portion of the globe, and it’s easy to forget to consider the fact that the Equator is the divisor for the seasons. In addition, travel to many destinations is greatly affected by the time of year as most places have a range of seasonality and don’t average constant 80 degree temperatures and consistent weather throughout the year the way Hawaii tends to remain beautiful and moderate regardless of the time of year.

Prague, Czech Republic
Prague is on the short list of my long list of places I want to go….

Sometimes, it’s kind of like asking, “What comes first – the chicken or the egg?” Do I decide on where to go and then the type of activities in which I’d like to engage, or do I think about what I’d like to do and only then take a look at which destinations would make said activity possible? For example, one possible way to plan would be to say that I want to go to Prague and Budapest (which I do), and then figure out the best things to do and see when I’m in town; another way to plan would be to say I want to see spectacular architecture I’ve never seen and then consider the possible places that would offer the most interesting types of buildings to visit for the first time. Or, would I choose my destination or destinations and then plan the best logistical plan to make that trip enjoyable, or would I decide I want to see a few new places on the trip by car, and then take a look at which places would make sense for this method of intermediary logistics. There are so very many ways to skin the proverbial cat, that the “right” angle is not always easy to settle upon.

I currently find myself in this quandary. I have absolutely no idea where I’d like to go on my next vacation. There are so many places I want to go that my initial deliberations have been based upon the fact that I will have approximately 10 days to dedicate to the trip, thus ruling out Australia, New Zealand and Asia as potential destinations, as I would want to have 2 weeks of vacation time at minimum to allot to a destination which requires such an incredible amount of travel time just for arrival. Next, I’ve been talking to potential co-travelers to vet out who might be available to travel in the fall when I’m targeting my next trip. The travel mates may, however, be determined by the destination, should I end up getting my heart set on a place where potential co-travelers may not want to go.

I have set my mind on the fact that, as much as I do enjoy cruising, I don’t want my next vacation to be shipboard, since I would prefer this go-around to allow more time to explore a city or cities in depth than the typical cruise would allow. Beyond that, I currently find myself at an impasse, so I’m about to embark upon my usual nerd research and investigation mode to gather ideas and information upon which to base my first important decision – where do I want to go next?

Maybe I do spend all together too much time thinking about traveling. Then again, I can’t think of too many things that are more pleasant to occupy my thoughts than traveling this wonderful (yet disturbing) world in which we live along with the many possibilities that are part and parcel. With so many options, I may just have to go with the scientific “eenie-meenie-miney-moe” method.

Keep It Movin’!

When most people hear details about my vacation escapades, they typically tell me that they’re exhausted just hearing about all of the ground I covered during my “vacation” and that my vacation hardly sounds relaxing to them. Personally, in general, I don’t take vacations for the purpose of rest and relaxation; when I hit the road, my goal is to engage in a new adventure of some fashion and experience something new. If I wanted to lie around at the beach, I wouldn’t have to do much more than hop in my car, head about 20 minutes to the east, park my car at the beach and park myself on the sand. I’m certainly not disparaging the virtues of a mellow beach vacation, and I’ve on occasion been known to enjoy some time here and there while in a tropical location to sit under an umbrella sipping a Mai Tai or caipirinha, enjoying the view and the soothing ocean sounds.

Boutique del Gelato, Venice, Italy
Why active vacations are necessary

However, there are so many things to do and see that sitting or lying around for too long makes me feel like I’m missing out on something. What’s great about an active vacation is also the fact that it helps compensate for lax eating habits while away from the daily routine. When traveling, I love sampling local fare…oftentimes, much more of it than I should. But, it’s difficult to pass up an amazing bakery in Paris, a renowned gelato shop in Florence, a neighborhood tapas and sangria stop in Madrid or the opportunity to sample all of the desserts on the menu du jour on a cruise ship, just because you can. Despite previous shave ice tours throughout the Hawaiian Islands and the like, I never gain weight on vacation (or at least to date, I have not packed on the pounds) on account of my calorie burning endeavors, and believe me, some serious calories need to be burned to compensate.

