Does Travel Change You?

Fish and Chips; Mission Accomplished!

Are you a different person because you travel?  Does travel change who you are? I know, this is a rhetorical question, unless you are being shipped home in a box! Because, obviously, our life experiences have an impact on who we are as a person. Whether it is strange foods, strange people, or strange environments, they all influence our knowledge and opinions about other people and societies. This can be especially true for food! A major part of traveling is centered around the various, mostly tasty-tasty dishes we find and try in different countries. You may come home ready to add some of what you discovered to your recipe books; this is particularly easy in today’s world with Chef Google to help you find them.  And besides, everyone knows that:

• People who love to eat are always the best people. – Julia Childs

Friendly natives in Kyoto, Japan

Another thing that happens when we travel is that we interact with people from other cultures and countries. This has the power to destroy stereotypes and long-held beliefs about people from other societies. For example, all my life, I had heard about how rude and snobbish the French are, particularly waiters. When we traveled there, we expected this behavior but found everyone we dealt with to be friendly, helpful, and accommodating; I was almost disappointed in missing out on this experience until one waiter at our hotel came through and delivered on the stereotype! But since I’ve experienced that and more right back here at home, it can no longer be considered exclusively a French thing, at least by me. One of my favorite quotes deals with this:

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime. – Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad

Ephesus Street

Main Street in Ephesis in Turkey

I certainly agree that it is hard to keep up prejudices when you learn firsthand through your travels that something you long believed isn’t true. That’s why it is important that we try to meet and interact with people outside of those who cater specifically to tourists; you might try striking up a conversation with someone in a restaurant or coffee shop. And, of course, this goes both ways; you can correct bad feelings and misperceptions about you and your home country as well. This is even more effective if you take the time to learn even just a few simple words and phrases of their language, avoid gestures and things considered culturally insulting, and learn some basic history about their country. This may also save you from asking Turks about the Armenian Genocide, for example.  My wife did exactly that to a taxi driver in Turkey.  Of course, she asked the question because she simply wanted to know.  I was mortified.  In any case, I was thankful the driver chose not to argue with one of his “customers” and simply delivered us to our destination.  Which reminds me of another couple of quotes:

• We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid. – Benjamin Franklin

and

• It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you in trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. – Mark Twain

Blue-Footed Booby

Blue-Footed Booby on Galapagos Islands

Moreover, what we experience when we travel rounds us out as a person and can make us more interesting for people to talk to as long as we can control our tendency to brag or put people down who have not had the means to travel.  We gain a depth of experiences that can be fun and informative to our friends, families, and acquaintances and, by sharing, may influence their thoughts and prejudices as well.  Perhaps you know someone who you grew up with who has never left their home state or maybe even the immediate counties around where they live.  If you have been fortunate enough to have had the time and the means to experience international travel, by sharing those experiences you can vastly extend the impact of what you have learned from your travels.  A few more quotes put emphasis on this:

• The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page. – Saint Augustine

• Sometimes, you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, and sometimes, in the middle of nowhere, you find yourself. – Unknown

• It is better to see a place once than to hear about it a thousand times. – Asian Proverb

• Usually is the enemy of adventure. – Unknown

Hammock at the Hilton Waikaloa Village in Hawaii

There is no question that we are changed by the places we visit, the people we meet and interact with, the sights we see, and the food we eat as we try to satisfy our needs and desires to learn new things.  So as we experience and enjoy traveling around the world, I think it is important to pay attention to all the similarities and differences we find to what we have back home.  There just might be some ways to improve our normal, daily lives by learning from others.  A few final quotes offer more support for the idea that we change and grow as human beings through travel:

• I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them. – Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer Abroad

• Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. – Martin Luther King Jr via a Fortune Cookie

And not directly anything to do with travel other than it seems that our world is shrinking because you never know who you might bump into in a foreign country, on a cruise, or even in a gondola gliding through the canopy of a Costa Rican rainforest:

• Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine. – CASABLANCA (’42)

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Texting, Emailing, Phone Calls, Reading Books While Driving?

Traffic Jam: Covered Wagon meets new technology

How often do you text, check emails, take phone calls, or read books while driving?  You’re probably thinking who would actually do that, although many people do!  In fact driver distraction has been becoming a very serious issue contributing to accidents and fatalities.   There have been attempts to address driver distractions legislatively as well as with technology, assuming we know how to use it!!  Ever since the early days of keeping your eyes on the road and your hands on the reins, people have looked for ways to relieve the boredom of a long drive.  In the early days, distractions included outlaws, Indians, rivers, mountains, wild animals, etc.  But at least if you began daydreaming, the horses knew better than to walk off a cliff; and if you actually fell asleep, they may have kept going toward the direction of your destination…or not (early self driving vehicles?)!  Perhaps you really wanted to go to Canada or Mexico after all.  At least running into another horse or covered wagon was extremely unlikely.

1902 Oldsmobile Pirate Beach Racer

1911 Oldsmobile Limited still with the hand crank start

With the invention of the automobile, and as it spread throughout society, distractions included weather (before they were enclosed), lack of roads and traffic-control signs (no one had yet invented the concept of standardizing right of way), and even horses and pedestrians on the road!  At some point, with the continued progression of technology, automobile manufacturers added radios and electric starters, automatic transmissions, cruise control, heated seats, and WiFi!  Oh, and alongside all of these changes, we went from dirt roads, to gravel roads, to paved roads, to interstate highways, stop lights, and, of course, stop-light cameras.  With all of these improvements, the car became a sort of rolling entertainment center.  And don’t get me started on Audio Books (I’m a fan!).  Because this is intended to not be a book but just a blog, I have left out a few details along the technology-progression pathway; but, hopefully, you get the picture.

Dash of 1957 Chevrolet with push button radio-AM only

Deluxe Universal Cup Holder and Lunch Tray…aftermarket, of course!

