Category: travel

How to Survive a Road Trip with Your Grandparents, or Why I Believe in God. Pt 2

(This is part 2 of Erin’s tale of dealing with geriatric travel mates. Usually, she blogs at The Fierce Beagle. Also, she can probably out-dance you.)

Uncle R: Every time we go on a trip, we stop at Mickey D’s ‘bout ten for coffee, orange juice and some fries, right, Mom?
Grandma: [fumbling with the digital controls for the air conditioner, which is on full blast] What?
Uncle R: [unfazed] Every time we go on a trip, we stop at Mickey D’s ‘bout ten for coffee, orange juice and some fries, right, Mom?
Grandma: [louder] WHAT?! [Pushes wrong touch-screen button; snow is now starting to form around the window panes]
Uncle R: [unfazed] Every time we go on a trip, we stop at Mickey D’s ‘bout ten for coffee, orange juice and some fries, right, Mom?
Grandma: [louder still] WHAT?!? [pushes two or three more buttons; air conditioner shuts off in flourish of industrial-grade noise]
Uncle R: [unfazed] Every time we go on a trip, we stop at Mickey D’s ‘bout ten for coffee, orange juice and some fries, right, Mom?
Grandma: [with exasperation] What’s “Mickey D’s?”

I was in no mood to appreciate the absurd humor of this exchange between my uncle and grandmother, and not just because we were deep into a road trip that I was sure would end in mortal catastrophe. You see, we had just spent the night with front-row seats at the second circle of hell.

Aside from hopping in the van and conquering long-distance travel for the fun of it, my apparently younger-than-me-at-heart grandparents also love spontaneity. Though we had embarked on a three-day tour of New Mexico, they hadn’t planned so much as what towns we would stop in for the night, nevermind made reservations at a hotel. So after our rather fascinating trip into the Carlsbad Caverns, our spur-of-the-moment plan to find lodging in Alamogordo went to pot upon discovering that every hotel in town was booked solid because of some biker convention. Or, to clarify, I should say every reputable hotel in town was booked solid.

After inspecting and dismissing more than one motel, the grand’rents decided on a rinky-dink motor inn near Holloman Air Force Base that was clean yet kitschy. Like in a movie, I told myself. And for a good two hours, it was like being in a movie: We watched TV on an old 13 incher, and cuddled up in a bed that looked and felt like it could belong in your sweet Aunt Mildred’s attic guest room.

Then our neighbors arrived. And suddenly, our wholesome family film turned into a horror movie of the Zodiac variety: No calamity befell us (the protagonists), but the feeling that we were on the cusp of something terrible hovered constantly. Especially after the tone of the terrifying sounds emanating from just inches on the other side of the wall changed suddenly and ominously after we called the front desk to complain. To this day I don’t know exactly what was going on in the room next door or the parking lot outside, but I do know that we had stumbled into a favorite locale for some of the guys from the base to party with their hookers. ’Nuff said.

One benefit of traveling with elderly grandparents is that they just don’t question your motives when calling their motel room at 6 a.m. and asking if we couldn’t leave already.

One disadvantage of traveling with elderly grandparents is they take life at a leisurely pace when you just want to get the hell outta dodge.

Lucky for us lucky lucksters, Denny’s was open. So instead of adiosing Alamogordo posthaste, we sat down to a three-course breakfast. My uncle, who eats excruciatingly slowly, ordered the biggest meal of all: a short stack (with whipped cream), eggs and bacon. Four hours later (or so it seemed) we were finally on the road again. For about 15 minutes. Because then, Uncle R’s watch went off.

The sun rises and sets according to Uncle R’s watch. When the alarm goes off at 5:30 p.m., he makes his way to the table with the conviction of a farmhand who just heard the dinner bell. So when Uncle R is tasked with timing the grandparents’ two-hour driving shifts, he takes that job Seriously.

When that wristwatch alarm went off barely a quarter of an hour into our second day on the road, I foolishly dismissed it. When Uncle R dutifully uttered “Mom?” I still didn’t clue in. But when my grandmother pulled over to the shoulder to switch seats with my grandpa, comprehension dawned: She had just completed the final 15 minutes of the previous day’s two-hour shift.