Matsumoto, shave ice, north shore, Hawaii
Matsumoto shave ice is worth the wait in line (2010)

I’ve been ambitious at times and packed along workout clothes on trips, having good intentions to work out in a cruise ship or hotel gym or catch a short morning run. On occasion, I’ve even put said workout wardrobe to use when schedules have allowed. Other times, I’ve realized in advance that time and/or logistics would not allow for dedicated exercise time; and in some situations, suitcase space just hasn’t been available for superfluous wardrobe changes.

While I’ve not always had the delusion that I’d take the time to engage in a real workout, I have always managed to figure out ways to keep myself moving and the calories burning. The first rule of thumb is the simplest: walk as much as possible. Most cultures, other than that of the U.S., involve lots and lots of walking. In part, it’s because Americans can be lazy, but, in defense of my countrymen, the United States is just so sprawling that if you don’t work in a downtown area, walking in between modes of public transport is simply not a realistic option. Pounding the pavement while on vacation not only allows you to work off some of your vacation caloric intake, it also offers opportunity to mosey in and out of buildings you come across, down a side alley and just otherwise be exposed to sights, stores and such that you’d miss if in a train, bus, subway, car or other vehicle.

Tiramisu, Hyde Park, Harrod's, London
Taking a break from strolling through Hyde Park to enjoy tiramisu from Harrod’s

On cruise vacations, shipboard time is often spent in competitive eating activities; at least, it more often than not seems that way. Since food is omnipresent and far too accessible on board, to me, it’s even more imperative to ensure that something is done to counteract the effects of food-in-the-face syndrome. Much to the chagrin of my son and other travel mates, my self-imposed shipboard rule is never to take an elevator, unless absolutely necessary, which typically is defined as when I’m hauling a gargantuan suitcase which is impractical (or impossible) to lug up multiple staircases. I’ve always informed my travel mates of this tenet up front and let them know they are under no obligation to adhere to my personally imposed commandment; though, they frequently seem to feel under duress to climb stairwells with me. My cruise ship elevator rule not only serves to provide a form of exercise, but also keeps me from getting frustrated watching fellow cruisers utilize the elevators to go one floor up or one floor down, such that the elevator frequently stops on each and every floor from top to bottom. No wonder there are so many obese people in the world….well, that and the midnight chocolate buffet, amongst other things…. But, I digress….

Skiing Breckenridge, Colorado
My son, aka The Mad Bomber, taking on Breckenridge (January 2008)
San Francisco Bay
Bay view after marching up the streets of San Francisco

And yes, there is always the option for the mundane to keep up the exercise routine. It’s simple to do a few calisthenics…sit ups, pushups, squats and the like while in your hotel room. But, how much more interesting and FUN is it to climb 768 steps to the steeple top of Ulm Minster, hike just under a mile to the peak of Diamond Head at Waikiki, ascend 1350 steps to catch the spectacular view from Sveti Ivan Fortress overlooking Kotor’s harbor or even the measly 284 steps to the top of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris?

The Avenue des Champs-Élysées
The Avenue des Champs-Élysées from atop the Arc de Triomphe
Sveti Ivan Fortress, Kotor, Montenegro
1350 steps to the top leads to an amazing view of Kotor

Vacation destinations offer endless options for active things to do beyond the usual walking, climbing stairs and hiking. Why not rent a kayak, go horseback riding (even though the horse does the majority of the work), surf (just paddling out to catch a wave can be a workout in and of itself!), paddle board, ski, snorkel or take a traditional dance class with the locals (OK, I’ve not actually tried that one yet)? Trying one new activity can be an amazing supplement to hitting the pavement (or cobblestones) between points of interest. It’s so easy to rack up the mileage wandering the streets of vacation towns, and it affords endless opportunity to randomly encounter nuances of each destination that quick and expedient modes of transport would have caused you to otherwise miss. So…..wander, roam, explore and burn enough calories that you can justify that extra scoop of gelato!

Hawaii Again??????

