Last week, we were in Africa…which admittedly is something few people can say so glibly.
Paul and I were travelling with eee and her partner, E, to a wedding outside of Johannesburg, and a quickie holiday in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, in the gap between two work trips I was trying to efficiently take all out of one carry-on suitcase.
Paul has two habits that make me crazy when we travel. First, we both prefer the window seat, which I didn’t know until far too late in our relationship (because usually we fly from different locations to our destination, or we are flying to see one another). Second, he doesn’t read the packet (more on this later).
Once I discovered that Paul and I both liked the window, I simply booked us in separate rows when we flew together. Except…everyone who is not me or Paul has an opinion on this. Don’t you want to sit with your husband? Are you fighting? I can’t believe you guys don’t want to sit together on the airplane.
My response to this is generally: STFU, busybodies. We both just like the window, and I relish as little talking to other people as possible when I travel. Paul and I both win when we sit one directly in front of/behind each other – we can say something through the gap in the seat if absolutely necessary, and we both get to look out the window. I don’t know how many of you men out there silently swallow your rage and sit in the middle seat every time you fly economy so your wife can have the window/how many of you women are secretly tallying a lifetime of middle-seat wrongs, but…life’s too short. Do yourself a solid and book in separate rows.
In planning for this trip, eee and I set specific parameters for activities and accommodations: Nice, but not too expensive; encompassing experiences we all wanted to have; maximising our time for the few days we were able to participate in non-wedding related activities. Those limitations yielded a handful of great suggestions, and we had a pretty easy time picking, booking, and moving on.
As we sipped sundowners on the Zambezi river and watched the pods of hippos standing closer to shore, it dawned on me that This Was Perfect. But Perfect hadn’t happened by accident. We created this lovely little adventure by 1) travelling in such a way that reduced friction (i.e., Paul and I both sat in window seats; eee and E flew on a separate airline); 2) limiting our universe of choices so that we were not overwhelmed and only picked from a handful of places and activities; 3) building in an appropriate amount of downtime and silence into our itinerary so that I didn’t murder anyone.
Perfect actually took pre-Perfect Work.
To that point, a few years ago, I led a group up Mount Whitney, and I was meticulous-to-the-point-of-obsessive about the planning. I wanted the experience to be Perfect. I also didn’t want to get anyone killed. On one hand, this meticulousness was a good thing, because it was my first time climbing a Fourteener, let alone, leading a group up one. On the other hand, I took it so far above and beyond the call of duty that it became something of a joke – organising conference calls; distributing weekly emails; and ultimately, Fed-Exing my team what came to be known as The Packet, a 160pg hard copy document with the history of the trails, the specifics of our route, emergency and contingency plans, and other information. I expected everyone to read this information – in full – before we left.
When we arrived at the trailhead under cover of darkness to begin our climb, the youngest member of our group looked at me and said, So, what’s this going to be LIKE?
I remember staring at her in disbelief, my headlamp shining into her eyes.
Didn’t you read The Packet? I asked.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry or be angry. But we all made it up the mountain and back and lived to tell the tale. And I still haven’t fully learned how to effectively digest information and translate it to give people the Need to Know for when we travel.
My husband does the same thing with travel information. We will turn up in Zimbabwe or Zambia or New Zealand, and I’ll look at him expecting he’s taken out local currency, or has questions relevant to the situation, and he’ll look at me and say: So, what’s this going to be…like?
At that point, the flames will start to shoot out of my eyes as I think DIDN’T YOU READ THE PACKET?!?!
That, by the way, was how we wound up paying € 130 for a pair of Zimbabwean visas, instead of the usual $70 – Paul didn’t read the goddamn packet.
But what I am really saying is that none of these wonderful experiences happen by accident. There is a certain magic to having a successful holiday – especially when travelling with other people. It takes doing the work of setting expectations, and limits, and doing research, and Knowing What You’re Getting Into, and, perhaps most importantly, finding a way to never, ever sit in the middle seat on an airplane.