One of my friends has recently realized that she has not seen enough of this world and how, as a teacher, world travel would benefit her and her students. Wouldn’t teaching Romeo and Juliet or Julius Caesar be so much more exciting to students if she could tell them about the Globe Theatre and Stratford-Upon-Avon? And shouldn’t she, as a teacher, really know stuff? Then there’s me. If there is an opportunity to go somewhere, I take it. I have been lucky to have had the opportunities to travel extensively around the U.S. and have been overseas a couple of times. I have also been traveling alone since I was eleven, and have been planning and going on trips since I had my own spending money. Together we are tentatively planning a trip to England and France next spring. (I’m going this summer with students, and I’m pretty sure I will want to go back again. As a matter of fact, I love England so much, that if Scotty beamed me to the Cotswolds, I would be just fine.)
This morning the two of us had a little pow-wow as I introduced her to Expedia and Travelocity, Fodor’s and the Lonely Planet. She quizzed me about cost, hotels, food, and knowing what to do once you get there. How do you learn all of this stuff?! I told her research is key; look through travel guides and read what they have to say. Travel guides tell us what we need to know to get around in a city. However, travel is like teaching– you can read all of the theory and strategies you want, but you don’t really know how to do it until you face a classroom of students and figure it out.
Case in point: When Jess and I went to England in 2010, the travel guide told us to take the Heathrow Connect to Paddington, and once at Paddington, we could catch a train to Bath. So we landed, boarded the Connect, and ended up at Paddington. So far, so good. The guide, however, lacked some details. Unlike here, where we would buy a ticket from a ticket agent (aka a real live person), we had to buy our ticket from an ATM-like machine and basically had to guess which ticket to get. In the center of Paddington is a huge screen listing the destinations and times of departure for each train, but none mentioned which track they were on. Jess and I paced around nervously. Which train was our train? When would we know? We asked the uninformative person at the information desk. “The screen tells you which track it’s on,” she replied impatiently. We looked up at the screen, but it held on to its secrets. In the meantime we are surrounded by people lounging around at tables sipping their tea. While we were stress cases, they looked like they were at a garden party. They were too polite to openly laugh at our blatant rookie moves of throwing our fists at the screen. Then it happened. Three minutes prior to our departure time the screen blinked “Track Four”, and immediately we were swept up among the mass exodus of tea-drinkers and garden-partiers to the train to Bath. They had been calm, cool, and collected because they knew about the procrastinating screen; we didn’t.
Some stuff you just can’t plan or know. The fun in traveling is the learning curve and being somewhat out of your element. Planning is great, but so is being spontaneous. On our trip Jess and I had our first and last nights booked, but the nights in between we let the journey dictate. Because of it we had a multitude of experiences and most of them were unexpected. Travel is also revision; as we learned more about the landscape, what interested in, or what our feet were telling us, we altered our plans as we saw fit. We stayed two nights in Painswick instead of one, because we were in pain; the name was fitting. As a result, we got to visit the Rococo Gardens and see the snow-drops and see an amazing art exhibit by a Swedish painter, whom we also met. The beauty of travel is also the people you meet along the way; we couldn’t have had such a good time as we did if it weren’t for the kindness of strangers. Some things you just have to let happen.
What advice do you have for new travelers? What travel resources do you recommend? What was your learning curve in traveling?