It’s Travel Season

travelOMG! It’s travel season!  I almost missed it this year ’cause I’m not actually travelling.  Why?  It’s a long story but the punch line is (like most punch lines) money — or the eternal lack of it.  However,  here are a few tips so YOU can get the most for YOUR money when travelling.

Before You Go:

1 – Learn “Hi,” “Good-bye,” “Please,” “Thank You,” What Time?” “How Much?” and “Where’s the toilet?” in the language of your destination.  You’ll get more information, accurate directions and better service.  Or you can just practice pointing and grunting.  That works too.

2 – Pack one suitcase — one. Make sure you can lift it over your head.  If you can’t, keep taking stuff out of it until you can. If you still can’t — stay home!

3 – Watch YouTube videos of your destination.  Ignore everything but the people in the background.  These are the locals. Notice they’re not wearing lederhosen or wooden shoes. Nor are they wearing vulgar t-shirts, socks and sandals, half-naked anything, sweatpants or pajamas.  Dress appropriately or expect to get laughed at, robbed and definitely charged the ignorant tourist price for everything.

After You Get There:

1 – Lose the gigantic bag (backpack) and all the junk that’s in it. Unless you’re hacking your way through Borneo, you don’t need all that crap.  And, BTW, if you have a selfie stick, go out in the alley and beat yourself to death with it.

2 – Shut the hell up!  The people around you live there and they usually speak English. They don’t need a running commentary about how awesome or awful their country really is. If you must rattle on like a starling in mating season, at least lower your voice.

3 – The world is not overrun with gypsies, tramps and thieves; however, they are available. If you insist on waving wads of cash around, strolling the darkened alleys of Barcelona at 3 a.m. or leaving your wallet, pants and purse on the beach chair while you have outrageous sex in the bushes, you will get robbed.  Use your head!

Change Your Attitude:

1 – Never comparison shop.  The way “we do things back home” is irrelevant. You went to a foreign country on purpose; don’t bitch about it.  Go with what you’ve got, even if you don’t totally understand it.

2 – Don’t sweat the details. If you’re getting scammed, robbed or beaten up, definitely complain. Otherwise, give it a rest.  Ripping into the waiter is not going to change the V.A.T, the sauce or the level of service. (It will, however, increase the jackass population by one.)

3 – The foreign culture you’re so desperately looking for is happening all around you. Quit running at breakneck speed to the museums, art galleries and historical monuments, trying to find it.  Relax, and the real culture will come to you.

Now that you’ve got these guidelines, I’m going to tell you the quickest way to turn an ordinary vacation into something completely different.

Find a bar or cafe close to where you’re staying. Go there every day for a beverage, either first thing in the morning or last thing at night. These places are great. They force you to stop, settle down and smell the amaretto. However, more importantly, most tourists don’t do this (they’re too busy doing tourist stuff) so after about the third day, the people working there will take custody of you. You will cease to be just another tourist and become their tourist. They’ll take a personal interest in the good time you’re having in their town. This works best in smaller places, but it happens everywhere. Remember, the local folks can tell you more about where they live than Trip Advisor ever thought of. These are the people who buy clothes, go to local restaurants and take their kids to the puppet shows.  They also have friends, aunts and cousins who sing in the local band or make jewelry or might be convinced to take you up-river. Not to brag, but I’ve been invited to an illegal Kachina ritual, had a personalized tour of the cliffs of Cornwall, sung “Hasta Siempre” with a band on stage in Havana, and danced with an hereditary Polynesian princess in a South Seas thunderstorm – all because I like a second cup of coffee in the morning.

Happy Trails!

Syria: An Optimist’s View

syriaIt might be September, but Silly Season isn’t over.  This is the weirdest thing I have ever seen.

Last week, the Syrian Ministry of Tourism released a number of videos on YouTube.  Entitled Syria: Always Beatiful, (note the spelling) they’re promoting tourism to Syria.  SYRIA!  War-torn, bombed-out, poison-gassed, ripped-to-ratshit Syria!  It’s not exactly the place that comes to mind when one thinks: tourist destination.  Especially since the people who already live there are fleeing for their lives.  Rumour has it that U.S. Navy Seals don’t even go to there — it’s just too dangerous.

Frankly, I’m amazed Syria even has a Ministry of Tourism.  Why bother?  I haven’t tried, but I doubt very much if you can even get there from here — or from anywhere.  However, let’s just think for a moment about the genius who thought a couple of YouTube videos might possibly convince somebody (anybody) to book a flight to Damascus.  Whoever he was, he’s got to be the world’s biggest optimist.

And the video itself is a hoot.  It’s taken at “Fast Forward” from the air, and it looks as if an Obama observation drone got loose and is being chased by a Russian bomber.  One particular scene could almost be a strafing run from a J.J. Abrams movie.  And the entire video is just the same seaside resort, filmed from a number of different angles — like nobody’s going to notice that.  Then the whole thing is backed up by some really awful discount DJ music from before the turn of the century.

Anyway, good luck, folks!  I can’t imagine what your slogan is going to be: “Come see Syria.  You won’t get killed. We promise.”

Tourist: A User’s Guide

rotterdamMy new electronic buddy, Michael, from The Netherlands, asked me to write a guest post for his blog, Small European Country.  Since I love his stuff, I said yes.

You can find it here. While you’re there, check out some of his other posts.