The more I travel the more I learn. And sometimes the lessons that hit home are about the travel process itself. So without further ado, here are my top head-smacking realizations of the past year.
1) Wacky weather is here to stay. As a frequent traveler, I know in a visceral way that climate change is here now and boy, does it ever affect travel. Weather delays at the airport are just the start of the hassles. I’ve shivered in destinations known for their balmy year-round weather; gotten soaked in areas where rain used to be as scarce as unicorns; and sweated buckets in places where heat is so unexpected, no hotels have air conditioners. The lesson: I vow to now bring layers and an umbrella wherever I go, and extra snacks and books for every plane flight. Mother Nature is on a rampage and we all need to be better prepared when we hit the road.
2) Its better to nag than not. And this one has to do with traveling with my children. There comes a time in every vacation where they get tired of exploring and want to veg out in front the TV or the computer in our hotel room. I understand: everyone gets tired. But I’ve found that every time I’ve managed to rally the troops to see a bit more, or have another adventure, they inevitably end up enjoying themselves and often, learning a bit more about the place we're visiting. This works especially well when I let them decide what the activity will be. So maybe the lesson is as much about letting my growing kids (ages 10 and 14) take the lead more as it is about nagging (or perhaps it’s a combination of the two).
3) Schedule enough time to fill up the darn rental car before returning it. This is more of a practical lesson, and one that I keep having to relearn. But twice this year I miscalculated on timing and had to return the rental car with a half-full tank. The second time, the charge the rental company added on was higher than the cost of the rental! (Yes, I know, I could have pre-paid for the tank, but that only works if you return the fuel tank bone dry, which I never do).
4) What’s to the side may be more interesting than what’s front and center: When I was in Taiwan earlier this year, visiting a famous temple, I happened to wander away from the “headline” artifacts at the center of the complex (a set of historically important scrolls) and into a smaller side temple which housed a fascinating exhibit on Taiwanese musical instruments, complete with videos of the celebrations they’re used in. I stood there, all alone and entranced for a good 15th minutes, as the rest of the world crowded around the supposedly more “important”, and certainly older, objects. I realized that while the scrolls were what most tour guides would highlight—indeed they were the reason that most visit the temple—for me learning a bit about the culture of the place was far more interesting. And I realized that I should be wandering off to the side more often, not only because the sights will be intriguing, but because you get the thrill of discovery when you’re the only outsider around.
Did any of you learn important travel lessons in 2013? I'd love to hear them.