As we, particularly Americans, drove more and more, we fell in love with our cars!  Having a car meant freedom to go where we wanted, when we wanted, with whomever we wanted, at whatever speed we wanted, until someone invented speed limits and traffic tickets.  We also began coming up with new distractions to pass the time when we weren’t on some thrilling mountain pass.  Pushing radio buttons to change stations (choice of five or six) was generally quick.  Coffee was a natural but inconvenient because it left only one hand free to drive until…cupholders!  Soon we were eating, drinking, shaving (mostly men), putting on makeup (mostly women), talking on the cell phone, and its natural descendant, texting?  As this behavior became more and more common, accident rates went up beyond the usual causes of falling asleep, alcohol (see also falling asleep), traffic, kids, etc.  In fact, some studies rate these distractions as dangerous as drunk or sleepy driving.

Modern Vehicle Safety Systems commonly available

Back Up Camera view

As various driver distractions evolved, states introduced legislation against some of the activities that, most people agree, go against common sense!  Automakers got into the act by trying various technological solutions, such as warnings for lane departure, rear cross traffic, blind zones, drowsiness, etc.  This is in addition to mitigating the effects of an accident or crash with Antilock Braking Systems, Air Bags, Data Recorders, Parking Assist, and Back Up Cameras, to name a few.  But then they added DVD Drives for more entertainment (thankfully located out of the view of the driver, usually), WiFi so you can always be connected, Bluetooth so your electronic devices can have conversations with your car’s systems, Heated & Cooled Seats with Lumbar support so you can get really comfortable (too comfortable = sleepy?), and of course, the Cupholders for your coffee to help keep you awake as well as wash down that meal you are working on as you steer with your knees (Oh, Really!  Like you’ve never done that!).

New Vehicle Console with Cupholders

Blind Spot protection: note icon in upper right of mirror that lights up

Many of these are a definite step in the right direction when it comes to reducing driver distraction.  I’ve used hands-free calling systems in my vehicles for a while now which allow you to use voice commands to activate and dial and then talk by using the radio speakers for sound.  It is definitely safer than manually dialing and holding a phone to your ear.  Until recently, I had not tried making or receiving calls hands free using a smartphone paired to the vehicle via Bluetooth and I found it works as well as the vehicle’s built in Hands Free Calling system.  It also works for text messages as I found out for the first time when a pleasant voice tells me I have a text message and asks if it (she??) should read it to me…yes…want to reply?…yes…what is your reply?…I reply…send?…yes, send!  All this while I keep my hands on the wheel and my eyes on the road.  I can choose radio stations using voice commands as well as the steering wheel controls.  And audio books are a great alternative for when you are tired of the radio content.  In fact, I don’t yet know all the voice-activated capabilities of this vehicle, but I’m learning.

Rear Cross Traffic Alert System spots things approaching from the side before you can see them.

Rear Cross Traffic Alert System spots things approaching from the side before you can see them.

Rear Cross Traffic Alert System spots things approaching from the side before you can see them.

While there are fair points to be made that even voice commands can be a distraction, it is really not much different from having a conversation with a passenger; and there are no laws prohibiting that…at least so far!  While on a long trip, particularly, talking to someone, either a passenger or someone on a hands free call, can actually help keep you alert while you are driving.  Certainly, manually using your phone to make calls, check email, or deal with text messages is dangerous, mainly because the driver focuses on their phone or other devices instead of watching the road and, even in a second or two, things on the road can change dramatically resulting in possibly fatal accidents.  Hands-Free operation is definitely a significant improvement with respect to safety while driving.  Another alternative might be to add a voice-activated co-pilot of sorts to push buttons, select options, send messages or emails, hand you things you request like water or coffee so that you can really focus on driving.  Perhaps this could be a passenger, or maybe a robot version of Siri…  For now, just learn how to use the Voice-Activated and Hands-Free features of your vehicle, if you have them.  Otherwise, pull over to do your business!

Latest Technology for Voice-Activated Hands-Free operation

I spent many years before retiring, investigating accidents to determine if there was anything wrong with the vehicle that contributed to the accident.  Quite often, it came down to driver distraction or error as the main contributor.  If your vehicle has these hands-free options, learn how to use them before you get out on the road.  Otherwise, please pull over when you urgently need to take or make a call or text; you’ll thank yourself for it!  Have you used voice-activated hands-free technology in your vehicle?

Kids! Take Them or Leave Them…for Vacations?

Our oldest son with his Great Grandparents on a road trip

Our oldest son with his grandparents on a road trip

The issue of whether or not to take your kids along with you on vacation really comes down to personal preference and what you may or may not want to deal with.  There are many reasons (excuses?) for not bringing the kids along.  And the reasons can change for various ages and types of trips.  For example, you wouldn’t bring kids with you on a business trip…or would you?  Maybe if your spouse, close friend, or other family member came along to watch them or take them to see interesting things at your destination while you work, but not if you would be by yourself unless you have friends or relatives living there.  For older kids a business trip may work if there is something for them to do while you are working.

Our two wild and crazy little travelers on longer road trips

Kids as older domestic and international travelers

In our case, with two boys, two and a half years apart, we didn’t have any problems doing road trips to visit friends or relatives initially.  As a practical matter, kids younger than a year or a year and a half are unlikely to have any memory of these trips.  So visiting trips are perfect for really young kids.  Of course once they get older, say two or three, and will remember the trips better, historical or entertainment destinations will be great learning experiences!  At this stage kids are basically passengers and you load them and go.  When your kids are older, say three to early teens, they become better travelers.  They start to develop likes, dislikes, and maybe even their own early bucket list.  They have ideas, opinions, and can even make suggestions and discuss possible vacation destinations.  They also can generally take care of themselves.  Road trips as well as air travel can be a lot of fun until…the later teen years.  At some point kids begin to feel that trips with parents aren’t what they used to be and they prefer to stay home, sometimes because they are becoming more independent or maybe it’s a desire to throw the stereotypical wild teen party while the parents are gone!  I know you’re thinking “not my kids!”

With my son and his family on trip to Maui

Multigenerational Alaska Cruise on Princess Cruise Line

As kids become young adults with their own families and jobs and their own kids, trips with mom and dad are back on the agenda…instant babysitters, anyone.  It actually works out for everyone because young parents get a break in a fun destination and grandparents get quality time with grandkids.  Of course older teens will usually drop their independent streak and not wanting to travel with their parents if the proper destination is chosen…say someplace like Hawaii!  It worked for us!