Ohana in Oahu
Ohana Visit to Hawaii (circa 1975)
Ohana Oahu Hawaii Vist
Yes, we suffered through our visits to Hawaii (circa 1975)

“Hawaii Again!?!?!!?” was my brother’s and my exclamatory response to my parents when they informed us as small children that our upcoming trip would be to Hawaii. Their reasonable (somewhat lighthearted) reply was, “You ungrateful little brats!” or something to that effect. One might ask, who in their right minds would ever utter the words “Hawaii again!?!?” with such dismay and chagrin. Apparently, a couple of kids (right minds being debatable) who had been there quite a few times at a very young age and who had a hard time sitting next to each other for approximately 10 hours of air travel without World War 3 erupting.

Looking back, I find it extremely difficult to fathom ever having felt going to Hawaii to be a hardship of any fashion. Not only is Hawaii spectacularly beautiful, but my brother and I are fortunate to (seemingly) be related to the good majority of the inhabitants of Oahu. Our amazing Ohana (family) in Hawaii is reason enough to go there are often as time and finances allow. Being that my son has always been quite a bit more diplomatic (and probably appreciative) than my brother and I were regarding our youthful travels, he never complained about my having “dragged” him to Hawaii three times in a six year time span. We were able to attend our family reunion during Devan’s second and third visits, and despite our family’s numerous trips to Hawaii over the years, these visits were the only ones when I was able to attend our huge Ohana gatherings. Being surrounded by so many of our relatives in one place (between 300-500 of them according to some counts!) at the reunions made me realize how much I’ve missed growing up so far away from my mom’s home state.

Western shore of Oahu
Stumbled across this while exploring western shore of Oahu (2013)
Hanauma Bay, Oahu
Hanauma Bay (2013)
Waimea Bay, Oahu
Waimea Bay, Oahu (2010)
Hilton Hawaiian Village Fireworks
Hilton Hawaiian Village Fireworks (2013)
Barbers Point Beach Cottage
View from Barbers Point Cottage (2010)

Since I love visiting and experiencing new places and activities, getting back to Hawaii is not easy to manage, since it’s neither a close nor inexpensive place to visit. While our trips to Hawaii are more about family than tourism, I do try to factor in an element of playing tourist while there and also to incorporate some new things along with the typical “things to do in Hawaii.” For me, certain things and sites are “must do” during a stay in Hawaii. I can’t imagine not taking my son surfing on Waikiki, climbing Diamond Head or having a Mai Tai and Hula Pie at Duke’s while in Honolulu.  Matsumoto’s, Baldwin’s, Uncle Clay’s, Kokonuts and Ice Garden are all on my long “must visit” list for shave ice when I’m in Hawaii; Shimazu’s is on my “must visit practically daily” list when on Oahu, since my day is not complete without a red velvet shave ice from this glorious little store.

Paddle board ride, Hale Koa, Waikiki
Devan giving Nanny a paddle board ride at Hale Koa, Waikiki (2013)
Skydive Hawaii, Farrington Highway
Nothing quite like trusting your life to a complete stranger! (2013)
Skydive Hawaii Landing
Devan coming in for a landing at Skydive Hawaii (2013)
Surfing White Plains Beach, Barbers Point , Oahu
Surfing White Plains Beach, Barbers Point (2010)

But, since I do love expanding my scope of experience, I try to be sure that each visit to Hawaii (and elsewhere) always includes a new place to visit or activity I’ve not yet tried. I’ve managed to find some places to visit that my mom had never seen, despite the fact that she lived in Hawaii for the first 18 years of her life and the fact she’s visited numerous times over the years. While my mom hasn’t always physically participated in some of the more “outdoorsy” things my son and I have done, she’s been along to share the experience with us. My son even took my mom out for a paddle board ride on Waikiki during our last visit; even though “Nanny” was just a passenger on my son’s board, she enjoyed the ride – and would never have “paddle boarded” if not for Devan playing gondolier for her. She was all smiles during and after the ride, which proved my theory that new experiences some of the things that make life richer and more rewarding.

