Laura and I have been very lucky to have worked for companies with offices and customers all over the world. We got to travel on the company’s dime and see a lot of places we never could have afforded on our own. But we learned a lot about traveling and I would like to share some of what we learned.
Mainly, don’t be afraid to go it alone. When we talk to friends about our trips, many say: “Oh you’re so brave, I could never do that.” Many people that travel use prepackaged vacation itineraries. That is not something that appeals to us; we enjoy being independent and going when and where we want. For us it’s simply more pleasant and relaxing. But be prepared for some unexpected adventure as well.
I remember a business trip where I wound up in Cheltenham England. It was a weekend. I was by myself and all my clothes were dirty. I needed to find a laundromat. I set out in my rental car, with some vague directions from the hotel (which was actually an old drafty castle.) Downtown Cheltenham is all one-way streets going every which way. I immediately got lost. Whenever I made a wrong turn, I couldn’t get back to where I was before; it just kept getting worse. Luckily, I had the presence of mind to bring the card from the drafty castle hotel and I was able to call them. They asked me to look around and tell them what I saw. They said to follow the signs to somewhere (I forget what) and that got me back. Never did get my laundry done. Nowadays, with Google Maps and Google Translate that probably would not have happened, but you should always have a backup plan.
Speaking of laundry; my very first trip outside the US was to Puerto Rico. Some wise person (Laura) told me to bring a change of clothes in my carry-on. Which I did. Arrived minus my luggage and worse the blueprints for the equipment I was supposed to be installing. Got very friendly with the folks at that local laundromat as I had to wash my clothes every single day after work (Luggage and prints arrived a week later.)
On a family trip to Scotland (which we all remember as our favorite trip of all time so far), all the clothes we had were dirty. Laura, James and I went to the laundromat, wearing only our swim suits and it was like 50 degrees outside, (and this was in August.) Sometimes you just have to make do.
This last trip we took to the Czech Republic, we pretty much threw a dart and went. Instead of choosing a big city, we elected to stay in the country-side in a rented house (which had our now prerequisite washer and dryer) 2 hours away from Prague and Vienna. It was a blast. We had to forage in small villages for restaurants and food. As it turned out I got sick a few days into the trip (seems like I often get sick after being on long over-seas flights; too many people in close quarters). I was able to rest and get better while Laura and James were able to carry on without me. But imagine how miserable it would have been if we were on some preplanned trip?
Do we have regrets? Sure. Turns out we should have spent more time in Vienna. We went there right before we returned home. Got to spend two days, but it wasn’t nearly long enough. Went on a Tuesday, turns out the museum and opera house are closed on Tuesday. If it had been a package tour that wouldn’t have happened. So we learned something, next time we will stay longer. On the other hand, we made some serendipitous discoveries of little out-of-the-way villages and towns we never would have found otherwise.
So I am encouraging you to be adventurous, be independent; take some risks with your travel, have a backup plan, but sometimes you will have to wear dirty clothes.