Homeward bound after a fun vacation!

Ready to board Yankee Doodle Dandy

On a related aspect of this topic, at what age should kids be responsible for paying their own way if they want to join everyone on a vacation?  The answer to this will also vary all over the place.  If you are independently wealthy, you will be much more likely to pay for your kids to join you on vacation into their twenties or even thirties…or maybe you prefer to teach them financial life skills!  For most people, that line may be drawn when kids actually move out on their own or once they graduate from high school or college.  But whichever way you decide to go, there’s no one right answer, just whatever works best for you.

Boarded, belted, and ready to go on Yankee Doodle Dandy.

We always took the kids on road trips visiting relatives when they were under three; longer trips to places like New England or Florida at three to maybe ten or eleven; and flights to Mexico, Hawaii, and Japan in their early teens!  As they went off to college we began our next phase of vacation travel by ourselves with a bigger focus on travel to other countries and cruises.  We did have a few larger group trips with kids, grandkids, and both sets of grandparents to Hawaii, Outer Banks, Florida, and cruises to Alaska and the Caribbean.  That worked out well for all of us and we had fun.  But just don’t expect everyone to do everything together!  You’ll likely be disappointed!

How did your travels with kids go?  Do you ever wish you had done it differently?

Is There Such A Thing As Too Much Vacation?

Swimming (splashing) in the Southern Ocean during our Antarctica cruise

Have you ever been on vacation and found that  you couldn’t stop thinking about getting back home or back to work?  There are some people who seem to be on vacation all the time, even when they’re not.  And then there are those who enjoy vacations for a long weekend, maybe a week, possibly even two weeks; but at some point they start to think about going home because too much of a good thing is more than they can handle.  Perhaps they feel guilty not doing anything except eating, sleeping, and wandering around looking at things.  Or it could be they feel guilty being off work too long, especially if they are one of the lucky few who really enjoy their work; I was actually one of those, especially during my last eleven years while working at GM.  Now don’t misunderstand me, I enjoyed my work but I also looked forward to my vacation time off and traveling the world.  That’s how we managed to walk around on all seven continents during a one year period while both of us were still working full time.

Local Inhabitant

Local Inhabitant watching us as we explore the Galapagos Islands

But there also are some people who just can’t get their mind off their work, even when they are supposed to be relaxing on a beach.  This is particularly true for those who own their own businesses because, as you know, no one is able to run the company as well as the owner (big fallacy most of the time but we’ll go with it); or professionals like doctors and dentists or attorneys who only make money when they work; or those who don’t like being out of their comfort zone for any lengthy period of time.  No matter where they are, be it out of state, out of the country, on an island, or on a cruise, they just can’t seem to get work out of their minds and relax.  They may resort to letting their office know multiple ways of how to reach them at any time because of dedication or maybe they just see themselves as indispensable…believe me, that is rarely the case.  Sometimes the office or the boss requests contact information in case something comes up that needs immediate attention.

Relaxing on the Deck at Salt Lick Lodge

Then there are those who just can’t stay in any one place too long and they are soon ready to move on.  They actually enjoy being on vacation and could probably do it all year long but don’t want to set up residence in one place because they are easily bored.  After all, a person can take only so much of seeing the world, eating delicious food, skiing, snorkeling, relaxing on a beach, etc.  I’m probably a bit of this type.  I really enjoy travelling to various countries around the world.  But, even though I realize it is impossible to see everything, do everything, and eat everything, I want as much as I can get out of each trip.  For example, we did four ‘Round the World (RTW) trips four years in a row while we were both still working; our shortest was 17 days and our longest was 31 days and included a 10-day Princess cruise as well as an African Safari.  Generally speaking, we stayed a minimum of two nights in each destination (BIG tactical error the first year when I scheduled a couple of one-nighters that, because we were so tired from the flights, we really didn’t see much), just long enough to see the main attractions, try some local food, and meet some people.  I was usually ready to move on then and get to the next place.  The plan was to usually take a city tour for the major attractions and make mental notes of the places we enjoyed the most so we could go back and stay longer in the future.

Hilton Waikoloa Village in Hawaii

Hammock at the Hilton Waikoloa Village in Hawaii

Of course the touted benefit of vacationing and travel is that you get to relax and clear your mind and just have fun.  But there are occasionally things that seem to be working against you like delayed or cancelled flights, mix ups on the hotel reservations, destinations that are not what you were expecting, all of which counteract relaxing and de-stressing.  But with proper care and planning you can minimize these.  There was one trip we took to Hawaii, the Big Island, where I was requested from my work to take care of a business meeting on Oahu while I was there.  While I thought maybe my work would cover me for some of the cost to get to Hawaii, I was mistaken.  They did pay for the inter-island flights, of course, and a few meals.  But as a result, when we first arrived it was after dark.  We got our rental car and drove to the hotel.  The next morning I drove back to the airport in the dark to catch an early flight to Oahu.  After concluding the business and having dinner with my colleagues, I caught an evening flight back to Hawaii, arriving, you guessed it, after dark and then drove back to the hotel.  The morning of the third day was the first time I finally got to check out the beautiful view from our balcony…and it was spectacular!  Then I got busy trying to enjoy the rest of our time there.

Blue-Footed Booby

Blue-Footed Booby on Galapagos Islands

But I do have to confess that as beautiful as the islands of Hawaii are (or any islands for that matter), unless you were raised on one, you may experience what we did when we stayed in Hawaii for 25 nights to celebrate our 25th anniversary split over two islands, Maui and Kawaii.  We saw ourselves retiring there at one time.  That trip cured us of that notion.  Driving 20-30 minutes in any direction brings you to…the ocean.  And while Hawaii actually has an interstate highway, good luck trying to make that work for you.  If you want to go anywhere, you need a ticket to a long flight.  We realized over that 25 nights that this was not the place we really wanted to live.  We love to take a vacation there, or Guam, or in the Caribbean, but just for a visit.  Then we get back home and try to get back into whatever routines we were in before the vacation interrupted us.  So can a vacation ever be too long?  For some people definitely yes.  There are others who sign up for around the world cruises for just under four months each and repeat three times per year.  This is effectively an all-year-long vacation, or perhaps a retirement strategy.  Think about it: no mortgage or rent payments, no utility bills, all meals and room service included…let that sink in…permanent vacation!