Flying in a helicopter over the Nā Pali coast, hiking to see Manoa Falls, seeing the “moonscape” view from atop Haleakalā National Park, wandering through the sugar cane trails to find the commotion at Kipu Falls, riding horses and taking a tour of movie sets at Kualoa Ranch are just a handful of inclusions during our wanderings throughout the Hawaiian Islands in addition to the more standard sites of Waikiki, The Road to Hana, Blow Hole, Hanauma Bay, Volcanoes National Park, North Shore, International Marketplace and too many other old favorites to mention.

US Army Museum of Hawaii, Honolulu
US Army Museum of Hawaii, Honolulu (2010)
Shrimp Shack, North Shore
Shrimp Shack, North Shore (2010)
Pali Lookout view of Kaneohe
Kaneohe from Pali Lookout (2010)
Byodo-In Temple, Valley of the Temples Memorial Park, Oahu
Byodo-In Temple, Valley of the Temples Memorial Park (2010)
Rainbow Drive-in, Honolulu, Oahu
Iconic Rainbow Drive-in for Plate Lunch (2010)
Chinaman's Hat from Kualoa Ranch, Oahu
Chinaman’s Hat from Kualoa Ranch (2007)
Haleakala Crater, Maui
Haleakala Crater, Maui (2007)
Volcanoes National Park, Big Island , Hawaii
Volcanoes National Park, Big Island (2007)

While it may not be as easy to find new things to do during each subsequent trip, we always manage to add something to our visit’s repertoire to keep things interesting. During our most recent visit back to Oahu in 2013, my son and I saw fit to jump out of a perfectly good airplane, courtesy of Skydive Hawaii off of Farrington Highway. That jump literally gave us both an entirely new perspective of the island…one from an altitude of approximately 12,000 feet! I don’t know when we’ll be able to make the trek back “home” (while I never lived there, Hawaii does feel like home during each and every visit on account of our warm and welcoming Ohana making us feel as though we belong) again, but I can’t imagine, should opportunity arise, that the words “Hawaii again!?!?!” would ever again flicker between the neurons bouncing around my grey matter.

 

Language Barrier or Bridge?

My previous post regarding discourteous behavior on the part of Americans who are traveling abroad touched upon the challenges encountered whilst visiting countries whose mother tongue differs from one’s own and how many Americans unfortunately handle the situation far too often. Challenges are just one way to label what others may call either a difficulty or, what I would like to view from this day forward, as an opportunity — in general, but in the here and now in the context of travel.

Are you intimidated to select a destination for your next destination on account of the fact that the national language spoken there is not English? Sure, English is the official language of a good many countries…. According to Wikipedia (ok, not the most accurate of all internet sources, but certainly a reasonably reliable one in many instances), English is an official language of 58 sovereign and 21 non-sovereign entities. For those selecting their next travel destination based upon English-friendly countries, click here  for Wikipedia’s list. English is clearly either the official language or at least the primary language of a good number of countries/entities, so travel destinations are relatively many and varied. According to most sources, the world consists of approximately 196 countries, so if English speakers choose to limit travels to only countries where they have a strong sense of comfort due to familiarity with the native tongue, they are still severely limiting themselves in the scope of their travel possibilities.

I’ve always relished the opportunity to expand my horizons and have found distinct pleasure in learning about and experiencing other cultures. While there certainly can be challenges when visiting foreign lands, I welcome those challenges as learning experiences. Again, as noted in my discussion of “Ugly Americanism,” it really doesn’t take much effort to research a small number of handy phrases in the language of your destination, such as “Where is the…” or “Good morning!” or a simple “Thank you.” It isn’t even necessary to memorize the phrases, as a little cheat sheet can do the trick. I’ve found being armed with this tiny tidbit of knowledge to be extremely helpful, empowering and even comforting while traveling abroad. Plus, showing just a wee bit of courtesy to locals fosters an immense amount of good will and opens the possibility to engage in interesting conversation, even if the spoken dialogue may be somewhat limited.

