Friday, September 10, 2010

How not to holiday

Ottawa, ON
August 2010

I am a spectacularly crap tourist. Once upon a time, when planning holidays, I would spend the month leading up to my trip researching my destination to within an inch of its life. How do I get downtown from the airport? Where is the airport? Where should I stay? What should I do? Where do the locals eat? Where can I see a band? Do they have a good art gallery? Where can I get a crème brulee? Should I bring thermal underwear? And, speaking of underwear, is there a laundromat close enough that I won’t have to resort to the ol’ 'inside out 'n' back to front'?

For my first overseas trip, I constructed an enormous Word document featuring a hideously detailed itinerary, a backup itinerary in case anything on my real itinerary turned out to be lame or a scam, and contact details for any and all airports, hotels, and car rental companies I might come into contact with. I researched public transport options from the airport to downtown, then put together a walking map from the drop-off point to my hotel. I then printed the whole thing out and had it bound together - I was basically a fanny pack and a sun visor away from being a 50-year-old Floridian woman.

These days, however, my forward planning involves booking a flight, and, if I’m lucky, finding somewhere to put my stuff and sleep for the week. The situation deteriorates even more so, should I find myself travelling alone. I arrive in the airport at my destination, excited but largely disorientated and confused, and head directly towards the giant wall of brochures that every plane station invariably features. I make sure to grab a good city map, and then proceed to furiously molest the display, rabidly snatching up every brochure I can see - these will constitute my itinerary for the trip. After tracking down some sort of transportation from the airport to my hotel, I use the drive downtown, not to look at my surroundings, but to sift through my hefty brochure loot. It's at this point I normally realize that I have three copies of most things, and that half of them are advertising elderly walking tours and scenic helicopter rides – i.e. largely unappealing, and/or for millionaires only. After whittling out the lemons, I’m usually left with maybe two ideas for things to do, which might keep me going for about one afternoon.

For some reason, the idea of being alone for an extended period of time is generally accompanied by that paralyzing fear we all know and love, regardless of the situation. Whether I've gotten lost in a Super Target for days and haven't been able to find a single staff member, or if I'm travelling in a beautiful and fascinating city, the ominous feeling of my impending loneliness is always the same. I become overwhelmed by the prospect of having to find enough activities to occupy myself for the whole time, and invariably end up running errands for the duration of my holiday. Suddenly I realise that replacing the screen protector on my iPod Touch is my first and only priority. I mean, the corners of my current one are peeling up, they're losing their stickiness - we're talking life and death. I can't fathom how I didn't recognize the severity of the situation until just now - and what luck, that I should have this week away from all my responsibilities to devote 100% of my focus to the task of acquiring a new one. And this is a recurring phenomenon - when I was in Ottawa last month, I visited six different Shoppers Drug Marts one day trying to find a Neutrogena cleanser I had seen in SELF magazine on my flight up there and realized I couldn't live without. 

So if you ever find yourself traveling somewhere with me, I apologize - but you have to realize that if I don't find a place to get a haircut immediately, we're both going to be in trouble. 

1 comment:

  1. Well that explains our trip to Canberra