Happy travels for 2018!

Analysis of a Road Trip

River Walk

San Antonio River Walk through a quiet neighborhood.

In this post, I will take a close look at our most recent road trip from Michigan to San Antonio, Texas, from planning, to setting up reservations, to actual travel results, and some cool Apps that I use to help get the most out of the trip.  This is an example of how I typically plan and execute trips, although it has more hotel reservations than most because of the number of travel days and distances involved.  The trip itself was for us to attend the annual reunion of my old USAF Squadron, the 610 MASS (Military Airlift Support Squadron), which was being held in San Antonio in August 2017.  I started with Google Maps that calculated about 1,500 miles and 23 hours each way.  With that information, I created a Trip using an App called TripIt.  I entered the name of the trip (610 MASS Reunion), city location (San Antonio), and the start and stop dates (August 21-30) including travel to and from.  Next year will be our twentieth reunion in Dayton, OH, much shorter drive for us, almost like a day trip.  We usually know at least a year in advance where we will be, as well as the hotel and rates, and the particular details, including local group excursions available for members to choose from.

TripIt Logo

TripIt Logo

Hilton Hotels & Resorts

Hilton Hotels & Resorts

Hampton Inn Bed

Hampton Inn King Bed typical for locations across the country

Once I had the basic trip defined and entered into TripIt, I started making reservations.  As I received email confirmations for hotels, flights (not for this trip), activities, etc, I just forwarded them to TripIt and the App added them to the trip and my calendar for whichever day it is on.  Dinner events, restaurants, tours, etc. that do not send email confirmations, can be added manually.  The Hotel reservations are normally added as a standard 3pm check in and 11am check out; so I go into TripIt and adjust the times to match my actual arrival and departure plans.  Next, I looked for hotels along a mapped route from Michigan to San Antonio.  I prefer not to drive 12-16 hours a day as the younger me used to do.  I typically try to plan for 7-10-hour days, including stops for gas, meals, and any special attractions that would not take too long to see.  So I looked at the map and, from my current location, I went out about 500 miles which is usually about seven hours of actual driving.  To that I added two hours for stops for a total of nine hours for that leg of the trip.    Next, I looked for what cities are near the 500-mile distance on the map.  Then I checked with the Hilton website (can be Hilton App; either way, it’s a loyalty thing-substitute with your favorites here) and checked hotel pricing in that area.  I checked 50 miles on either side of the 500 miles to find the lowest room price in that general area; my strike price is usually anything under $100 per night and I will likely use points if everything is priced higher.

Eclipse traffic

Eclipse traffic into the full coverage zone

Eclipse 100%

Eclipse 100% at the Steak & Shake in Marion, IL

Steak & Shake Burger

Pre-Eclipse Steak & Shake Burger

Then I just repeated this process until we reached at our destination, San Antonio, and continued back home for the return trip.  For the San Antonio Trip planning, at the last minute, we moved up our departure date from August 22nd to August 20th – for a very special reason.  It just so happened that we were going to be driving through the area of the August 21st Total Eclipse of the sun but on August 22nd, the day after.  So I  made a hotel reservation just short of the area of the Eclipse, and changed the plan so we would be driving through the area with a stop close to the center of the Eclipse map in Marion, Illinois (at a Steak & Shake) to see this rare event.  After seeing the Eclipse, we slowly made our way out of the full-viewing area.  I had left the next hotel reservation for that night in place for after the Eclipse; that resulted in a short driving day, and allowed us to connect up with the timing originally set up without having to rearrange all the remaining hotel reservations.  Plus, we had no idea how long it would take to get into and out of the Eclipse Zone due to the traffic; it’s not something with which we had any previous experience.  As it turned out, the traffic was heavy, but we had allowed plenty of time for it and arrived at our next hotel in the early evening.

Yelp Bookmarks Collection

Yelp Bookmarks Collection viewed in map mode, all restaurants and hotels

Babe's Chicken Dinner House

Babe’s Chicken Dinner House north side of Dallas, the best!

Hampton Inn

Hampton Inn Coffee Station anywhere in the country…

Once I had the hotel reservations completed for the round trip, my thoughts turned to food.  For restaurants, I rely on Yelp, another App that has user ratings for restaurants, hotels, attractions, and services.  I checked the ratings and reviews for my selected hotels; if there are too many bad reviews and depending what the problems were, I may reopen my search for hotels in that area.  Moving on, I break up each 8-10 hour day with a restaurant choice for lunch and dinner (and breakfast if not included) along the route for that day.  On Yelp (or any similar rating program) I looked for high ratings and lots of them while focusing on whatever is considered a local cuisine (e.g: Seafood near water, different styles of BBQ, Southern, ethnic, or whatever the area is known for).  While I do make exceptions (hotels, for example, are notoriously under-rated in my opinion, sometimes deserved), normally my threshold is a 4+ out of 5 rating with at least 50 reviews, preferably higher.  Over 100 reviews should be high enough to be beyond the number of reviews by family and friends.  I then bookmarked the restaurants I was interested in on Yelp.  I also bookmarked more than one restaurant in a city to allow for whatever we are in the mood for when passing through as well as the days of the week and times they are open.  The Yelp App lets me group my bookmarks into a collection (in this case 610 MASS) and then view them on a map.  We can make changes as we go if, for example, an excellent restaurant we want to try is closed on the day we will be there.  I also give back by writing reviews for the places we do try – to help others choose wisely.

