The Franci exploring Dover Castle in Dover, England.
Nothing makes for a wonderful life so much as having someone close to you to share it with. Perhaps there is something about traveling that helps build and nurture those relationships.
In our travels we come across many couples who have been together much longer than us and who have been traveling together for years. On our recent cruise, it was rare to sit down with a couple that had been together for fewer than our 13 years. The first two couples we sat with had been married 55 and 57 years. All seem too young to have been married so long – perhaps we are bad at judging people’s ages or perhaps love and travel can also help keep people young.
As we keep seeing evidence of these great relationships on our travels, we thought we might try to think of some of the reasons travel seems to make such a difference.
Firstly, is the shared experience. Being able to reminisce and relive great moments can not only help you get the most out of something you have done but also brings the two people with the common experience closer together. Those memories are sometimes recalling classic moments (such as when it started snowing when we visited the Great Wall of China or hanging out for an hour with Pete Best’s brother in The Casbah Coffee Club) or those times that things may not have gone according to plan (such as locking our keys in the van a North Point Barrow, Alaska while looking for polar bear).
Secondly, is the planning. Compromise and anticipation of the journey to come mean couples get much more out of the trip than the trip itself. The compromises mean that couples need to share what is most important on determining everything from destinations to modes of travel to activities, types of hotels, and dining options. Whatever the preferences are, a good trip will have both couples very satisfied by its conclusion.
Lastly, is putting priorities in order. A good vacation puts the focus on you and your travel partner. While you are traveling, work, family conflicts, and daily duties can be put on hold as you enjoy the journey and the person you are with. The pressures of daily life can wear people down and too often we take frustrations out on those closest to us. A vacation can help correct that.
Surely there are other elements that help couples grow closer – being around other couples in good relationships and watching an ocean sunset for examples – but the bottom line is that travel seems to be one of the most effective ways of enhancing relationships we have seen.
The Franci at dinner on the Ryndam HAL ship.
When we are traveling, we like to take in as much as we can. On group tours, like the one we are on in Thailand, you may not know how much free time you will have, but there can be strong indicators. For example, when we took an outstanding 10-day trip to China, nearly every minute seemed accounted for by our tour company – with one exception, which we will mention later. Others, like our 13-day trip to Turkey with Gate 1, had a generous amount of free time for the group members.
When checking on how much free time will be available, checking the itineraries provided by your tour company can be very helpful. In the case of our Turkey trip, we were told we would have the day “at our leisure,” which allowed us to schedule tours. Other days look like they are packed – probably because they are. Tours can wear you out. However, do not let your weariness get in the way of getting the most out of an experience. And do not let your fear of the unknown stop you from exploring. Part of the purpose of travel is to get to know these strange and exotic places. Being in a large group of English speakers at a tourist trap is not the best way to do it.
When you have full days, booking tours may allow you to get the most out of an area in a short amount of time. Good tour guides will get you to the front of the line, explain the history and significance of places, and help you learn more and see more than you ever could have on your own. But there are also a great many small opportunities to get more out of your trip.
For example, on our China trip we had very little time to break away from our group at all. It was extremely well orchestrated and included all our meals, so from sunup to sundown we were hanging out. Then several days into the trip, we were taken to a neat little shopping area. However, after seeing what there was to see, we were told we had about 90 more minutes. While the group went back into the shopping area, we immediately saw our chance to explore and see what was nearby. It was like walking in a Hollywood back lot. We walked out of this high-end, international shopping area and into a somewhat typical Chinese street with all kind of vendors, businesses, families and everyday life. Walking these alleys and exploring the shops – in a futile search for a foot massage – was one of the more memorable experiences on a very memorable trip.
Other pleasures come by not taking the easy way out. At the end of a long day, it is tempting to have a nice comfortable dinner in the hotel and then go back to the room, however we try to avoid the hotel whenever we can. It can save a lot of money – meals in Thailand can cost as little as $1 from a restaurant on the street as opposed to a typical $10 and up for the hotel – but also allows us to explore the cities and meet the people. Besides, the food is almost always good. The $2 lunch consisting of a plate of Pad Thai and a plate of pork and rice in Thai red sauce while sitting across the street from 700-year-old temples is pretty tough to beat. We have found markets, wonderful shops, entertainment and interesting people by wandering the cities.
For this trip, meeting the friendly little girl with the adorable puppy will probably be one of the most memorable highlights. Not just because the dog was sweet, but because of the genuine openness for sharing that children in any culture possess. We were taking pictures at Wat Chaiwattharanaram, which is still not fully open due to the flooding, when we spotted a cute sleeping puppy. A young Thai girl smiled and we smiled back and she went over to pet the dog to show us it was hers and how proud she was. It was all very cute. We then went down to take a few photos from the other end of the temple grounds. About 15 minutes later we were about to walk past the area where we saw the girl and she saw us coming, her eyes lit up and she went running to grab her puppy and bring it over to us to pet. It was a wonderful moment in this place where people have been fighting to overcome so much, that this girl and her family were just sharing some fun and happiness with people who couldn’t carry on a conversation, but could share a wonderful moment together.
The little girl’s sweet puppy.
