Sunday, August 03, 2008

Philosophies of Travel

Soon, Damon and I will have been married five years. On our first anniversary, we had dinner at Aquitaine thanks to a wedding gift from Damon's labmates. On our second, we had dinner at Sel de la Terre, this time on our own bill. The fries there are amazing. We were apart on our third; it was the day of my grandmother's funeral and Damon had to stay behind to load up the moving truck - we were about to leave Boston for good. On our fourth, we were in Wismar and almost forgot about it entirely! And for our fifth, we decided to arrange a last-minute trip to Ireland, hoping to specifically hit the area where the aforementioned grandmother's grandparents were born, County Clare.

At first I was only thinking we'd get away with a weekend flying in somewhere nearby and whipping through Clare before returning, but we managed to block off a Thursday to Tuesday trip, leaving us four full days in Ireland! It's so much, and so little. We did a little research, then last night I tossed and turned. Do we just go to one area and really relax and soak it up the whole time? How about two areas - but how do we narrow it down? Or do we really push it and stay five nights in five different places, seeing everything we can on what might be our only chance to ever see Ireland?

Your average American takes the cram-it-all-in approach. This isn't because they're hyperactive or unappreciative of their surroundings (although some are - and not just Americans), it's because they don't get any vacation time. That little two-week all-of-Europe vacation they're doing? They saved up for that for months and months, working through seven illnesses and four family events across the country so they could do it. You better believe they don't feel they have any choice but to see it all now, because they won't get away again.

And hey, life is short! Why not see it all if it's feasible? You can argue for this even without bringing vacation time into the picture.

Your average travel snob, though, is thoroughly disgusted by the above approach and recommends taking one month to slowly move through one region of a country, lounging in the countryside or integrating himself into a city's scene, or whatever it is he or she is into, and really getting to know a region's culture. Those other people, they don't see anything! They need to slow down and enjoy life! Relax!!

That's pretty tempting, too. Isn't relaxing the point of vacation? It's no good to come back more stressed out than you were before you left. Sticking around in one place offers you more chances to start to interact with local people and get a feel for the area.

There are a couple of other types, too. There's the adventurer for whom a European vacation is totally lame. All of Europe is practically the same. You haven't seen jack until you've been to the jungle, the desert, the Himalayas, or any destination that requires 20-25 new vaccinations and prophylactic medications. And finally, there's the check-off list traveler. They have a long list of countries and they are marking them off or coloring them in as they go, trying to rack up the number as high as possible. You might identify them because they are itchy to cross a nearby border just to cross it, they are obsessed with hitting small countries like Andorra and Liechtenstein despite all warnings to the contrary that these places are not interesting, or they've just been to capital city after capital city to hit a country, then never returning there again, fickle as can be. My husband hates the country-collector attitude, but I sympathize with it. I would usually rather go to a country I haven't seen yet than one I have, so I can hear a new language all around, see signs in it, etc. Even crossing a border allows this. But he argues you can never really get a feel for a place's culture if you're just out collecting. That could also be true.

We still haven't decided what to do about Ireland. We could go and wing it, but several things I've read say at this time of year it is best to book in advance because it's high season. There's nothing worse than driving around in circles at 10 at night desperately searching for any place with a room you can have, no matter the cost or type of room. I have several memories of doing that, and some are sort of entertaining, but the stories usually didn't end well.

A slow-paced County Clare/Galway/Aran Islands trip? A Galway-Connemara-Aran Islands-County Clare-Dingle-Cork-Kilkenny extravaganza? I'll report back in a couple of weeks after we've been there...

What kind of traveler are you? What would you do? What characterized your favorite vacation?


  1. Soon, Damon and I will have been married five years.

    Good for you, congratulations! We hit the 4.5-year mark a couple weeks from now.

    A Galway-Connemara-Aran Islands-County Clare-Dingle-Cork-Kilkenny extravaganza? I'll report back in a couple of weeks after we've been there...

    Ours will be a Counties Cork and Kerry deal. We're headed there in early October to be out of the seasonal rush. We've been itchin' on Ireland for like 4 years now. We're taking cues from B. & Co. and others.

    What kind of traveler are you? What would you do?

    I like my travel in about one-week chunks, but without all too much hustle and bustle during that week. Splitting a week between Salzburg and Vienna, or among all the olive groves we can find in Provence, is pretty much my pace. I have an excellent travel agent who does most of the legwork for us upfront (or online), so that the unexpected pretty much only arrives at the expected intervals.

    What characterized your favorite vacation?