Margarita

Margarita after a grueling River Walk

Green Curry

Green Curry at Thai Lanna in Mount Pleasant, TX…DO NOT SKIP

Overall, our San Antonio Trip went pretty well.  We enjoyed seeing friends once again to catch up on things that had happened since the previous reunion and share memories from our time in the USAF.  We found some excellent restaurants, hotels, and people as well as some that should have been better.  By far, there were much more good than bad.  This was a fun trip despite being on the fringe of Hurricane Harvey through most of our stay in San Antonio and our first day of driving on the way home.  Harvey caused cancellations of most of our activities and then followed us on our return until we were out of Texas.  And, of course there were the traffic jams for the Total Eclipse viewing.  The final App we always use on road trips is GasBuddy, an App that has consistently saved us significant amounts of money.  I usually will check the gas prices for the next day’s route to spot generally low-priced areas or price dips along the way.  We have saved ten to fifty cents per gallon regularly.  We also have our chain restaurant backups as alternatives if we are hungry at the wrong time and can’t wait for one of our bookmarked choices.  These include Cracker Barrel or Cheddars for comfort food, or McDonald’s or Burger King, etc. if we are in a hurry or just looking for generally clean restrooms.

Sunset

Sunset near Texarkana after a good day of driving

This is a good summary of how I plan trips and it has worked well for me so far.  It’s a loooong way from the old days of AAA TripTiks, city-state-regional maps, AAA Tourbooks, etc.  Apps like those I mentioned above give great flexibility and freedom for planning as well as during our trips.  How do you plan your road trips?  Am I way over thinking this compared to how you do your trip planning (I am an engineer, after all…retired!)?

How to Have Fun at an Air Show

2017 Thunder Over Michigan Brochure Front

2017 Thunder Over Michigan Brochure Back

Some times just thinking about going to an outdoor event and dealing with the traffic to get in, parking, getting in through the gates, and then having to deal with the crowds and lines while trying to see things, is enough to make you, or certainly me, tired just thinking about it.  Maybe I’m just getting old and cranky, but I guess that is why I’m pretty selective about which crowded events I choose to attend.  Having said that, why would I choose to attend, more than once, something like the Thunder Over Michigan Airshow?  Have I gone off my rocker (i.e. a dated expression meaning “are you crazy?”), or WTF is wrong with me!  I think of airshows as different from museums because with museums people come and go throughout the day so, while it can sometimes be crowded, it varies at times and parking is also spread out throughout the day.  Also, they are, for the most part, inside and immune to weather conditions.  Whereas with outdoor events such as airshows, concerts, auto races, etc., fill up parking and seating before the events start and then all head for the exits as the events end; and they are subject to the weather.

Let me be clear now, I still resist generally going to crowded events subject to the whims of the weather for all the reasons already listed above.  But this particular event has several aspects that cause me to break my own rules.  First, I like aircraft (USAF Veteran here)!  I have worked on them, traveled on them, seen them in various museums, read about their history, etc.  Second, I like history and particularly the WWII era including the aircraft flown during the war.  So I’m naturally attracted to places I can see those aircraft up close, such as museums and airshows.  Third, Thunder Over Michigan includes a large number and variety of WWII-era ground vehicles, including Tanks, Halftracks, Jeep-type vehicles, Motorcycles, etc., and they even do great WWII Re-Enactments; they scheduled for an actual parachute drop from a half dozen C-47 Skytrains but it was cancelled for the day we attended due to weather conditions.  and Fourth, it’s local so we can spend the day there and then just drive home.  Taking all of these things into account helped to push me over my resistance threshold.  Last but certainly not least, my wife loves airplanes and flying, too.

Then we get to the details for Thunder Over Michigan.  The basic cost to attend the airshow is a parking fee for each vehicle and then the entry fee for each person.  The total for this is reasonable but you need to be ready to bring folding chairs or blankets to sit while watching the action and pack food and drinks subject to any entry restrictions, or buy them from various vendors once inside.  Also be sure to pack sunscreen, hats, umbrellas, and other necessities.  Then there are the add-ons such as various levels of tents that have costs and values that can add to your comfort, convenience, and enjoyment of the show.  The lower end of your anticipated costs to join a tent would include a great viewing location, simple refreshments and light snacks, all the way to the high-end (Officers Club) that includes a hot buffet breakfast and lunch, soft drinks, beer & wine & open bar throughout the day, the prime location equivalent to sitting on the fifty yard line for seeing all the action in the air and on the ground…Oh, and the only air-conditioned port-a-potties at the show.  Guess where we ended up!  The food quality was actually quite good and the tents are a great way to get out of the sun (or rain) as well as not having to bring in anything but yourself.  Plus it makes you feel special for the day.

As for the actual reason for being there, there are plenty of preserved and well-maintained aircraft from the earlier days of flight through the WWII era and on into the jet age on display to get up close and personal with.  Some are set up for you to actually go inside and get a first-hand look.  Then there are aircraft on display that are functional that take part in the flying demonstrations as well as some of the main featured aircraft such as the Navy Blue Angels or the Air Force Thunderbirds.  The earlier you arrive and enter the show area, the shorter the lines are for everything; maybe even non-existent.  That’s the best time to do what you came there for-to see lots of vintage aircraft.  After you’ve seen enough for a while and it starts to get busy and lines start to form, take a break and go for some refreshments, snacks, etc. or check out where is a good viewing area for the airshow…or head for your tent, if you decide to go that route, and have some drinks, snacks, or a hot buffet meal.  One advantage of the tents is you can come and go throughout the day to see whatever you want and then escape the crowds into your Fortress of Solitude to recharge.

The other big headache associated with big outdoor events like airshows is parking, often with long, slow-moving lines getting into the parking area as well as the logjam trying to get out when it ends.  The best advice I have is to arrive early enough that the entrances just opened or are about to open so the traffic getting in is still relatively light.  Specifically in the case of Thunder Over Michigan, the WWII re-enactors and their vehicles are set up in an encampment outside of the airshow grounds and we were able to walk through the area to visit and talk with some of them (yes, the German Re-Enactors speak English) and see their vehicles up close as we made our way to the entrance, timing it to arrive just as the gates opened.  Leaving is an entirely different matter!  Unless you want to skip the last couple hours of the show (usually the featured part, such as the Blue Angels) to get ahead of the crowd, you could just relax and spend some extra time looking at aircraft, talking to show organizers and other attendees, or visit with the people in the Re-Enactors Encampment while the crowds are all trying to crawl out of the parking lots and onto the local roads and then the Interstate.  Put on some tunes or listen to audio books or have conversations about what you saw at the airshow as you slowly exit.