It’s never a bad thing to grasp an opportunity for an educational experience. During my travels, I’ve relished the times my son and I have had chatting with and being bestowed with the kindness of strangers. During my first visit to Croatia in 2009, my son, my friend Jen and I filled the remainder of our port stop in Dubrovnik with an impromptu taxi tour into the mountains above the walled city. At first, we thought we picked the wrong cab driver, since he seemed frightfully surly and unfriendly. But because Jen, Devan and I all can hold a conversation with a (reluctant) turnip, we eventually nudged our taxi guide into opening up to us. We discovered our driver’s name was Zeljko, and that even though we found out he had an excellent command of the English language due to prior visits to the U.S. on container ships on which he was a crew member, he was very insecure with his English skills. We assured him that his English by far surpassed our Croatian capabilities, and he truly seemed to later enjoy putting his language prowess to use.

Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro
That’s Bosnia? Yes, Jennifer.
Fort Imperial on Mount Srđ
Zeljko didn’t park here to find a place to bury our bodies.

As we drove higher into the mountains above the old city, we learned of Zeljko’s pride in his country as he shared his knowledge of the country’s difficult recent history. At the peak of the mountain, Zeljko parked the cab and got out without saying a word. Devan and I wondered if he was looking for somewhere to relieve himself, and Jen became somewhat alarmed when she asked what he was doing, and Devan surmised aloud that Zeljko was probably trying to figure out where to bury our bodies. In truth, he was just looking to see if the Museum of Croatian War of Independence at Fort Imperial atop Mount Srđ was open. It was, and Zeljko was kind enough to play private museum guide during our visit to the museum; the experience we had was enriched by his personal take on each artifact and photo he detailed for us and certainly wouldn’t have been the same had we not gotten Zeljko to warm up to us (even after Jennifer mistakenly referred to him as “Jerko” to his face). Zeljko did show his sense of humor when Jen expressed her shock that we were within a stone’s throw to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, as he returned her question with, “Lady, have you ever seen a map?” Zeljko’s language skills were far superior than he had given himself credit for, as his abilities even allowed for a tad of sarcasm! It made me wonder how many visitors on his taxi tours never got the chance to draw Zeljko’s personality out…or possibly more accurately how many tourists’ behavior led him to internalize his kindness and willingness to share his wealth of knowledge and life experience. What a shame.

Museum of Croatian War of Independence, Dubrovnik
Devan in the War Museum
Dubrovnik, Croatia
Devan with Zeljko who wasn’t a Jerko (even though he does look a bit surly)

I was happy that the one word I learned by rote prior to my arrival in Croatia was “hvala.”

 

 

 

 

Americans Really CAN Be Ugly

On a literal level, I suppose the title of this post merely states the obvious. However, I’ve witnessed firsthand too many times the reason why the pejorative terminology “ugly American” came into being. It boggles my mind and sensibilities as to how visitors to a country and culture foreign to their own arrive with expectations that their destination should closely resemble that of their place of comfort back home and that the residents of said destination should speak their language or readily understand customs of the visitor’s place of origin. With that expectation, it belies common rationale for undertaking a trip to a foreign destination in the first place.

Have you ever heard a fellow traveler overseas exclaim with indignation, “Nobody here speaks English!” My goodness, what a shock, given that you’re in Spain or Estonia! It irritates me to no end when visitors to South Florida (or worse yet, long time residents of SFL, but that’s an entirely different issue!) ramble to or at me rapid fire en español on account of the fact that I have a light tan and dark hair. While I may very well understand 91.5% of the gist of what they are saying, I tend to return a vacant gaze and a response formulated in my remedial German. When they return my glazed stare as if I have three heads, I calmly explain that I thought it was “Pick A Language Day” wherein they chose Spanish and I chose (grammatically incorrect) German.

Since I become quickly annoyed at such rude, presumptive behavior, I would readily expect inhabitants of non-English speaking countries to possess a similar attitude when Americans wrongfully presume that everyone should speak English. How many times have the French, or Parisians in particular, gotten a bum rap as being arrogant and rude? Well, frequently those who label the Parisian locals as being impolite approached them with a question or statement in English (oftentimes with an arrogant air), without so much as prefacing their inquiry with, “I’m sorry I don’t speak French….” Whether that introduction be in English or French, at least one is not making the automatic assumption that a Parisian ought to speak English just because the American traveler does.

