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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