Thunder Over Michigan 2017, a well-earned rest…until next year!

Presenting the Colors

If you get your mindset to accept that you may need 30 minutes or more just to get out of the immediate area, You will get home a little later but so much more relaxed and ready to come back again next year.  How did I do?  Did I miss any major ideas or issues we have to deal with to attend open air outside events like airshows?  What strategies do you use to get the most enjoyment out of major outdoor events?  Has it made you more open to come back and repeat?

Too Stupid to Travel?

CAUTION: SARCASM AHEAD!

Great Wall of China-race to the top!

Is it possible for some people to be too stupid to travel?  With what I see and hear all around me these days, I really have to wonder.  You have very likely seen many of these “man (or woman) on the street interviews” where people’s knowledge of current events, history, geography, and important figures in our world, past and present, are tested with sometimes laughable results.  You know the ones I’m talking about where they are asked things like who won the Civil War and typical responses are like “who was in it.”  Or question: when was the War of 1812 fought? And answers are all over the place!  Seriously!  Or being shown a picture of our Vice President (any one of them) and asked who that is and…crickets!  But when asked a question about Snooki, the Kardashians (Kloe’s pregnant, by the way), or any Hollywood celebrity or entertainment topic and most score close to 100%.

Graves at the American Philippine WWII Memorial Cemetary in Manila.

I’m not sure what is being taught in schools today but it doesn’t appear to include history, geography, or anything of substance.  People of college age and older as a group, apparently, didn’t pay attention in school or these subjects are no longer being taught…at least not how they were taught when I was in school…back in the days of the Louisiana Purchase!  I get it that memorizing lots of important dates and events can be boring, but not knowing when the War of 1812 was fought?  Or who the Axis Powers and Allied powers were during WWII (that’s World War 2; it came after WWI…that’s World War 1)!  I think I lost half of my audience there…Oh, well…Google it!

Great Pyramids of Egypt

To me, travel has always been more than just going somewhere, seeing something, taking pictures, and going home.  I enjoy the opportunity to visit an historical site and see with my own eyes where some battle took place, where the first flight happened, or even where tragedy took place like Pearl Harbor or Hiroshima.  We have visited the sites of five of the seven Wonders of the World; only one of them is still standing today…oh just Google that, too.  It is sad to think how many people today seem to lack a basic knowledge of history such that they can’t really appreciate what they are seeing while traveling…like a monkey visiting the Golden Spike National Historic Site or Mesa Verde.

Another day in paradise-Tumon Bay, Guam

I sometimes wonder if we should have to take a test to qualify to visit historic places.  If you can get 70% or above, you are good to go; less than that and you still get to travel, but just to beaches or skiing or camping, yeah, camping.  Then their brains will never need to get out of first gear!  Some of you may be thinking, “but they can learn about history by going to places like the Alamo!”  Not very likely since they got all the way through school without a clue what any of that was about.  Either it wasn’t taught or they didn’t learn it because they weren’t interested (maybe teachers don’t know how to make history interesting) and didn’t care…so they should stick to the beaches, or camping.

Wright Brothers Memorial

Wright Brothers Memorial at the top of Big Kill Devil Hill in Kitty Hawk, NC

Back in the day when our kids were very young, we did a lot of family trips, mostly driving, to visit history all around us: Fort Ticonderoga, USS Constitution (Old Ironsides), Statue of Liberty, Alamo, Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, the Gion District, Teotihuacan, etc.  I enjoyed seeing historic places with the family where we could imagine what it was like to have lived in those times.  This can actually bring the book learning (remember those days?) alive and make it more personal.  We could read the information on the monuments (don’t get me started on this), test and improve our knowledge about events that shaped our country.

Blue-Footed Booby

Blue-Footed Booby on Galapagos Islands

Now, back to another aspect of my original question, should ignorant people be allowed to travel?  I think beaches, camping, and perhaps hiking are generally OK for them, although that actually requires some directional sensitivity to find them and get there.  As for visiting historical sites, it most likely will be a waste of money, but it is their money to waste in any way they see fit.  And as a practical matter, I suppose we really can’t stop them, even though they will likely only get as much out of it as our monkey at a new iPhone introduction…on second thought the monkey may have more appreciation for the experience.

What do you think.  Does it annoy you to be checking out the Mona Lisa next to people checking up on Snooki on their smart phones?

Risk Management for Travel

Triptik

AAA Triptik flip maps for trip routing

There have always been risks associated with travel from missed flight connections, to misplaced reservations, to pickpockets, natural disasters, terrorism, and much worse.  But we still travel, because we must.  Keep in mind that I could be hit by a speeding car in front of my house while out checking the mail, or a sink hole (not too likely in Michigan), or gas explosion, or home invasion…Nowhere are we guaranteed to be one hundred percent safe.  In our daily lives we have our routines and we feel safe because we have gone to work (if you still work) and back or shopping and back so many hundreds or thousands of times without incident other than possibly traffic delays.  We often become desensitized to possible risks all around us and may let our guard down when we are traveling.  We need to be alert for this as we may not recognize possible dangers inherent in travel to certain destinations.  Of course sometimes we just can’t foresee something that develops quickly.

Back to Yankee Doodle Dandy for our trip home

But when you combine an unfamiliar location with normal risks, suddenly the risk levels can be increased in a new environment.  There are definitely things we can do when preparing for a trip.  So what can we do to lower our risk while traveling?  Destination selection can make a big difference; to help choose safer destinations we should pay attention to international news and check the US State Department website for trouble spots to avoid.  Also, be familiar with average prices for airfare and hotels so that if you see unusually low pricing, ask yourself why.  There have recently been some very low prices to countries in Europe that are very likely due to a drop in tourism because of violence associated with refugees.  At the same time there isn’t much happening in Iceland or Switzerland as well as many destinations in the Pacific or Far East like Guam, Australia, or Japan particularly.