Horseback riding in Germany
We managed to make riding reservations in German!

When traveling to foreign locales, part of my pre-trip preparation is to ensure that I either learn in advance or bring along with me a few handy phrases in the tongue indigenous to my destination country(ies). Practically universally, I’ve encountered nothing but polite treatment by locals, oftentimes with a smile and reply to my poorly pronounced attempt at pleasantries in the native language ensuring me that I don’t need to butcher their language further since he or she speaks English quite well. When locals don’t speak English, they typically will play along with my pantomime and my limited knowledge of their language with a helpful willingness to answer my question or accomplish my purchase.

My dad led by example during travels of my youth. Even though he didn’t speak any language besides English, he never failed to make friends while traveling in Europe or elsewhere and somehow managed to communicate with locals, even if he had to play a game of charades or draw pictures on a paper place mat in a restaurant.

Skateboarding with locals in Barcelona
My son made friends in Barcelona with a simple “hola.”

Of course, in America or points beyond, grumpy, unfriendly people exist everywhere, and at some juncture we are all going to encounter them.

 

But, just like in life in general, The Golden Rule applies to travel. Give it a try. It works.

To Plan or Not To Plan….

….in my humble opinion, should never be the question insofar as travel is concerned. Even if you don’t suffer from my personal malady of chronic OCD tendencies (yes, those who personally know me are undoubtedly shocked by this revelation), I can’t imagine a travel scenario in which lacking at the very least a general game plan would prove beneficial.

Careful planning, or the lack thereof, verily can make or break one’s travel experience. This fact became evident to me back in 2007 when sitting on the balcony of our cabin aboard NCL’s Pride of America with my mom. An experience survey was left in each cabin toward the end of the cruise, and we could hear the occupants of the balcony adjacent recite boisterously as to how they were completing their survey: “NCL’s Pride of America leaves America NOTHING to be proud of!” Setting aside that unhappy cruiser’s use of a dangling modifier, much to Winston Churchill’s chagrin, my mom and I wondered, despite their being in the cabin next door, if those people were truly on the same cruise we were. We pondered at the thought of how our experience cruising from island to island and enjoying the sounds (the ocean, birds, music at a luau in Lahaina), smells (fresh beach air, blooming gardenias, juicy pineapples) and sights (too many to name) of each port stop could have differed so vastly from that of our fellow cruisers next door.

Winston Churchill, grammar, prepositions
Even Churchill’s grammar demanded respect!
NCL, Pride of America, Kona, Hawaii
NCL’s Pride of America made us proud

We then could overhear in bits and pieces myriad complaints about the cruise line excursions they took on Maui, Kauai and the Big Island. I’ve personally always shied away from cruise line excursions, both because of the inflated cost and because traveling in a herd of 50 on and off of a bus to see one or two points of interest on a time schedule determined to suit the masses never appealed to me. Our next door neighbors likely booked their cruise without putting any forethought into what they would do upon the port stops in Kahului, Nawiliwili and Kona and ended up booking NCL excursions out of sheer ignorance of what they could have done, had they done just a bit of preplanning prior to their arrival in Honolulu.

With a differing strategy from our miserable shipmates next door, I had booked rental vans in each of the ports to share with my son, mom and her husband, and my brother and his wife. With the rental, we made our way along the itinerary I had predetermined on each island, with the ability to stray from the original plan as we came across unexpected places that piqued our interest, such as Kipu Falls and Hanapepe in Kauai which were a bit off of the beaten path and were only known to us as my son and I befriended a young Marine en route back to Kauai from Camp Lejeune. We not only learned of these little gems from our new friend, my son also received an impromptu ukulele lesson as we all awaited our delayed flight from Atlanta.

The rental van allowed our group to split up as necessary when my brother and his wife tired and opted to retire to the ship early while the rest of us sought out a botanical garden to address my mother’s love of the local flora. We were able to amble at our own pace along the predestined route, making alterations to the plan as we saw fit.

