Timing Is Everything

We had a trip planned for next month, September (to Germany to visit good friends), but in late spring we cancelled it,* due to everything that we had on our plates. I was already exhausted (the holidays, work, illness, family things), and we hadn’t even made an itinerary yet.

The village of Maulbronn. Picturesque! (From Wikipedia. Attribution: Gregorini Demetrio.)

Gerry had been suggesting we postpone, actually, for weeks, and I’d resisted, because our friends had set aside the time. But finally I realized he was right. When we made the decision, it was like a weight lifted.

Within a week of this decision, we heard from Gerry’s brother that he and his wife needed to reschedule (due to unforseen family events) their trip to visit us from October … to September, the very time we’d have been gone. It freed me up to spend three weeks with my son and his wife during the birth of their daughter in May/June.

And you know, those weren’t the only serendipitous things. If we still had a flight on September 10th, we’d be in trouble right now, because Gerry no longer has a passport he could enter this country with (he could leave … but not reenter). He’s a citizen now, but we haven’t even started the process to obtain his American passport (it’s only been a week, after all, and I’ve been sick working).

Timing, as they say, is everything.

• • •

*Posponed, really.

Seriously: Pack These Five Things

“Skip the fancy travel gadgets,” the New York Times says. “Here are five simple things that will save you stress, money and hassle so you just enjoy your much-deserved getaway.”

And the first thing on the list? A pen. Wow.

I’m a writer and an organizational devotee, so I never go anywhere without a pen.* Like, ever. Since I was a tween, anyway. (Maybe because I was raised by a man who always had one in his breast pocket?) So it’s hard for me to imagine ever leaving the house without one. But … people do. No judgment here.

Sure made me curious about the rest of the list, though. And it’s a good one, so check it out.

For example, you know how I feel about my maps, and the suggestion here is so simple, so elementary, you’ll wonder why you hadn’t thought of it. I often custom-make maps when we travel—but on my laptop. Then I print and fold up into my purse. But I’m of the pre-smartphone generation and some old habits die hard.

Again, it’s a good list. We’ve already made accomodations for everything on it, but it’s a good reminder. Bon voyage!

* To that I would add: take some paper. Even a little 2×3 pad that you can slip in a pocket will do. That paper map I print off has plenty of room for scribbling notes too.

Home Away from Home: The Farmers Market

In Middletown, Rhode Island.

If we’re friends on Facebook, you know how much I love the local farmers market. I’ve been going there so long—my hair in full Bed Head—that I know these people and look forward to visiting with them. While my husband walks the dog in the little park outside, I work my way around the building collecting hugs and yummy things to eat. The farmers market is my happy place.

And if I find a farmers market when we are traveling, I cannot resist checking it out. I have visited them in more than one Irish town and definitely many American towns.

So you can imagine how delighted I was to stumble upon this article: How to Get the Most Out of Farmers’ Markets While Traveling. You should read the whole thing, but here are some quick tips:

  • Go early.
  • Buy what’s in season.
  • Consume it in the moment.
  • Food trucks? Yes!
  • Buy something to enjoy at home.

And if you can’t find an outdoor market—particularly in the winter—you can always look for upscale grocers to tempt your palate. Got a favorite market? I’d love to hear about it.

Germs on a Plane

People magazine is saying this week that yes, flying is hazardous to your health: “three different incoming flights at two U.S. airports were held on the tarmac [due to] sick passengers.” That’s pretty shocking, frankly.

This has been a bête noire of mine for years—if you’re sick, stay home, dagnabbit, don’t bring your cold onto an airplane and share it with me!—and I’m glad a popular national magazine is talking about it:

“It’s important to get your immune system in good shape before you travel,” the magazine’s expert says. “Rest up in advance so you don’t arrive to your flight exhausted and stressed, eat healthily and stay hydrated leading up to travel.”

This is important, and should not be underestimated. Start a slow-down before you leave so that you’re rested. It’s your best defense against an errant germ on the airplane—which could ruin a long-planned dream vacation if you run into that germ on your out-bound flight.

In Airport Security, Keep an Eye On Your Stuff!

This article came across my desk a few weeks ago and it got my attention:

As travellers sling their wallets, purses, laptops, smartphones, keys and other valuables into the grey plastic tray heading into an airport security scanner, many have a slight frisson of fear. What if you’re held up and then find on the other side that someone has raided your tray?

There’s a lot going on in the situation cited here, but the most important part is that airport security did not treat this theft as a high priority—which it should have. So be aware that airport security is not keeping an eye on your expensive laptop, and don’t hesitate to speak up if you see something happening.

The security line is a madhouse, for sure.

If you’re traveling with someone, one of you can hang back and wait with the majority of your possessions that need to go through the scanner while the other goes ahead through the body scanner. Now you’ve got one person on each side. If security personnel try to urge you through, remind them about the posted “Don’t let your belongings out of your sight” signs. You’re doing what you should do.

