Make some New Year's resolutions today. Vow to take the pain out of travel in 1990.
Well, not all the pain. No matter where you plan to go, Murphy's Law applies: If anything can go wrong, it will. You can be certain of that. But the secret is to make life on the road as easy as possible.
Common sense is the key to coping. If you take a few minutes to think, you can help yourself resolve a problem. You can begin this process today, or tomorrow if you need a respite from pro football or the college bowl games. Here's a list of resolutions, to which you can add your own.
- I won't pack everything in my closet into a suitcase or garment bag. Unless protocol demands certain formal or spiffy attire, then don't travel as a clothes horse. No one else cares what you wear. Men can go almost anywhere in a blazer and a pair of gray or khaki slacks. Women can coordinate their travel wardrobes just as easily. The ultimate test is: If you can't lift your luggage, start unpacking; you'll be hard-pressed to find someone to carry it for you. Make a list of clothes that travel well and make you look good. Put it in a travel file. A checklist will make packing a snap.
- I'll apply for a passport in 1990 or make certain the one I have isn't about to expire. A passport is the best travel document you can have. It costs $42 and is good for 10 years. It eliminates the need for wondering if your voter registration card or birth certificate will get you across a border or back into the United States. Passport applications are available at U.S. Passport Agency offices, major post offices and from clerks of court.
- I'll find a good travel agent. Just ask a lot of questions. (If your travel agent tells you the Bahamas are in the Caribbean, try another one.) A good travel agent really can find you the lowest air fare. If you're shopping for a cruise, try an agent that specializes in cruises and can explain the differences in lines and ships. Don't book a trip and then ask questions later. Get everything explained first. Unless they provide you with extra services beyond normal ticketing and simple hotel reservations, agents charge you nothing. Their commissions come from airlines, cruise lines, hotels and other providers.
- I'll check the travel books and tapes in my public library or in my local bookstore before planning a trip. It's just plain dumb to start planning a vacation without browsing through travel sections and guidebooks or viewing travel videotapes. Also invest in a road atlas. It's amazing how much information you can get for $7.95. And when you look at distances from Chicago to various locations in New England and Canada's Maritime Provinces, for example, you'll soon see why you can't cover the whole area in a week.
- I'll make certain my camera is in working order before vacation time rolls around. Nothing quite like snapping pictures with a dead battery in your camera. If you camera requires a battery, replace it at least once a year. Shoot a roll of film and have it processed before you leave.
- I'll let my fingers do the walking. In the Chicago Yellow Pages, for example, under Tourist Information, you'll find the numbers of foreign, local and states tourist offices that will provide you with free brochures and maps. You can find additional listings under Consulates & Other Foreign Government Representatives.
- All members of the family will be involved in planning a family vacation. And that includes the kids. If they're old enough, they should be given some options about what they'd like to do-within reason, of course. Family vacations should be fun, but I've observed many a family not having fun. When it comes to souvenir shopping, allow children a set amount to spend, with the understanding that when that amount is spent, that's it. Also, limit the amount of toys and clothes the children can take and make them responsible for looking after their own things. (If children are old enough to read, the list approach can work.)
- I'll have the car serviced a week before the big trip. So many vacations are spoiled at the outset because everything is left to the last minute. If you know when you're going, make a checklist of things to be done. Make the day or two before departure a time to review plans, not formulate them.
- I won't become a travel snob. The old one-upsmanship routine gets old in a hurry. So you've been to Antarctica before your friends; who cares. If they're interested, they'll ask you questions. Don't bore them with hour-long slide shows.
- I'll learn a few phrases before visiting a foreign country. Saying "hello," "please" and "thank you" in a foreign tongue can go a long way in making friends. You might feel silly walking around with a phrase books, but they do come in handy.
And some suggestions
And while we're still on the subject of resolutions, I'd would like to suggest to the airlines and other carriers such as Amtrak.
They should resolve to explain the delays they heap on millions of passengers. It's no big deal to honestly explain a problem.
A few mornings ago, an American Eagle captain boarded his flight in Burlington, Ia., 15 minutes late without a word of explanation, but then attributed another 15-minute delay to air traffic over Chicago.
Several days before Christmas, frigid weather delayed all of Amtrak's trains out of Chicago. While Amtrak officials in Union Station were vague, a call to 800-USA-RAIL revealed that the California Zephyr, for example, would depart about two hours late. No reason why the waiting passengers couldn't have been told the same thing.
So let's all resolve to make travel a little easier in 1990.
GRAPHIC: Illustration by Rob Porazinski.