Tag Archives: Germany

The Buddy System

VW bus in Europe
Just found this photo and was surprised since I have no recollection of my brother and me getting along well enough on trips for us to share one of the bench seats in the VW buses my dad used to rent in Europe (so that we’d have a whole row of seating to ourselves)

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.

Juneau, Alaska
With my son in Juneau, Alaska, during a port stop on an Alaskan cruise (2010)
Tour Eiffel, Paris, France
Devan and me, obviously, at Tour Eiffel in Paris, France (2010)
Templo de Debod, Madrid, Spain
My son and me at Templo de Debod in Madrid, Spain (2009)
Seattle, Washington
Devan and me visiting my friend David in Seattle, Washington (2010)
Diamond Head, Honolulu, Hawaii
Atop Diamond Head with Devan (2013)
Waiʻanapanapa State Park, Maui, Hawaii
Devan and me at Waiʻanapanapa State Park, Maui (2007)
Air Force Academy Chapel, Colorado Springs, Colorado
With Devan at the Air Force Academy Chapel in Colorado, Springs, CO (2006)
Füssen, Bavaria, Germany
Devan’s first trip to Europe – Füssen, Germany (2005)
Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas, Nevada, with my Grandma (2004)
Fort Myers, Florida
Mini-vacation in Fort Myers, Florida, for Devan’s karate tournament (2004)

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.

  1. 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)
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. 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?
  5. 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?
  6. 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?
Venice, Italy
Jen and me in Venice (2009)
New York City, New York
Traveling in a group presents its own set of challenges, but can be fun (DBGB Kitchen, New York, NY, 2012)
Austin, Texas
My friend Suzanne and me in Austin, Texas (2013)
Carnival Liberty, Western Caribbean Cruise
Exotic Western Caribbean Cruise with my friend Sandy (2013)

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…..

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.