If you’re traveling alone, it will be better to be ahead of your possessions, waiting for them to come through, than behind them. This situation has always made me nervous, and I also almost always am traveling with a laptop. The best advice—and it’s hardly helpful—is to keep a sharp eye out.

That said, there’s one more very important protection that would have made a big difference to the denouement of this particular story: back up your computer before you leave home! The technology exists: use it.

 

Nonrefundable Reservations? Maybe, Maybe Not.

PSA: Just because it says the reservation is nonrefundable doesn’t mean it’s not. Just ask and explain and be nice. Also, beware the Ping-Pong Effect.

Here’s what happened.

We made hotel reservations to go to Texas—a trip we couldn’t wait to take, as it was the wedding celebration of some good friends (and I happen to know from personal experience that Texans know how to throw a party). We used some Verizon “points” to reduce the cost. It was nonrefundable, but we are the sort of people who make plans and follow through on them. You can get great deals (on hotels in Ireland, for example) if you use the nonrefundable option—and we have, frequently.

We were a little over two months out from the event.

But after nearly all the arrangements were made, we found out that my son’s grad school commencement ceremony was the same long weekend we were going to be in the Hill Country.

(Bummer. But we’ll reschedule Texas. We were really, really looking forward to it.)

I snagged this from the Texas Hill Country website; they apparently got it from wideopencountry.com.

So … I called the customer service number for Verizon Smart Rewards on a Sunday afternoon. I was just looking for a little grace. We knew it was a nonrefundable reservation. But things happen. Oh, the humanity, etc.

The clerk repeated the this is nonrefundable mantra, but then said she’d call the hotel to see if they’d release me from the obligation “as a courtesy.” Her words. I was on hold for about five minutes. (How do I know? I always look at my watch when I’m put on hold in the middle of a customer service conversation.)

Shortly the Verizon customer service rep got back on the line and said, “I spoke with Sarah at the hotel, and they won’t release the funds. You paid us and we paid the hotel, so you see, we can’t give you the money [several hundred dollars] back if we won’t get it back from the hotel.”

Hm. It all seemed a bit quick to me. I told her I understood, but that I’d look into it further. (But not, of course, until Monday, when perhaps Sarah’s boss was in the office. We’re still going to go to Texas. It would be good customer relations for the hotel to release us from this obligation. And they’d have plenty of time to rebook the room.)

So on Monday I called back to the hotel in Texas—and guess who I spoke with? Sarah! And Sarah told me she couldn’t do anything with the reservation. She said Verizon still had the funds and the ability to cancel or change anything about the reservation. I’d have to call them, she said.

A-HA! The Ping-Pong Effect. Both sides deny the ability to effect meaningful change, and the customer/client is batted back and forth between them until she gets tired and gives up.

So I called Verizon again. The nice man I spoke with this time listened to my story (including the somewhat mystifying details about my conversation with the lovely Sarah), took notes, and then said, “I’ll refer this to our travel team. It may take them twenty-four to forty-eight hours, but they’ll get back to you.”

Good enough. I still had 1) the may-I-speak-with-your-supervisor option; 2) the will-you-look-at-your-records-and-see-how-long-I’ve-been-your-customer-[answer: since 1994]-and-do-you-really-want-to-lose-me-over-this option; 3) the I’m-going-to-talk-about-this-on-social-media-including-my-travel-blog option; and 4) the calling-our-credit-card-company-to-dispute-the-charges option. C’mon: I made these reservations three days ago, realized the mistake, and the dates were still sixty days out. This shouldn’t have been difficult.

In less than an hour (!) Verizon called back. No problem! they said. They were delighted to refund the full amount, they said. It could take up to seventy-two hours to appear on our credit card statement, they said. (And it did appear.)

Conclusion? It may be that they say no first. Why not? They could end up with our money if we give up too soon. But I believed Sarah. She’s in the hospitality business. Her hotel didn’t want to make me mad over a three-night reservation that was two months away.

It’s a big world, but so far, the humans are still in charge. 🙂

If It’s January, We Must Be Planning a Trip

Ah, it’s January, and we’re thinking about traveling. Aren’t you? We had dinner last week with a friend who is planning a trip to Ireland and wanted to run some things past the Irishman—and we had a bang-up time eating, drinking, and discussing where to look for great Irish experiences, including some “skip this, do that instead” recommendations.* Our friend has a limited amount of time—ten days from start to finish—and has to make it count.

This is always a concern, of course. Which is why I love the “36 Hours in …” series from the New York Times, a carefully-planned three-day weekend in a variety of interesting spots. They’ve been running this feature for years, and I find it perfect for travel daydreams.

For example, we’d like a little getaway later this year. Not too far, somewhere we can drive. Here’s what pops up in driving range in the archives for the last couple years:

Asheville, North Carolina

Birmingham, Alabama

Charleston, South Carolina

Cincinnati, Ohio

Indianapolis, Indiana

We’ve got some other plans, too, but it’s too soon to talk about them. In the meantime, enjoy your travel daydreams!

* Skip the Cliffs of Moher, try Slieve League instead. That’s one.

Slieve League, October 2015. It’s magnificent.