Yelp Map of Bookmarks for Trip

Yelp Map of Bookmarks for Trip

Of course there are always domestic destinations including Hawaii and Alaska to choose from, although you still have to be alert.  We just came back from a trip to San Antonio for my Air Force reunion. During the trip we became aware of Hurricane Harvey approaching the Texas coast.  But we were over 100 miles away so we did not expect much effect.  Then we found several of our tours and other plans were canceled due to high winds of 35-50 MPH and rain off and on.  On the day we left there were warning signs about possible flooding and roads closed especially toward Houston and the coast.  The hotel where we were staying offered to let us extend our stay and hunker down an extra few days until the weather improved but we decided to start heading home.  We had to stay alert as the roads were wet and the winds were gusty but the further north towards Dallas we went, the more it cleared up and the rest of the trip home was uneventful.  Although I don’t remember changing plans because something had changed, I have had them changed or cancelled by a travel provider because of weather or changes in a political situation.  On a cruise in the Mediterranean our original itinerary included stops in Turkey, Greece, Israel, and Egypt.  But because of flare ups in violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians our cruise line made the call and dropped the port calls in Israel.  They then substituted extra stops in Turkey and Greece.  That worked out fine for us and we enjoyed the substituted ports.  Generally travel providers want to avoid putting their customers and themselves in danger if they can find alternatives.

Tropical storm clouds approaching Guam

Of course another thing we do to deal with risk is to buy travel or trip insurance.  I always buy it when major expenses are at risk such as a cruise with Air and hotels or a pricey international trip package.  Insurance doesn’t actually reduce the risk of the trip itself but protects you against financial loss.  I’ve even had to use it once or twice and was glad I had it.  On a road trip with a string of hotel reservations that can be canceled, there is not really much at risk so I never bother with insurance.  Although these common sense ideas will help, there is still no guarantee that your trip will be 100 percent safe.  You do what you can when planning the trip and then stay alert and use common sense while on the trip.  Do you have any additional suggestions to lower the risk of traveling?  Would you cancel a trip or change your plans if the risk seems to be increasing as the travel date approaches?  Good luck and safe travels!

A Trip of A(nother) Lifetime! Part Two!

Yankee Air Museum Hangar at Willow Run Airport

The time finally arrived for our trip to Toronto on the WWII C-47D aircraft, owned by the Yankee Air Museum, named Yankee Doodle Dandy!  First of all, we have previously only flown on commercial airlines where you arrive at the airport several hours early to park, get dropped off at the terminal, get in the check-in line, followed by the security line, and then find your gate, and wait for boarding.  For our flight with the Yankee Air Museum aircraft, we were flying out of Willow Run Airport and arrived one hour before departure time.  A light rain had rolled through the area and continued as we pulled into the parking lot.  Parking was right outside the hangar; check in was done inside the hangar, as was security.  Then we waited for the plane to be moved out of the hangar before we could board.  We took advantage of this time to look at the other flyable aircraft in the hangar that belong to the Yankee Air Museum: a B-17 Flying Fortress named Yankee Lady, and a B-25 Mitchell named Yankee Warrior.

Yankee Doodle Dandy a C-47D owned by the Yankee Air Museum

When the crew called for us to board, we handed our luggage up through the aircraft door and then climbed the ladder into the plane.  Luggage was stacked and strapped into place for the trip in the rear of the cabin.  Seating was along both sides of the cabin, facing the center, and consisted of molded metal bench-style seats with every other one having a seat cushion.  We chose our seats and proceeded to try to figure out how to fasten the seat belts; we did, with a little help from the crew.  At rest, the plane slopes with the rear lower than the front.  Our pilot, Howard, and co-pilot, Jerry, did all of their pre-flight check list, the door was closed, and they started the engines one at a time.  We taxied out and stopped short of the runway so they could run up the engines before takeoff.  When they were satisfied, we were cleared to taxi onto the runway and started our takeoff run.  We’ve been through all of this many times before but never in a vintage plane like Yankee Doodle Dandy.  We continued to pick up speed and then the tail came up, we were almost level and, suddenly, we were airborne (Click)!

As we gained altitude, I noticed the light rain was resulting in water beads streaming along the outside of our windows.  We had no reclining seats, no cabin service, no in-flight movie or entertainment, no bathroom, and definitely no WiFi; to summarize – it was one of the best flights I’ve ever been on!  The flight was about ninety minutes, a little bumpy early on but then it smoothed out.  The noise level was higher than today’s commercial flights but tolerable.  We initially climbed until we got above the clouds and then, when it was clear, we dropped down to about 5,200 feet at about 135 knots (approximately 150 mph).  We were then able to get up and move around the plane, including taking a peek into the cockpit to check on Howard and Jerry…they were fine.  As we started our approach to land at the John C. Munro Airport in Hamilton, Ontario, we all took our seats again.  The landing was very smooth and we were to learn later, this was no fluke…Howard is very good at what he does; we found out he had been a US Navy Pilot and a Corporate Pilot before he started flying these old planes!

Walking to the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in the rain

After we had landed and come to a stop, the crew opened the door and were greeted by the airport ground crew.  Our pilot called Canadian Customs and Immigration and we waited for someone to board the plane and give us clearance.  After about 15-20 minutes, we were informed that we had been cleared…I guess we didn’t look like troublemakers so they never came out…plus all of our passport information had been provided in advance.

Traditional Poutine (French Fries covered in Gravy with Cheese Curds) served at the Museum Café

So we closed the door, sat down, and buckled up for a short taxi to the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum located at the airport.  Then we were able to deplane and head into the museum where we had a quick lunch in their cafe.  In addition to the expected hamburgers, hot dogs, and sandwiches, this cafe had two of the food items on my “must eat” trip list: fish & chips and Poutine (French fries covered in gravy and cheese curds – don’t judge, just try them).

Avro Lancaster (flyable) at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum

After lunch, we spent a few hours touring the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum’s aircraft collection and had a good look at their huge Avro Lancaster heavy bomber that, by the way, is still flyable!  We looked for and found some nice t-shirts on clearance for CDN$9.99 that has a silhouette of the Lancaster on it!  Then we were off to downtown Toronto to our hotel, the Intercontinental, located near the  CN Tower.

