Saturday, August 10, 2013

Traveling Companions--Some Thoughts

A travel buddy is a terrific idea for several reasons:

1.  Sharing accommodations can save you as much as 50%.  On tours you can avoid the dreaded Single Supplement fee.  The savings on shared taxis & car rentals add up fast, & sharing a sandwich, an entree or dessert can be fun as well as practical.

2.  Much of the enjoyment of traveling is not just the trip itself, but the anticipation & planning, as well as the post-trip activities like creating albums & scrapbooks.  Joint planning can result in a rich travel experience.  It's also fun to have a friend with whom you can swap tales about that glacier or the time you ziplined together over all those alligators.

Tidal Flats from Mount Saint Michel, France
3.  A travel buddy also can be handy during the trip.  Divided responsibilities, like money-handling & figuring out public transportation routes, make traveling easier.  If you didn't getthat perfect shot of Mount Saint Michel, chances are your friend did.

4.  Emergencies can happen, as the nature of travel is to encounter the unexpected, & a friend who can assist in those situations is a real treasure.

When considering a friend to accompany you, pick someone you know not only shares your enthusiasm for travel, but has similar values & a compatible lifestyle.

I have friends of both sexes who travel often with me, but we have known each other for two to five decades, so there are few, if any, surprises.  We all share similar lifestyles, enjoying travel adventures, but without personal dramas.  Abandoning modesty when circumstances dictate is not a big deal.  We are all budget-minded, though willing to pay a little extra for a taxi when warranted.  None of us demands an accounting to the penny on our shared expenses, we are all willing to take turns as leaders & followers, & we are open to allowing the unexpected to become part of our adventures.
London Eye

We don't care if we are repeating an experience (e.g., London's Eye or Iceland's Blue Lagoon) because we are not only capable of enjoying such things more than once, but we appreciate the pleasure of introducing a companion to a new experience.  In fact, we recognize it is a particular joy to introduce a dear friend to the spectacular sights in the Food Halls of Harrod's in London or the sensuous delight of one's very first Parisian macaroon.

Family traveling companions can be a mixed bag, so plan accordingly.  Reluctant travelers are willing to not only spoil their travel opportunity, but can even gleefully ruin your trip.  I'll never forget the time I met two college students at a hotel in Costa Rica who were traveling with their poor father.  The grown kids, a brother & sister, were totally obnoxious about their entire trip.  More than 20 years later I still feel pity for their dad, a widower, who was trying to include them in his dream of taking his family to Costa Rica.  Both brother & sister complained endlessly about the quality of the chain-store pizza they consumed in great quantities as they moped around the hotel feeling sorry for themselves for being trapped in paradise against their will.  I hope their dad finally found a good traveling companion & permanently left his whining offspring at home.

However, children & grandchildren can be amazing travel companions.  A grown granddaughter was a helpful travel buddy in London & Paris, in no small part because she immediately "got" the subway transport systems in both cities.  That was a time I was happy to be a follower instead of worrying about which line to take or getting off at the wrong stop. When she was a young teen, the same granddaughter, along with her 9 year-old brother, made amazing companions as we spent a month in our sailboat transiting the Panama Canal & cruising the San Blas Islands on the Caribbean side.  We all had a blast interacting with the Indian island inhabitants, as well
Grandson at age 7
as great times just staying in isolated anchorages.  One time we abandoned home-schooling to spend an entire day on a double-12's domino tournament.  Two decades later at family get-togethers we still recall the fierce competition of that day in a tropical anchorage.  It never ceases to entertain us when we remember buying skinny loaves of Kuna Indian bread, one time eating it all up so that we had to buy more before we could return to the boat.  We all laugh, remembering using the bread to make "Kuna pizza" on top of the stove.  A particular memory is of a day when we were all tired, hot & hungry we happened across a palapa (open-air) restaurant on the side of a road through the Panamanian jungle.  The restaurant was named "Cheeseburgers in Paradise," & no burgers before or since have tasted so good as the ones we devoured together that day.  That experience became such important family lore that two decades later, when the children's grandfather died, instead of a funeral, we held a family gathering with the theme "Cheeseburgers in Paradise," thus continuing the legend.

For the time of our family sail the adult crew was delighted to be in the company of the youngsters, especially because of the opportunity to view the experience through young eyes. We all learned & grew in our month-long family adventure.

Dad Toting Content Baby, Tower of London

When is young too young for travel?  Actually, babies are often necessary on famil

y trips.  I've seen a lot of intrepid traveling moms carrying wee ones with great humor in difficult circumstances. Nursing while traveling can be a bit inconvenient, but it is important to not interrupt too early.  If both parents are traveling, dads are handy for helping with baby care.  It is when little ones be
come rambunctious toddlers that a parent might judiciously choose to plan alternative care while the adults & perhaps older children travel.  A lot also depends on the travel destinations & accommodations planned.  A number of years ago I had a lively discussion with a mom who planned to take her 4 year-old daughter to a Costa Rican recovery spa while she had cosmetic surgery.  I was concerned the mom would not be able to concentrate on her post-surgical recovery, & that the child would be a burden on the staff.  "But I don't want her to miss the opportunity!" the determined mother cried. Opportunity for what?  The child would miss her daily routine & probably be bored most of the time without her friends & usual television shows.  I never did hear the outcome, but my hope is that common sense prevailed & the child was left in her home environment for the duration of her mother's recovery.

In my experience, it isn't the age of the child that is critical in determining whether or not travel is feasible.  Take into consideration the child's nature, the travel experience planned, your own tolerance for things going not-quite right, & whether you can implement a good Plan B.

If traveling with children, young or old, is a priority on your Bucket List, be sure to take into consideration whether or not their notion of a good time coincides with theirs.  If there is reluctance on the part of younger folks & they are not able or willing to adapt, be aware that your particular fantasy doesn't quite suit everyone.  Be willing to either modify your plans to accommodate others in the party, or pare down the size of your group.  A reluctant traveler of any age does not make a good companion. Remember, too, that though we don't all share the same dreams.  Be prepared to inject some practicality & flexibility in your plans, & recognize when traveling alone may be the better option.

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