It brought me immeasurable pleasure to have the opportunity to play tour guide to my own Hawaii native mother who spent her first 18 years of life solely on Oahu, yet never had the means or occasion to experience most of what the Islands had to offer. I’ll never forget my mom’s raving about the Blue Hawaiian helicopter tour which took us to Waialeale, notorious as the wettest place on earth, and along the Napali Coast to see the lava flow, and how that was a highlight of her visit back home (apart from seeing the Ohana, of course).

Big Island, Volcanoes National Park, Caldera
Mom and Ger at Volcanoes National Park

To this day, I’m saddened by our fellow cruisers’ poor experience during a cruise that possessed unlimited potential to satisfy and surpass their travel expectations had they planned properly to see Haleakala Crater, the Road to Hana, Wai’anapanapa State Park, Volcanoes National Park, Iao Valley, Waimea Canyon, the Napali Coast or any of the other numerous amazing sights we had opportunity to experience together as a family, solely by virtue of the fact that a wee bit of enjoyable planning had been a precursor to our ship setting sail from Honolulu.

Napali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii
How could anyone not enjoy a cruise to a place offering such beauty?

Another Nugget of Dad’s Wisdom: Capturing Travel Memories

During the 26 years my dad was in my life prior to his passing, my dad proffered a good amount of unsolicited advice as well as inspirational conversations that stuck with me for a lifetime. Some of these little treasures were deeper than others regarding life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness types of stuff; others were not necessarily life altering, but still powerful and lasting nonetheless. One such topic of discussion arose just prior to his passing in 1995 when my son’s and my closest friends, actually “adopted family” as I call them, invited us over to hear about and see photos of their recent family trip to Italy.

My dad was eager to hear about their trip and live vicariously through their travels, as his health had for some time impeded his ability to travel where walking was involved, relegating him to only van accessible explorations close to home in Florida. As our friends shared their stories, experiences and photos with us, my dad mentioned how much better their trip photos were than ones he had taken in the past. When they asked why he thought their pictures were so special, my dad simply replied that they WERE special photos because our friends were in the photos along with the lovely background scenery; my dad noted that too often during his prior travels, he would snap photos of just a building or a scenic landscape without members of our family in the pictures.

Interlaken, Switzerland
Interlaken, Switzerland is gorgeous, but would have been lovelier in this shot if my daddy were in it (1986)
River Thames, London, England
River Thames, London sans me or my dad (1986)

 

Seeing our friends’ photos of the family enjoying the travels and each other’s company made my dad realize that, without people in the photos, he may as well have just purchased a smattering of generic postcards. While our friends’ photographs were not taken with the highest quality equipment or even necessarily consisting of the best technical composition, to this day, those photos inspire a sense of nostalgia and warm recollection of the experiences shared during those beautiful , irreplaceable moments together.

Coloseo Rome Italy
Eric at Coloseo, Roma (1995)
Family photo, Alto Adige: Val Senales, Italia
So much more special than a shot of a mountain top (Alto Adige: Val Senales, Italia 1995)
Coloseo, Roma, Italia
Even a trash can as a prop doesn’t detract from family at the forefront (1995)

Since I do have an interest in photography, although I’m hardly a photographer, I’ve attempted to incorporate my dad’s observation into my photographic escapades and combine decent composition with personal touches to allow the photos to inspire fond memories of people and experiences to go along with the pretty setting. Architecture and landscapes oftentimes contain such beauty and detail that they warrant a photograph without anyone blocking the view, so in those instances (which in truth are frequent during my wanderings), I try to be sure to also snap additional shots with my friends or family – and even occasionally ask for someone to get behind my camera so I can be included in the photo as proof that I was present, too – to stamp that moment in time as an experience we shared, rather than just collect pretty pictures that you can find on Google images or some stock image database.