So when you get those 15 minute, 90 minute, half-day, or whatever breaks: do not dare sit around with the crowd. There is something just around the corner and chances are it’s pretty cool – if only because you got to find it when no one else seemed to care.
Finally, do keep safety in mind. We do try to stay safe and we realize we need to be watchful. However, with all the strange and obscure places we have been, all feel safer than many of places we have been in the United States. If you are not trying to do anything illegal – buy drugs, cater to prostitutes – and you are not getting intoxicated, you will avoid most problems.
Peace out, The Franci
A traveler and his money are soon parted.
When traveling, it is easy to burn through money pretty quickly. However, there are always people around who will gladly help you burn through it quicker. They aren’t stealing from you … exactly, and some are much worse than others.
Here are a few things we have learned about watching our wallet:
1. Haggling. This applies nearly everywhere, unless you are in established stores (and sometimes even then). They really aren’t trying to rip you off. When you ask how much something is, the seller gives you a price. They are expecting you to come back with a lower offer. They will then counter offer until you can agree on a price. However, there is no set amount that you can expect the price to come down to. In many places, 50% is a good rule of thumb. If the seller says it will cost 1,000 ducats, perhaps 500 really is a good price. Perhaps it should really go for 200 or for 900. Three things will be most helpful in figuring this out. First is to pay attention to what you see similar items selling at elsewhere, and if you see other tourists making purchases, note what they are paying compared to the asking price. Second, and most important, is to decide what you are really willing to pay for the item before you even ask for a price. It will make it easier to walk away if you can’t reach a deal and it will keep you from worrying that you could have haggled a bit further to get the item for less. Never in my life have I bargained for something and then as soon as the seller accepted my offer thought “Darn it, I should have gone lower.” Enjoy the item and don’t get caught up in the haggling game. Lastly, just because you asked about something and tried to agree on a price, do not feel that you need to buy it if it is more than you are comfortable spending. Just end the negotiations and walk away – this is often the best strategy anyway.
2. It’s closed! This one is all the rage in Bangkok and they even have teams of people to help set you up. When you are heading for a location – a temple, National Palace, or in one case a city block – a taxi or tuk tuk driver will tell you they are closed for a special Buddhist prayer meeting or other issue. Instead, they will give you a good deal to take you to a few places, which will inevitably include a gem shop, jewelry store, or some kind of other enterprise. If you refuse to go there, things get much less friendly, if you do go, plan on getting scammed by some very friendly people.
3. Tourist price. Tourists come to town with plans on seeing the sights, buying the local items, and experiencing a wide variety of opportunities. Many businesses will gladly help you do these, but depending on the experience you are after, you can likely do it for less and enjoy it more if you do just a little research or like to explore a bit on your own. Often it begin at the airport. For example, in Bangkok, there are several places labeled “taxis” that will get you to your hotel. Their prices can range from 450 baht to about 1,000 baht. However, if you just walk out the door to the taxi stand and get a metered cab, it will cost about 200 to 250 baht for the same trip. When we wanted to cross the river to go from the Wat Pho temple to see Wat Arun, we were looking for a way across. We had paid 30 baht to come a couple miles up river, so we thought it would be cheap to cross, but just needed to find out where. A helpful woman found us and explained that the only way to do it was to take a long-tail boat (power boats with a propeller at the end of a long shaft used to steer the boats) and she would take us across for only 300 baht. We declined. Three feet from where she stopped us, we found the ferry the locals use. It cost three baht to cross.
4. Transportation. A great many international cities have some excellent public transportation. Use the elevated trains, subways and water taxis to get around and it will not only save you money, but likely allow you to see other places of interest you might have otherwise passed on. It is very easy to get trapped in a hotel room and not know where to go or what to do, but look for opportunities to explore the places you have traveled to.
Keep it in perspective: If you have flown to another continent and are staying in fairly nice hotels, don’t get so caught up in saving your pennies once you have arrived that you miss out on experiences or don’t enjoy them. There are many times where I know I could get a better price or that I am being overcharged, but getting upset, missing an opportunity or losing valuable time should also be taken into account. For example, in Thailand 1 baht is worth about 3 cents American money. We booked a trip to the floating market about 100 kilometers from Bangkok. We knew that there was no way we would be leaving the market without experiencing the market from a boat. They have two kinds of boats: mechanical (long-tail) and paddle boats (a person paddles you through the canal). From a quick bit of research, I knew that the mechanical boats charged several times as much as the paddle boats, plus I didn’t want the noisy boat, so it was an easy decision. However, when we arrived the paddle boat vendor asked 1,000 baht for a half-hour boat trip. It was a ridiculously high starting point, so I countered with an offer of 200 baht for a 1 hour trip. We couldn’t reach any kind of starting point, so we walked away to see what we could find elsewhere. A minute or two later, the vendor found me and said they would take us for 400 baht for 1 hour. We accepted and went back for a pleasant trip through the market. We likely could have negotiated back and forth for a bit and got the trip for as cheap as 300 baht, but the haggling, hassle and time wasn’t worth it for trying to save $3.
The bottom line is you are here to enjoy your vacation. Getting scammed or ripped off can certainly take some pleasure out of a trip. Be aware of your surroundings and don’t trust that kind man just because he speaks English well and you will likely do just fine.
–Peace Out, The Franci