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LAce Posted Monday, January 5th, 2004
Traveling Styles
Benjie O'Connell

My trips over the years have changed along with my age and my resources. I used to love to travel like a hunter-gatherer, pack on my back and no clear destination other than a city or two floating around in my mind. It wouldn’t matter if I slept on someone’s floor, a seedy hotel, or even on a bus. Grabbing a loaf of bread and some cheese was enough to sustain me for several days on a bus through Peru or even Turkey. Camping in a pup tent with pouring rain and the sounds of night creatures all around me was okay….not great, but okay. Even sleeping next to the men’s urinal at the Peaks of Otter when a storm demolished our new tent made for an interesting story. In my youth with a body that operated effortlessly, my senses were primed for delight and prepared to endure the grim times as well.

In retrospect, some of my favorite trips have been those with a macabre side. Take the time a drunken Native American stepped on my head the night of the Flagstaff Stomp. There I was sleeping on the floor of the University of Arizona’s Christian Center — me and eight other presumably pious strangers — when I felt the heal of a hiking boot on my forehead and let out a scream that would have made this gentleman's tribe proud. No one moved…perhaps they were praying for me.

Then there was the time taking the “people’s train” to Manchu Picchu; this seemed like a good idea until I came close to losing my husband as the crowd stampeded the gates to find one of the few vacant seats. One contented dude used the toilet to rest his tired loins and stayed there the entire trip. I found myself next to a woman carrying a dead goat. Bob, my husband is still proud of me for stuffing Spearmint gum wrappers up my nostrils to ward off the stench.

Then, of course, there was the ride from Istanbul to Koln. It began badly when our bus driver, drunk as a skunk, was snatched by Bulgaria's version of the highway patrol, only to return six hours later. He must have had to pay a big fine, since he began extorting money from the passengers, beginning with the Turks he was trying to smuggle across the border. He actually threw one poor Iraqi off on the side of the autobahn, when he ran out of Deutchmarks. The trip was supposed to last 43 hours and took five days — an industrial strength adventure filled with bus breakdowns, surly Austrian border guards, shoplifting Marxist students, and complete with Turks puking in the back of the bus.

Now I’m in my fifties. I wouldn’t say I’ve gone totally soft; but I find myself on the lookout for clean sheets and hotels with concierges. Tents and floors are out! I’ve even made a few reservations over the internet so I could eyeball the Olympic sized pool, the oak paneled bar, the rooms crammed with minibars, complimentary fruit baskets, and beds that coddle travel-worn bodies like crisp linen wombs. Full buffet breakfasts are the order of the day; forget the juice and pastry from the corner bakery. Travel is more often by plane; but trains, buses and boats are still within the acceptable range as long as the legroom accommodates those over 4 feet tall. Motorcycles are in the past tense. So is tap water and Jägermeister. Now we drink bottled water and wine. As far as dinner goes, my husband hasn’t asked me “Could this be dog food?” in years. It’s top restaurants for us. What can I say? I’m old; we’ve got a little money. The foreigners need it more than we do. Besides I’d die if I tried to do the crazy stuff that was so much fun in my youth.

Comments [post a comment]

Posted by sue brooks [ susangbrooks@excite.com ] on Friday, January 9th, 2004 at 2:28 PM
I don't think you are getting soft or old, just smart! Totally enjoyable and no need to apologize. You actually have a lot to compare in your traveling styles.

Posted by Nicholas Taylor on Wednesday, January 14th, 2004 at 9:53 AM
subtitle: "Paris Hilton to Conrad Hilton" ?



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