Both architectural / scenic travel photos along with those which include my son, other family members, and me that I’ve taken over the years (and ones that my son shot) adorn my home and populate my external hard drives and online photo albums. While the photographs of lovely objects and places remind me of travels past, the photos which are augmented by inclusion of loved ones inspire a feeling of wistful recollection unmatched by more impersonal shots, no matter how stunning the scene contained within may be. Love and warmth trumps sheer beauty in travel much the same way it does in an individual’s personhood. Nothing beats capturing the best of both worlds.

 

Nice, France
Nice is pretty…. (2009)
Nice, France
But, Nice is nicer with my son front and center (2009)



The Inception of Wanderfulltravel

Someone once asked me if money were off the table, what I would want to do with my life. Likely due to the accidental fashion in which my life had unfolded to that point, I had never put any serious thought to that question; though, in retrospect, it seems that everyone SHOULD ponder that very query with heartfelt rumination (though that would be the topic of an entirely different type of blog).

Being put on the spot to formulate a thoughtful response, I decided at that moment that being a travel writer / photographer would combine three of my favorite pastimes into the perfect occupation. While I can’t very well give up my day job in pursuit of this ideal, after a year and change of contemplating this epiphany along with some gentle encouragement on the part of some of my friends and, even some virtual strangers, whom I’ve met during my travels and travel planning (more on that later), Wanderfulltravel was born as an outlet for my interest in wandering the world with my camera and pen in hand.

As time and funds are not unlimited, I’m certainly not the most seasoned traveler in the world. That being said, my passion for travel is surpassed by few. I didn’t realize what an indelible impression my dad’s love of travel and exploration had upon the formulation of my travel obsession and the subsequent manifestation thereof. A little background… My family traveled the U.S. extensively (in a very unscheduled fashion) from the time my brother and I were tiny children, as my dad’s self-employment allowed us to spend a month at a time during the summer scouring parts near and far from our home base of Wisconsin in our Midas RV or by benefit of a flight to somewhere beyond logistical sense for a land only trip. My dad later extended our travels beyond the borders of this fine country of ours, taking us to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, (just barely) into South America and to Europe.

Midas RV road trip
My brother and me with our mode of transport for many of our childhood road trip adventures (circa 1973).
Big Badlands National Park, South Dakota
My bother and me in South Dakota (circa 1973).

Travel back in the old days of my childhood wasn’t as easy to plan to the tiniest detail that is so readily accessible these days by virtue of the many online resources we now have at our fingertips. Because travel research was so much more cumbersome, and due to my dad’s adventurous nature, by the time he expanded our family’s travel horizons across the pond into Europe, our travel planning consisted of little more than inbound and outbound flights as bookends to the rental car awaiting our arrival. Upon landing in Frankfurt, we’d hop into the rented VW mini-bus (since my brother and I would have killed each other had we had to share a row of seats in a vehicle during our month long visits when I was 4 and 6 years old during my first two trips to the old country) and hit the road with nothing more than a paper map and sense of adventure guiding my dad’s way, family in tow.

To this day, I so admire my dad’s embracing the wonder of a wandering travel experience, eager to discover what lies ahead, without the benefit (or detriment) of a defined schedule or even destination. Without much more than “zimmer frei” in his foreign language repertoire, my dad would forge ahead toward anything that looked interesting and would park the car at the end of an amazing day seeing the sights wherever we found ourselves, whether it be in some tiny village in the Schwarzwald or in the downtown of a city in whichever country we arrived by nightfall.

My dad’s style of traveling by the seat of his pants, combined with my OCD tendencies dictating my need to research and plan, have intertwined into what has resulted as my personal travel philosophy, as intended to be demonstrated in this blog’s tagline. To me, travel research and planning enriches the overall travel experience, giving background, history, a game plan and anticipation for the upcoming trip in question. By the same token, travel is travel, and one can never expect what is planned to transpire according to an exact schedule. You never know what kind of happenstances can throw a wrench into the best planned itinerary. Those types of encounters are what makes travel unique and memorable. I’ve learned to embrace these accidental occurrences and have learned from experience that my travels to date would not have been as rewarding, had my plans not veered off course and taken me to points previously unknown.

The best laid plans are random.

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