24.10.11

Learning to travel

"Traveling is the great true love of my life. I have always felt [...] that to travel is worth any cost or sacrifice. I am loyal and constant in my love for travel, as I have not always been loyal and constant in my other loves. I feel about travel the way a happy new mother feels about her impossible, colicky, restless, newborn baby--I just don't care what it puts me through. Because I adore it. Because it's mine. Because it looks exactly like me. It can barf all over me if it wants to--I just don't care." — Elizabeth Gilbert

Long time ago, I was (unsuccessfully) trying to write a book about traveling. It started with a big thank you to my mother, the person who taught me how to travel.
We used to travel a lot by car through the Mexican countryside, in daylight, by night, on big highways, on dirt track roads, etc. The days before the trip were tense at home, if I sneezed or coughed, my mom would look at me and yell "you are getting sick! that means you won't be traveling and you'll ruin our trip!" . So we were all very careful not to get sick, we would wear jackets and eat only chicken soup before the trip in order to avoid sickness... We were all used to packing our own stuff (again, if you happened to forget your toothbrush, mom would go again: "you're ruining our trip, you don't know how to travel...!") and get information about the places we were going to (is there a amusement park nearby? a museum? when do they open? are there any concerts during our stay? etc.), which in pre-internet times was pretty difficult. We had to be able to find our location in maps, no mistakes allowed. And we had to control our bladders: bathroom stops were scheduled every 5 hours (no exceptions for anybody). No yelling, no loud music, no complaining (are we there yet?), no whining - otherwise you would hear the famous phrase "you don't know how to travel!". So all these years went by, all those trips, some yelling (of course our trips were filled with love and laughter, until one of us made a mistake... then the yelling started), all the bladder control, all the map reading. Then I started to travel by myself and with others and I realized what a great lesson mom taught me. I was able to move around Europe reading maps, planing in advance, not wasting time looking around for bathrooms, avoiding tourist traps, always with proper clothing and of course, never forgot my toothbrush. Unlike many of my travel companions, I became a disciplined traveler always getting the most out of any experiences. So, thank you mom.
These days I'm planing another weekend abroad and the ritual has started to make the most out of it: hotel search, transportation (hate to take cabs, they're expensive and you see more from public transportation), what to see (based on my interests), what's going on during my stay (concerts, opera, theater plays, festivals, markets, etc.); restaurants (the worst thing that could happen to me is to end up in a McDonalds so I do a lot of research in this field: what's the specialty? would I like it? how are the portions and prices? location?); a bit of culture (I try to read some relevant news about the place I'm visiting): get familiar with the location by look at the map beforehand, that saves so much time!
Then of course, the basics: remember the passport, travel documents, toothbrush, etc. A checklist is really helpful, especially in longer trips. Pack light (you can always buy a sweater if you are cold - and then you have an excuse to go shopping!), wear comfortable shoes and I'm ready to go!