Truth be told, after that, the last leg of our trip was fairly uneventful: We frolicked across the dunes of White Sands National Monument; we indulged my fantasy of visiting the Very Large Array outside Socorro (where Jodi Foster discovered the extraterrestrial broadcast in Contact).

By the time we were pulling back into Albuquerque, I erroneously believed we were in the clear and started jovially chatting with my grandma while my grandpa eased the ship safely into harbor. Then the van (and my stomach) lurched as we swerved across three lanes to make the exit to home; my grandma forgot to shout her driving instructions from the back row since she wasn’t paying attention, and so my grandpa wasn’t paying attention either.

So, how exactly does one survive a road trip with elderly grandparents? Put simply: Prayer. Start praying before the trip, if possible, so God knows you’re serious. If you’re Catholic, I might even suggest having a ritual Mass done on behalf of your upcoming journey. And if you’re not much of a religious type, a road trip with your elderly grandparents is definitely occasion to reconsider.

Notes from the Road – Death Cab for Pukey

So. The Mister and I decided to take a slightly less beaten path to Machu Picchu. And if you´re wondering exactly what that means, it means we followed the directions in the Lonely Planet under the heading “Off The Beaten Path.” So it was just us and 400 other travelers attempting to get away from it all.Though we were probably the only ones who didn’t have dreadlocks and were over the age of 23.

Instead of spending $100 on 12 hours of train ride, we spent several days riding $1 local buses through The Sacred Valley, poking through sweet little towns and drinking a lot of coco tea. All was going quite well, all paved roads and flush toilets and such, till the last leg of our journey.

We discover that we need to take a taxi to the little town of Santa Theresa, where we´ll hike along an abandoned railway for three hours till we get to Aguas Calientes. We pair up with a Chilean couple so that the two hour taxi ride will run each of us $5. We pile into a slightly beat up Toyota station wagon for what I´m sure will be a pleasurable ride filled with small talk and travel stories. Maybe we´ll all be Facebook friends after this!

Our driver pops in his only CD (UB40´s Greatest Hits) and we turn down a narrow, rutted service road. I dutifully gulp down a Dramamine as I am The World´s Best Puker and have experienced the wonder of Peruvian mountain roads before.

Sam chats with the Chileans in the back seat while I notice that this washed out road? With all the bumps and total lack of shoulder? It´s been going on for quite a while. But whatever, right? I survived six hours of this between Siem Reep and Bangkok, it´s all good. This is but another badge on my Girl Scout travel sash, right?

And then we start up the mountain. We are driving through the Andes at 30 miles an hour on a road with no shoulder, no guard rail and one lane. The driver occasionally tries to engage me in conversation, looking at me and smiling as I whisper scream “Fala Portuguese! No Espanol!” and point at the road. He kindly swerves to avoid particularly deep holes which sends me into poorly managed hysterics. The steering on the car is so loose that turning the tires necessitates what appears to be a 90 degree turn over the cliff. The first few times this happens I do that bit where my hands fly up to cover my face and then spontaneously smooth down my hair. Every time we round a corner, he honks to alert on-coming vehicles.

We begin to meet other vehicles on the road, which results in a lot of honking, flashing of lights and our driver staring down other drivers. Eventually they all back up into someone´s driveway three miles back and we speed past them waving nervously.

As we get farther up the mountain, we begin to encounter waterfalls. All this necessitate fording six or seven inches of water and crossing bridges that appear to be, somehow, actually narrower than the car. I begin to write a news clip in my head ¨American Couple Dies in Andes, Attempting to Save $60″ and I look back at Sam and see him eying all the possible exits and testing the release button on his seat belt.

Just as I begin to question my Agnostic religious stance, we turn the corner into Santa Theresa. Though I have pitted out my last clean shirt and probably lost three years of my life to worry, I´m alive! Dusty and dirty and a total nervous wreck, but alive!

I should have known it would turn out alright. I saw the driver cross himself and kiss the Mary hanging from his rear view mirror before we took off.

Got the travel bug?  Check out my ebooks and podcasts on making long-term travel a reality!  Only $15 forpetessake!

Notes from the Road: Sandboarding and Whitewater Rafting

Say, what´s that a picture of?” is what you´re probably asking yourself right now, eh? Or maybe “Is Sarah still trying to impress us with all that talk of sand boarding?” Or probably “What happened to that guest poster La Bellette Rouge? When´s she coming back?”

