As I’ve been working on hashing out details for my son’s and my upcoming Christmas trip overseas, a recent, more spur of the moment trip came to mind. Last year, a good friend of mine asked me if I was interested in taking a weekend trip to Austin, Texas, to check out the Fun Fun Fun music festival that would be taking place at the beginning of November.
Unlike most of my travel endeavors, the planning for that trip, from the initial idea crossing our minds until the time we were headed to the Lone Star State, couldn’t have encompassed more than two weeks all together. Certainly, a little weekender trip is not of the same magnitude as a trip spanning multiple countries, languages and currencies, but this little trip to Austin came to fruition at warp speed. We opted against flying that sorry excuse for an airline, Spirit, and jumped on a pleasant JetBlue flight nonstop from Fort Lauderdale to Austin. We secured a room at the Hilton, which helped to solidify my Gold Member status, and offered us a nice, central location.
While different than most of my well-researched excursions, this trip with my friend Suzanne was an enjoyable getaway nonetheless, and I have to say that sometimes a spontaneous little vacation really hits the spot. In a short three day trip, we did and saw a lot. We sampled some tasty Mexican food and margaritas at the Iron Cactus Restaurant and Margarita Bar on the rooftop deck overlooking the downtown area of 6th Street. We had a few other memorable meals, although the names of the other establishments we tried by this time escape me. We also had to be sure to hit the food trucks around town that offered a variety of cuisines as well as some darn good desserts….so we were quite well-fed during our stay in Austin! During our short two night visit, we also managed to check out the music scene from 6th Street to the Red River area to areas a bit off the beaten path with the help of some of the local pedicab services. As much as Suzy and I are both planners/organizers, this trip really did contain the element of surprise, and we more often than not ended up where the day led us.
We did, however, participate in a couple of group activities – a city Segway tour and a land and sea “duck” tour that took us to Lake Austin. Both of these activities allowed us to cover more ground (with far less walking than my trips usually include) in the short time we were in town. We did also spend a portion of one day in town at the Fun Fun Fun music festival that was held at Auditorium Shores and caught a number of performances, including one of Suzy’s favorites, Tenacious D with Jack Black. We even managed our way to a club called The Mohawk to catch Tenacious D’s performance for a second time that night… While we were practically trampled in the uprising to maneuver for position in the general admission set up, we managed to get almost close enough to stage to have Jack Black sweat on us; fortunately, we were slightly out of range!
What was similar about this little getaway to my other, better planned vacations, is that we covered a great deal of ground and had a great time experiencing at least a portion of what Austin has to offer.
Looking back at my early travels, I never realized how important a decision it is to pick the “right” travel mates. As children, my brother and I were by default part of our parents’ little travel posse, which provided an amazing introduction to the world of travel and adventure. When I was engaged in my younger years, I traveled a bit with my now ex-fiance, which was a mixed bag, since parts of our travel experience were enjoyable; others, not so much, for a variety of reasons.
In more recent history, my main travel companion was my son Devan who accompanied me on a variety of domestic and international vacations. Devan spoiled me, as he was a travel buddy extraordinaire (which shouldn’t have been surprising, since he’s a son extraordinaire). After some recent travels with friends who (I learned) were not of the same travel mindset as me, I had to ask myself, “What made my son the perfect travel buddy for me?” What makes Devan such a wonderful travel companion is a conglomeration of factors. Firstly, Devan is incredibly intelligent, and, as such, his natural curiosity about the world, even from a very early age, made him interested in culture, new sights and discovering what else existed beyond the suburban microcosm of our every day lives. He loves learning, so participating as navigator and map reader was not a chore for him, since he relished the opportunity to utilize his deductive reasoning and critical thinking skills. As an example, he would often grab the transit map we were using to muddle our way through a city and make it his responsibility to determine which line, platform, etc. we needed to get to our next destination. But overall, he was always open to exploring and was never intimidated to forge ahead into the unknown on our way to our next destination or experience.
My son is also incredibly cool, calm and collected, so very little rattles him; such composure is an invaluable trait, since travel-by-fire frequently leads you to unexpected places. If things didn’t go the way we planned, he would roll with the punches and would patiently and pragmatically help me decide how to optimize whatever situation we found ourselves in. Devan, like me , is also adventurous (probably more so), so he was always game to find a new activity to try, whether it was zip lining in Ketchikan, going horseback riding down a precarious mountainside outside Las Vegas, snowmobiling along the Continental Divide, learning to ski in the Austrian Alps or sky diving to take in the view of Oahu from an altitude 12,000 feet. Devan is also multifaceted, so he not only enjoys action packed activities, he also could appreciate meandering through cities to take in the architecture, visiting the Louvre, the Prado or Accademia to experience the work of The Masters or just sitting in a public square to people watch and absorb the energy of a city, while sampling a snack from one of the local proprietors. My son is also not shy, so he was never hesitant to try out his limited German (or other language indigenous to our destination) to ask someone where the train station was or how much something cost. Devan was also ready to offer his input about what he would enjoy doing, but was also accommodating to allow me to enjoy shopping in a few more stores than he would have liked.
At risk of this post turning into an homage to my son, of which he is most certainly worthy both as son and travel buddy….. It bears stating that Devan exemplifies the epitome of what makes for in ideal travel companion, at least for me, but likely in any case. Not every travel buddy needs to be as “perfect” a fit, but there has to be a level of symbiosis to your travel styles and objectives. Thus, many considerations should be pondered in selecting travel companions, as the company you keep can profoundly affect your experience. Here are a few things that might be prudent to ponder and discuss prior to embarking with a new travel mate for the first time.
Outline the objectives of the trip. Do you have the same goals? (e.g. seeing as many sights as possible, having plenty of time to linger and relax, trying new activities, sampling local cuisine)
Discuss modes of transport. Do you each like to hoof it to stay active and to allow ability to roam and wander? Are you OK with various modes of public transport, such as bus, subway or train to save money and/or have the local experience, or do you prefer to take taxis for convenience?
Define your schedules. Are you an early riser so you can maximize your exploration time? Or do you like to sleep in after a late night on the town? Do you have lots of energy to keep going from sun up until late night, or do you need to take a siesta and nap to gear up for late day sight seeing?
Review in detail what your destination entails. Will there be tons of crowds? Is the location known for being rife with gypsies or locals who badger and bully tourists into paying for unsolicited goods or services? Does special caution need to be taken to avert the attention of pickpockets? Will you have to amble along cobblestone roads, ascend staircases or lug suitcases if transport can’t drop you at your hotel doorstep?
Discuss interest sets. Does one of you like to visit as many churches and cathedrals as possible to see the ornate details? Is shopping and souvenir gathering top on your list? Do you love art and plan to spend as much time in museums of all varieties while you’re trekking the globe? Does it matter to you whether you take time for fine dining or do you prefer to grab a meal from a sidewalk cafe or bakery and eat on the run as you head to your next point on interest? Are sports venues a priority to work into your schedule, or are you more interested in seeing the wonders of nature?
Set expectations. Does one of you have something specific in mind to do or as a way of doing things? Or, does one of the travel group have something specific in mind NOT to do or as a way of doing things?
Surely, there are many considerations to take into account prior to hitting the road with a friend whose travel preferences are a wild card. Sometimes, you won’t find out that your travel styles don’t mesh well until your’re a country or two into your journey. All you can do at that point is suck it up and hope your travel buddy has a willingness to compromise, or if that isn’t possible, sometimes it’s best to part ways and enjoy some wandering travels solo for a little while…..