Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Holiday Pre-Game Show

I love to travel, and my friends and family know it. Quite often in conversation, the first words out of their mouths will be “so, where you been lately?” Or “so, where are you off to next?” Easily I can say it’s one of my favourite conversations, to hear where anyone is going.

If there was ever any other popular comment, it would be “Our trip was too short. We weren’t ready to come back.” Of course! Who’s ever too tired of swaying palm trees, white sand beaches, 700 year-old architecture, or Paris cafes in the spring? Not me. Who’s ever in a rush to get back to work? Definitely not me, and hey, I actually love my work. But that’s what it is – work. For me, travel is play-time. So for those of you who hate your work, I really feel for you, heading back to something that’s sucking the life out of you.

I discovered years ago that my holidays never felt long enough, and traveling on a limited budget, it’s not always possible to add days on to make it a longer holiday. So what can you do? Well, how about adding days on to the beginning of your trip? I don’t mean booking that flight two weeks earlier and saying ‘so long suckers!’ I’m suggesting that you do some things before you go that get you in the spirit of the trip, and you may find that it actually makes your trip seem like it was longer than it actually was.

When my wife and I travel, I’m thinking of the journey to come weeks, if not months before we actually lock the door and breathe in the smell of jet-fumes (you know, as bad as they probably are for you, I love that smell – it totally reminds me of travel). Not my wife – it’s not until we’re filling out the pre-customs form that it hits her that we’re off on another adventure.

If you can build in some ‘travel customs’ that get you working on your trip well before you leave, you’ll find that once you’re actually on your trip, it’ll feel like you’ve started it well before you actually left. I've always felt that the trip itself is only 51% of the fun. The pre-trip can be just as good. Kind of like the expectations you have as a kid before Christmas.

Here are some tips on what you can do to mentally extend your trip. Some of these I do, others are what some friends have done to extend their vacation time:

1. Expand your brain – do some research. How many times have you arrived somewhere and done a tour of a city all based on the tourist map they handed you at the front reception? Hit the library and find some good books on where you’re going to. History books are great too, as well as fiction based around a geographic region – the story might be made up, but often writers actually include fact-based information to help the setting for their characters.

2. If you’re not the library type, and you’ve never been known to say ‘I preferred the book to the movie’ cause you don’t have the patience for reading, still head to the library and go to the DVD section for travel. You’ll likely find some great DVDs on where you’re visiting. The great thing is that it’ll give you some great tips on where you’re going, but remember that sometimes the great things are off the beaten path and they’re not likely to be discovered for mainstream video.

3. Buy some underwear. Well, that’s if you need it. Underwear or not, buy some piece of clothing specifically for your trip. Something that you don’t have already, something that may be linked to a specific activity where you’re going. We were recently in San Francisco, and the blend of wonderful culture with the nastiest hills this side of Thunder Bay call for a wardrobe that allows you to have that relaxed west coast classy-casual look while being able to make your way up the numerous peaks you’ll experience making your way from the restaurants of Pier 39 to the Union Square shopping district.

4. Talk up your friends. Likely there’s someone you know who’s been to where you’re heading, and they’ve already tested the waters of what’s worth seeing, and what’s worth avoiding. Learn from their successes, learn from their poorly spent time! I’d rather learn from other peoples’ mistakes rather than my own any day!

5. Watch the weather. If you’ve got an ipod touch or iphone, get the app for weather and add in that location. Check it every day. It’ll get you in the mood, plus it’ll give you a clue as to what to expect and ultimately what to pack for.

6. Get a haircut, or get your nails done. Well, I do the haircut part, not the nails. Friends of mine do this, it’s their tradition before heading down to the sunny beaches of the Caribbean.

7. Get the Google working for you. If you have a hotel or 2 booked for your trip, go to Google maps and do a street view of where you’ll be. You’ll be able to get an idea of what your neighborhood is like, and how close you are to things like grocery stores, restaurants, tourist attractions, etc. I’m heading to NYC in a couple of weeks and have already checked out the area I’m staying in, particularly to see how safe I’ll feel looking like a total tourist with my camera around my neck and my pack on my back.

8. If you’re visiting someone in a foreign land, pick up something from your city to bring as a gift – something that a) they’ve never have or eaten before, and b) they likely never will again! Kidding, of course. I try to bring popcorn twists by Old Dutch to my brother every time I visit him in California. He loves them, and can’t get them there. Can’t imagine why…

9. Get cooking. Search the internet, find a recipe that’s representative of the culture you’re going to visit. If it’s France, dig into some French bread. For Italy, get some pasta going and get some fresh tomatoes and experience a real sauce, not something out of a jar. It’ll get you in the flavour of where you’re going.

There are many ways you can get yourself set for your holiday, and many ways to make it last just that much longer. Have any other tips? I’d love to hear them!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Space – the final frontier

(this blog post was written while on a trip in Palm Springs, visiting my parents back in late February)

I’ve always been a person who likes to have his space, and thinks that it must be the same for everyone else. So usually I go out of my way to make sure that when I encounter another individual, I give them the appropriate buffer zone, whether it’s on a sidewalk, in a lane of traffic, or even on a public bus. Of course if I’m out hiking and run into a deer, bear, or even more threatening, a wood tick, I’m all about giving even more space.

Not our girls. Space is a completely different thing to them. Especially when it comes to swimming pools.

Here I am, sitting by quite a large, heated swimming pool in the golfing community that my parents spend 3 months of the winter (but ironically enough, they don’t play golf). I’m watching our two girls swim in the pool. They have tons of room to play. The water is shallow, so being 8 and 11 and of decent size, there’s no where they can’t go within the pool. And this is what they do – they move about the pool like a) they own it, b) there’s no one else there, and c) like it’s the last chance they’ll ever get in their lives to swim, so they better use the time well and explore as much as possible.

Now introduce the old people. Or as we say when visiting the desert, the ‘tanned ones.’ I’m talking over 65, they’ve earned their place in life and decided that the best reward after a full life of working would be to move to a nice, warm climate. There’s ample space for walking, there are restaurants near by, lots of iconic palm trees, and of course, a warm and spacious pool. I’m guessing that the original resort brochures that showed the pool never had pictures with our girls in it. Of course if they did, they’d just be blurs! No camera has ever caught them in sharp focus in a pool.

So right now, even though there’s ample room to do their back flips, cannon balls, and other movements that involve as much flailing of the limbs and splashing as possible, they’re doing their best (I swear not on purpose) to be within a few feet of every senior that is brave enough to make their way cautiously into the pool. It’s like a magnetic attraction, and hey, you can’t argue with the laws of science.

I’m lying here in a constant state of cringe, wondering when one of them is either going to get a flipper in the face, or be speared by one of the girls’ various pool toys.

So, knowing my belief in personal space, you’d think that I’d be jumping off my chair and running over to make sure the girls stop tormenting these seniors. Not today. I’ve decided to check my space sensibilities at the pool gate and just accept what is and see what happens. Maybe the girls splashing about will remind the seniors of their glory days as children. Or maybe it’ll remind them of their grandchildren. Or maybe it’ll remind them to put the lock on the gate higher so that kids can’t come in at all! Whatever happens, I think we’ll all be a bit younger and wiser for the experience.