 

Well, I´m going to go ahead and ignore those last two questions and pretend like you´re thinking about the first, mmmmkay? That photo is us, risking our necks to slide down The Biggest Sand Dune Ever.

 

Dudes. Not one iota of exaggeration: that dune was at least 20 stories tall.

 

In the event that you were concerned, I did not, in fact, die while sand boarding. Though according to that Nervous Nelly, The Lonely Planet, I could have. Here is a video that someone with exponentially better video editing skills than I possess put together that documents the sand boarding experience. (You might want to turn your speakers down or ignore the laid back hippie music. I´m pretty sure a Mountain Dew-esque, mid-90s guitar riff would be more appropriate)

 

So how does one not die while sand boarding in Peru? I can assure you success if you follow these simple instructions:

 

  1. While the dune buggy driver is driving sideways up giant dunes, scream your head off and white knuckle it on the roll bars
  2. Upon arrival at the dunes in question, reconsider your decision but allow your pride to convince you not to be That Girl who chickens out
  3. Rub an old candle on the bottom of a homemade snowboard
  4. As per the instructors directions, lay on your stomach, grab the bindings of snowboard, push yourself up onto your elbows and lock your arms in this position to funnel as much sand as possible into your cleavage
  5. Slide down a giant sand dune, not even screaming because you are too busy trying not to die
  6. When you reach the bottom, try not to act overwhelmed and respond nonchalantly when an Aussie snowboarder asks what you secret is to get going to fast.
  7. Lather, rinse and repeat eight more times.
And, friends? I would do it again. But maybe only once more.

 

As you read this, The Mister and I are headed for some whitewater rafting and then a nine hour bus ride to Cusco, where we’ll head up the Inca Trail. Apparently, Cusco itself is at such a high altitude, one might be inclined to get altitude sickness. Which one might then treat by drinking tea made from coco leaves.
Indeed. Here’s hoping I don’t develop a nasty coco tea habit that leads to bloody noses and visions of grandeur!Got the travel bug?  Check out my ebooks and podcasts on making long-term travel a reality!  Only $15 forpetessake!

Notes from the Road: NYC

One would think that if we left for Lima, Peru on Saturday at 8 a.m. we would be there by now. I should be on my third cup of coca tea by now and surrounded by my own herd of tiny llamas.

But I am not tucked in among loving alpacas. I am tucked amongst investment bankers and trophy wives at a swanky, swishy hotel in New Jersey. We landed in New Jersey after the first leg of our trip from Minneapolis, only to find our flight overbooked by six people. Which seeeeeems like it would be awful, but when you’ve got three months of wandering ahead of you, what’s one less day? Especially, when they give you each a $500 voucher for future airfare, a first class upgrade for our flight tomorrow, a room at a fancy place and heaps of food vouchers so I can indulge my cheese addiction in a new state? YES PLEASE!

After retiring to our giant room to inspect the complimentary toiletries and jump on the bed, we headed into Manhattan for an impromptu meet up with my favorite New Yorker and college roomie. We drove through Times Square, ate some yummo Mexican food, drank a bit too much bubbly red wine (who knew such a thing existed?) and cuddled Lulu the French Bulldog. We caught the train back to New Joisey at 1 am and have now slept in and lolled in bed watching cable on the giant TV.

Soon we’ll head back to the airport in the same clothes we wore yesterday. And we’ll be those people who get to load first when they say “We are now boarding all rich and fancy people.”

And it will be a lot of rich and fancy people and then us. The Mister in his zip-off hiking pants and me wearing skinny jeans and Eu du Bulldog.

Okay, see you in Peru! This time for real!

How To Have A (Nearly) Stress-free Trip

Sooo many good tips to help make travel less stressful! Particularly useful if you're traveling international or in developing countries

Something that a lot of people don’t talk about is the fact that travel can be stressful.
Wicked stressful. Navigating an unknown city, often in a different language and culture, while carrying a 25 pound bag on your back? And all while trying to have The Best Time Possible? Because this is what you’ve been planning and saving for over the past six months and you are going to have a great time if it kills you.
Annnnd cue the meltdown in line to the Louvre.
Because most of us have a very limited number of vacation days, we put pressure on ourselves to squeeze joy out of every minute that we’re in another country.
When I did my six month trip, I remember being haunted by the feeling that I ‘wasn’t doing it right’ because I was having an awesome time, yes, but I also got lost a lot, got hit by a scooter, overslept on the train and missed my stop, and got a rash from the overnight bus in Vietnam. Seriously.
So please allow me to share some of the tricks I’ve learned to help one chill the eff out and enjoy the ride. Reducing travel stress is more of an art more of a science and it requires you to change your perspective a bit.