We had plenty of free time.  Friday evening, Reiko and I wandered off in my culinary pursuit of more fish & chips, Poutine, scotch eggs, sticky toffee pudding, and Guinness!  After much research on Yelp, I finally found a place in walking distance that had all these items.  It was called the Duke of Devin.  The food was great, especially the Sticky Toffee Pudding.  The service couldn’t have been better, and then there was the Guinness!  On Saturday. we visited the Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, a five-minute walk from our hotel, and then a group dinner at the 360 Restaurant in the CN Tower.  All of these have more details in my Yelp reviews that you can read by clicking each of the links.  We were even able to visit with one of my cousins who lives in nearby Mississauga.  He and his wife came to our hotel lobby.  But these are ordinary (but fun) things that anyone can do so…back to the trip!

Back to Yankee Doodle Dandy for our trip home

Finally, on Sunday, the inevitable return flight was upon us, and we headed back to the plane.  We made our way through the Canadian Heritage Warplane Museum and out onto the tarmac where we handed up our luggage and boarded Yankee Doodle Dandy, our flying Museum piece.  Once the pre-flight checks were completed, we taxied out to the runway and took off for our return flight to the USA.  Unlike our earlier flight, we had great weather, except for some rain on our way to the airport.

Enjoying my In-Flight Meal…only because I remembered to bring it

After a brief stop in Port Huron (and another smooth landing, this time by Jerry), we deplaned to clear American Customs and Immigration.  We were quickly back in the air for our final leg to Willow Run Airport, and a final smooth landing (again by Jerry).  We taxied back to the Yankee Air Museum Hangar.  We deplaned just outside it one last time.  We then waited inside the Hangar while Yankee Doodle Dandy was backed into it.  Then our luggage was handed off the plane to us.  We said goodbye to our new friends, and walked outside to our car.  All of that was completed in less time than exiting a commercial flight, heading to baggage claim, and waiting for your luggage to show up!

Yankee Doodle Dandy, another job well done, back in the hangar

Now, for a few final thoughts.  To me, wandering though an aircraft Museum and seeing these old warbirds up close is fascinating.  Being able to take a flight in one of them is phenomenal.  Going on a weekend trip in one of them just leaves me speechless!  I kept thinking “so this is what it was like to travel by Air back in the day” as we like to say now.  And I wondered about all the soldiers who had been on this particular aircraft over its years of military service.  I can’t wait to do this again whether to a different destination or to the same one again! I suggest you check out the Yankee Air Museum if you would like to take part in this type of unique trip or any of the other programs they have.  If you are not local, you should look for an equivalent Air Museum near where you live and find out if they have similar programs.  Until then, off we go, into the wild blue yonder!

A Trip of A(nother) Lifetime!

C-47 saw action with the USAAF during WWII

Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to travel the way people did in earlier times (we’ll leave future travel for later)?  Now, I’m not thinking about trips on foot like cavemen or covered wagons like the pioneers, although those could all make for a fun adventure, too.  I like to read, watch, listen, research (in my amateur way) about the 1930s and 1940s; the WWII era, specifically.  I have often wondered what it was like for pilots, crew, soldiers (think paratroopers), and passengers traveling by plane in those early but rapidly evolving-evolving aircraft.  Instead of weeks to cross the Atlantic by ship, for instance, being able to do it in 25 hours or so was a huge leap forward.  But it was generally for the wealthy and initially relied on Clippers, or flying boats, that were capable of landing on water if it became necessary; few planes initially had the fuel-range capacity for the plane and a pilot, let alone passengers or cargo.

Yankee Doodle Dandy C-47D belonging to the Yankee Air Museum

We have an opportunity to fly to Toronto for the weekend in a WWII vintage C47D Skytrain named Yankee Doodle Dandy!  The C-47 was a variant of the DC-3.  C-47 started being produced in 1941.  Yankee Doodle Dandy was delivered and put to use by the US military in April 1945.  C-47s were very versatile and could be used to move cargo, passengers, drop paratroopers (it still has the zip lines installed), and more.  Yankee Doodle Dandy is owned by the Yankee Air Museum located at Willow Run Airport in Belleville, Michigan.  It was the museum’s first flyable aircraft and was fully restored to airworthiness in 1984 after 20 months and is now maintained in flying condition by the Museum.  It is painted in the colors and markings from when it served the United States Air Force in the 1950’s and 1960’s as a navigational trainer.  The basic stats are: max altitude-24,000 ft; range-1,600 miles; cruising speed-160 mph, max speed 230 mph.  The rest you can find on line by Googling C-47 if you are interested.

B-17 made up to represent the Memphis Belle

The Yankee Air Museum also has flyable B-17 Flying Fortress and B-25 Mitchell bombers from WWII.  All of these planes participate in airshows around the country, including Thunder Over Michigan, a spectacular annual airshow held at the Willow Run Airport…more on that in a few months.  They also sell rides in these planes for people who want an experience that few people have had.  In case you didn’t know, Willow Run was where the US Government and Ford Motor Company built the B-24 bomber-assembly plant to make the B-24 Liberator, four-engine heavy bombers that, at its peak, was producing them at an astounding rate of a bomber every hour.

B-25 Mitchell Bomber named Yankee Warrior and owned by the Yankee Air Museum

Now, back to the time travel adventure!  Unlike the short rides mentioned above, we and our fellow travelers, twelve of us total, are essentially taking a charter flight on this old warhorse to spend two nights in a downtown Toronto hotel where we will have plenty of free time to try local restaurants (already picked out on Yelp) and see some of the sites.  Our trip will include the flights to and from Toronto, a tour of the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum near Hamilton, two nights hotel, dinner at the CN Tower restaurant, and time to get to know some fellow members of the museum.  Now, I had to consider the likelihood that if I waited until after we returned from the trip to write about the experience, this post would probably qualify as a short story. So I will post A Trip of A(nother) Lifetime Part Two focusing on the trip experience and what WWII-era air travel felt like.  We expect a rather spartan flight.  I’m given to understand there is no cabin service, no cushioned or reclining seats, likely no in-flight movies or WiFi, and probably not even parachutes!  So…stay tuned later this month.

To be continued…

Evelina

by Evelina Di Lauro

Curious Monkeys Travel

Dreams Near and Far

Kathleen Duffy

Finance Associate, Writer, and Edacious Traveler

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“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sailaway from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain

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