Last week, I started giving you my brilliant opinions about how to travel and — of course — I’m always right. I’ve been pointing this out to my friends and family lately. That if they did everything exactly as I instructed, their lives would be so much better. But, as author and wit Oscar Wilde said, “The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself.”
With apologies to Oscar, though, you should actually listen to me. Because I’ve bumped and jostled and prodded my way around enough of the globe to know stuff. In last week’s column, I touched on your planning process, including telling you not to plan a foreign trip with people you’ve never traveled with before, to only take a cruise with people who are actually fun and to avoid all-inclusive resorts, where the only local you’ll meet is your maid and the only local culture you’ll embrace will be the limbo contest.
So, here with go with Marla’s Travel Instructions, Part 2:
Ditch the package tour. Now, I took a few of these when I was in my twenties, and they did give me confidence to begin traveling on my own. If that’s the only way you feel secure traveling, then go for it. Enjoy. Ignore my advice (why not, everyone else does?) But don’t think you’re saving money. You’re not. Someone has to pay that exhausted, harried guide you’re trying to interest in the fact that your hotel room’s bathtub has long black hairs in it. (Happened to me in Rome). And the driver who has to pick up the luggage you’ve placed outside your hotel room at the hideous, ungodly hour of 6 a.m. And the continental breakfast with the hard roll that was actually baked in 1997, and just keeps getting recycled to every new group of tourists because it’s inedible. (Even the mold won’t touch it.)
Like all-inclusive resorts, package tours are designed to help you avoid close contact with any foreigners who actually live in the countries you are visiting. After all, they might not speak English, they might smell funny and they might have peculiar habits like standing too close to you or kissing you on both cheeks. You certainly don’t want that.
Instead, on a package tour, you’ll go from your hotel to your motor coach, where your luggage has already been stowed for you, and sit next to a couple from Kansas who regularly complain that their bed was uncomfortable and they can’t get a good cup of coffee in (fill in the country). You’ll get informative commentary from your tour guide as your bus rolls along, after which you stop at the Giza Pyramids, Stonehenge or the Roman Coliseum for 18 minutes — just long enough to take photos — and then at the gift shop for 90 minutes, so the tour company can get a kickback on everything you buy. Then you’ll get back on the bus and stop en masse for lunch, sitting together at one table and eating a set menu to avoid any possibility that (see above) you might be forced to talk to a foreigner.
You’ll do this for 22 days, see a lot of famous sights, take a zillion photos and come home without being required to meet anyone except Harold. Did I mention Harold?
Harold was on the first motorcoach tour of Europe I took on my own when I was 22 years old. Harold was one of those guys who would shout at the waiters, “But your signs outside say you SPEAK ENGLISH!” Due to the way the seats were rotated around the bus, everyone changed seats every day but not travel companions. I had to sit next to Harold through probably 11 countries. He never found a restaurant where they spoke English.
So, you’re asking, what do you do instead? It’s not like everyone knows how to get around Croatia or Zanzibar on their own.
Oops, I’m out of room again. Again, if this is boring tell me so at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Otherwise, wait for Part 3. Do you want a Part 3? Let me know.
Note: I plan to be signing my book on Sunday, July 25 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Brea City Hall Park, near the museum. However, I’ve been told now that there’s an event there, so let’s see if that’s even feasible. I will be there, somewhere!. Please wear a mask if you’re not vaccinated. And sign up for this month’s Frumpy Mom Zoom Happy Hour on travel (my favorite subject!) with our intrepid Watchdog reporter Teri Sforza, who took a year off and traveled the world. We’re just going to tell stories and answer your questions. 5 p.m. Friday, July 30. And if we don’t know the answers, we’ll make them up! Sign up at scng.com/virtualevents.