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Some Reflections on the Lessons That a Life in Travel Has Taught

      The end of the year is a time for reflection, and I've been
thinking of the travel lessons that countless journeys have taught me.
Here are a few of the tactics that I regard as essential for a
rewarding trip:
     (1)  The need to engage in advance reading:  I prepare for my
trips by reading about the culture, history and current policies of the
places I am about to visit, in advance of boarding a plane for the trip
there.  The failure to do this will ruin the experience--or at least
rob it of the pleasure it could have brought.  By arriving in a country
or city without that advance understanding, you wander about confused
and helpless.  You stare at sights that you don't understand; you have
a narrow experience and not a profound one.
     (2)  I arrive with addresses and phone numbers of locals:  Before
leaving, I pester my friends and relatives for the names of persons
they know who live in the destination city.  A couple of weeks ahead, I
write or phone them to ask if they will accept an invitation to dinner
hosted by me.  The results are remarkable:  on a recent trip to
Stockholm, as one example, I had a fascinating dinner conversations
with residents, who eagerly responded to my questions about life in
Sweden.  Choose a good restaurant, and almost all the people you
contact will agree to gift you with a memorable evening of discussion
about their lives and beliefs.
     (3)  Both before leaving, and during the trip, I make use of
government tourist offices and institutes.  I've learned that every
nation maintains them.  But while most tourists are aware of the
tourist offices, fewer of them are aware that most nations also
maintain so-called "institutes" for the promotion of their culture and
image.  They do this by scheduling appointments and interviews for
travelers pursuing special interests in their countries.  I've used
them on numerous occasions, and they have enriched my travels.
      (4)  Once abroad, I eat one meal a day picnic-style:  I've learned
that no mature stomach can tolerate an endless routine of rich
restaurant meals.  I make one meal a day out of simple, cold
ingredients purchased in a foreign grocery or delicatessen and consumed
on a park bench, a river bank, or in the privacy of a hotel room.
Those picnic meals, in my experience, are almost always a gourmet's
delight, usually superior to the same food items at home, especially
bread, pates, cheese, olives and local wine.
     5.  I pack less and enjoy more.  What a change to my earlier
approach!  Youthful vanity once dictated that I take an outfit for
every conceivable social occasion.  I now carry a quarter of what I
used to.  I bring only two replacement sets of underwear, socks and
sports shirts, wash them out in my hotel room at night, and travel with
a single, medium-sized suitcase lightly packed.  And thus I go about
the world with far more freedom and independence.
     6.  And finally, I accept mishaps in travel arrangements:  When
they occur, I try to remain calm. If maturity teaches anything, it is
that the world is a turbulent place filled with people who often err,
especially in travel.  When they do--when someone announces a
three-hour delay or some such problem--I whip out a paperback book and
savor an interlude of leisure.