Pat and I have traveled together quite a bit, although not as much as we hope to do, and in addition to the trips we have taken together, she has been on tours in India, Egypt and other places. These travel tips have evolved over the years, but this is the first time we have tried to write them down. Most of the ideas here are hers, with a couple of my own thrown in. They are not really designed, or would be of any value, to experienced travelers, who have found their own preferences and rhythms. These are more aimed at folks like us who have traveled a bit but hope to do more as they ease into their dotage.
Travel tip No. 10: Look for local evening entertainment.
Like everything else, this is a little more challenging when you don’t speak the language. For example, on this trip, we showed up for a concert at 9 o’clock rather than the posted time of 19:00. On another occasion, out for our evening walk, we happened on a bar with lively street entertainment near our apartment. In Ravello, we attended a concert at an auditorium designed by a renowned architect, Oscar Niemeyer. Another time we were walking near our apartment and came upon a local Puppet Show advertised that evening at Piccolo Teatro Dei Pupi. The puppet-makers laboratorio was across the lane and this looked like the real Italian deal. So Pat went off to a wonderful hour of The Arrival of Angelica in Paris –in Italian of course. It is nice to get out with the local crowds. (See next tip.)
No. 9: Meet the locals. It is always more fun to interact with local folks than just to stay with your travel companion or tour group. Even on Pat’s tours in the East, the groups have added visits to local homes. Our trip to Italy with its cooking class and olive oil tour really added to the fun. (See next tip.)
No. 8: Track down the farmer’s market. This is a way to achieve No. 9, save money on food, and add a little more interest. In Tuscany, we would go to the
market day in the various hill towns. The market in Siracusa has great fish and vegetables but also all kinds of other goods. Bargaining with an Italian to find the sweetest tomatoes of six varieties when you don’t speak the language can prove a art in creative hand gestures. On the other hand, the big market we went to in Trastavere in Rome was just one stall after another with the same low-rent junk they sell on the streets.
No. 7: Try to eat in small local restaurants. Avoid the tourist areas right near the cruise ship or major tourist site. Not only is the food cheaper and better, but you have a better chance of achieving tips 8-10 above. We often ask the locals for tips, and these days the internet is very handy. Generally we stay away from four star restaurants preferring to spend our travel budget elsewhere. (see tip No. 1) Although there is always a bad meal in each week the food has been very reliable on this trip of towns that pride themselves in good solid food. We had great luck in Rome by walking a couple blocks north of the Vatican into a middle-class neighborhood. One guideline: if there are guys outside asking you to come in, you probably don’t want to.
No. 6: It helps to have defined roles and responsibilities. It relieves some of the stress to feel that you have to negotiate everything. It also means that there shall be no second-guessing of your partner’s choices—for the most part! For this trip, Pat chose most of the apartments we stayed in, and I did
airplane connections and rental cars. I always take charge of the laundry (an important role even if there are no dryers in Italy.)
No. 5: Even when traveling with another person, such as a spouse, take some time to do things on your own. Pat suggests one day of each week. Since we are not really retired – yet – Pat and I have not adjusted to being in the same house together all day. Same thing on trips. You need to be able to have time to go off and do things on your own. Which leads to No. 4, below.
No. 4: What is the role of compromise? I once read that compromise, which supposedly is the key to a happy relationship, is kind of overrated. You are not always going to agree on where to go, where to eat, what to do. Often when you compromise neither person gets what they really want. One option is to trade off decision-making. For this trip, we agreed on Rome, and more or less agreed on Lecce, but I picked Sicily and Pat chose the Amalfi coast. We shall see how this works out in our new semi-retirement existence.
No. 3: Don’t overplan. Allow surprise or serendipity.
This won’t happen if every day is planned and you have to be at the next tourist spot on a tight schedule. Sometimes it just feels right to go off on a hike even if you don’t know exactly where the entrance to the trailhead is located. You might just find yourself walking through an olive grove, say hello to locals picking sweet potatoes and come across an abandoned stone hut that is “who knows how many years old? The reward is that you get to see and do things you didn’t know about in advance. (This tip is all Pat’s. I agree in principal about not overplanning, but I am against hiking in all its forms.)
No. 2: Understand the “uncertainty principle.” I coined this term myself to describe the tradeoff between complete assurance that you will be taken care of and absolute panic that you will be left deserted and never heard from again. There is no right answer here; you have to find your own sweet spot. It can vary from going to a resort where you are picked up at the airport, taken to the resort hotel, where all your meals are inclusive, and you never leave the grounds – to just showing up, learning your way around and finding the local highlights.
Planned tours where you are picked up in a bus and taken to the next site, and the next hotel in the next city are pretty close to the first idea; we tend to lean toward the latter, although not all the way. Pat says she would not have enjoyed India or Egypt if she had not been on a tour.
Another example: Having a car, as I said on an earlier post, gives you a lot of freedom but includes some worry and responsibility, and the hassle of Italian drivers trying to assure Zero Population Growth among American tourists. I like having my rooms rented in advance and not having to look for lodging once I get somewhere, but that does tie you down somewhat. The important thing is to find where you are comfortable, and that can evolve as you do more and become more confident. Also, language has a lot to do with this. Having available Wi-Fi is becoming a necessity, not a luxury.
And, finally, Patty’s No. 1 tip for international travel: Allow a little occasional luxury: This trip, Pat has used the internet to find rooftop gardens or restaurants. Although we don’t go to five star hotels, we do allow ourselves an expensive glass of prosecco or cup of coffee if it affords the panaromic view and a counterpoint to hectic days on the road. This tip jelled when we were sitting in the rooftop restaurant of the Hotel L’Etranger in Siracusa — Patty just having finished getting a pedicure, and drinking a glass of wine and prosecco. It quickly made its way to No. 1 on the list. The corollary to this tip is that we aren’t college students any more and don’t like roughing it. If something seems too cheap, it probably is. Why be miserable?
OK. For any of you have made it this far, we are just about at the end of this journey. One more evening in Rome and we head home. Watch this space for the exciting conclusion.