How to Make Travel Stress-Free*

Realize that everything is going to take longer and cost more than you thought

One of the biggest stresses when traveling is money. When reading about the prices of food and lodging in a country, it’s easy to add those two numbers together and assume that’s how much money you’ll spend in a given day.
But then you get lost have to take a taxi back to your friend’s house. And you lose your return bus ticket. And the only restaurant that’s open has $17 entrees. It’s also possible (especially if you’re traveling outside of the western world) that your bus will break down, your captain will run on island time, or the roads have washed out now that it’s rainy season.
Of course these things are all hugely frustrating, but often unavoidable. You’ll be a lot happier and more relaxed during your travels if you leave some wiggle room in your schedule and budget.

Everything is just a matter of time and money

Oooh, that sounds rather ominous doesn’t it? I mean, isn’t everything in life just a matter of time and money? But especially when traveling, I think it’s worth remembering this.
Snags in your plan are not a matter of life and death, nor do they have to ruin your trip. Your flight is delayed and you’re going to get in to Edinburgh two hours late? Just message your friend, tell her you’ll get in at 11 pm, and take a taxi to her house.
Whenever I encountered these problems I would repeat this mantra in my head “Everything is just a matter or time and money. I have all the time in the world and a credit card with a high limit.”

That $3 means a lot more to them than it does to you

Bartering is par for the course in many cultures and it’s something that turns many of us westerners inside out with embarrassment. Negotiation + confrontation = nightmare scenario for most women I know, myself included. I have two settings: “Please, overcharge me! I implore you!” or “You want $99? How about $3? No? You are dead to me.”
Of course, as foreigners we are surely being offered extremely inflated prices and shouldn’t accept the first number offered. However, I have seen westerners joyfully embrace the bartering system and spend 20 minutes haggling over a difference of 20 American cents. It’s worth remembering that the four dollars that you’re saving means a lot more to these vendors than it does to you.
The average yearly income in Bolivia is nine hundred American dollars. Just sayin.

It's easier to make money than it is to make memories. Click To Tweet

For most people, money is a constant stressor while traveling. But remember the reasons why you’re traveling in the first place!
Now that you’re three weeks into your trip, funds might be getting a bit low. You find yourself eating a lot of bread and cheese and sleeping in the dorm room at the hostel instead of the double. When your friend suggests the $80 rappelling/black-water rafting/rock climbing trip you balk. That’s, like, four nights of hostel!
Dude, do it. Put that shit on your credit card. If you were at home, you would not think twice about buying a cute sweater from Target and then getting dinner with your friends – and that would probably run you the same amount.
If you’re getting too wound up about money while your traveling, just think about what this money would translate to in your life back at home. New pair of Frye boots or sky diving? Swim with dolphins or one new tire for your car? Not such a difficult choice.

When in doubt, cry

When things just get to be too much, sometimes you just need to let your emotions speak for you. Just as a smile is universal, so is crying. There are few people in the world who can look into the crumpled, messy face of a overwhelmed lady and not feel inclined to help. Or to let you off with a warning.
I really believe that everyone, the world over, is good at heart. You will be amazed at the things that people will do to help you when they can see that you need it.

Are you dead? Are you hurt? No? Then it’s not the end of the world

Travel stress can mount if you let it. It totally sucks to lose your passport or have your wallet stolen or for your luggage to get lost in transit. No arguments there. But all these things are temporary and repairable.
They will make for excellent stories later on in which you will be featured as The Intrepid Traveler Who Went Through So Much But Still Had a Good Time.
How do you stay zen when you’re traveling? Share your tips in the comments so we can learn from you!
* jk it’s 100% not possible to make any sort of trip completely stress-free
Photo by Ruben Gutierrez on Unsplash