    This makes so many people I know gag, but eff 'em. FRANCE (yeah, I said it!). I am worse than horrible at the language but excellent at their food. I forgive them their beer (or lack thereof) for one week out of the year...but we didn't hit France this year after spending a week on the go in May around Provence two years in a row and it has brought on fits of Cheese Frenzy in me. Oh, and before the France-bashing starts (or would it? You attract a crowd with a certain je ne sais quoi…), I would like to remind your gentle readers that Paris is not representative of the rest of France. I can only speak for the southern and eastern portions of it, but really, everyone we encountered was so helpful, pleasant, and polite. From museum staff to country waiters to the guy selling pizza out of his trailer in the park, everyone smiled and helped us along with our fran├žais miserable. Hittin' the French highways on our first trip with a built-in sense of adventure — booking hotels at most two days in advance from stops along the way was a calculated thrill. Basing our operations from a turn-of-the-century schoolhouse renovated into a B&B where our hosts-turned-dear-friends gave us insight into the local lifestyle no one else could have and exploring the smaller roads and towns and markets of the area brought even more joy the second time.

    I'm certainly not unhappy with the travel we've done this year, but I do miss me some France. Maybe next time we'll branch out explore Normandy or Brittany for a change of pace and comparison with Provence...and then return after that back to the olive groves and lavender fields I miss.

  2. Congrats on the 5 year mark.

    In terms of my travel style, I really do all of those. I'm definitely a check-off the country person, but I don't mind being that person because I have often travelled (or plan to travel) back to a place. In fact, in the past 5 years I've travelled to, maybe 10 countries. Of those, 4 of them were return trips... places I've been back to 3 or 4 times. The rest, I have plans to go back to anyway.

    I think what I do is try to check off as many countries as possible, knowing I'll go back. I take those crazy "see as much as I can" vacations with about 1/3 of the trip dedicated to relaxing. When I go back, I stay and visit my favorite place(s).

    I like to stagger my vacations between nature (beach or mountains),cultural and city vacations. Then I prefer to go back to a place I've already seen once a year, and try something new once a year. I also like to travel to specific places just to try the food. My favorite vacations are where I can do it all. For ex., last year I went to China, the Philippines and Hong Kong. 20 days. I've been to the Philippines before and that was the relaxing beach-side leg of my trip. China was completely cultural and I went all over the place. It was go-go-go. I saw a lot in a little bit of time, and plan to go back. Hong Kong was a complete city-indulgence that I now need to go back to.

    As for your trip, it's really tough to say what's best. Because it's an anniversary, I would probably recommend no more than 2 places.

  3. One mistake we made during our week in Ireland last year was visiting too many places. Driving times were a lot longer than we anticipated due to the tiny roads. Driving around was really fun, and we saw some great places, but they got a bit repetitive and driving got old. Then again, I really enjoyed the single nights we spent in a couple of B&Bs in smaller towns, so I wouldn't recommend that you just stay put in Dublin. But I think I would discourage the grand tour...

  4. My husband and I are heading to Ireland for our anniversary this month as well. (Great-minds I guess.) We've decided to fly to Dublin, mainly because we got a cheap flight.

    As for what type of traveler I am, I understand the "check off the list" impulse. I'm not going to live in Europe forever, so I need to see as much as I can while I'm hear. On the other hand, I generally like visiting small towns in the countryside. It gives you a more real sense of the people of each nation.

  5. Congratulations to your upcoming anniversary!
    Travelling really depends on the time and money you have available. If neither of them would be an issue, I like longer vacations in one country where you can travel around and see many different places, since there are soo many different things to see and experience in each country.
    In reality though my travels are currently limited to short trips in our area or visiting my family back home and try to fit in a short trip to a new country there.

    My favorite trip was going to Guatemala for 6 weeks about 10 years ago. I stayed with a family there and went to a Language School during the day. Experiencing "real" life as close as possible would be my ideal vacation.

  6. Congrats on 5 years! You guys rock!

    I'm all for collecting countries -- the smaller, the better. Did you know Malta is smaller than Andorra??

  7. Happy Anniversary! I hope you two have a great trip.

  8. Cliff: I agree that France is actually pretty friendly and pleasant outside of Paris - at least the places we've been! You make me want to go back!

    Ann: I think that's a great approach if you know you'll have the chance to come again in the future! I'm such a worrywart, I'm always afraid "this is my one chance!!" 20 days sounds like a great length for a vacation.

    Jul: I read a lot of similar comments when I searched around online for info about traveling Ireland. We definitely listened, thanks!

    Erin: I hope you have/had a great trip! We flew in/out of Dublin too but didn't spend much time there.

    Bek: I want that ideal time/money-no-issue world too! Unfortunately both are issues. Guatemala sounds really interesting; do you know a lot of Spanish?

    Mike: I totally want to go to Malta. (Must...collect......)

    Mary: Thanks!


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