Once you start go­ing, trips make the world go ’round

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL -

Noth­ing changes you like travel does.

I know, be­cause af­ter 26 years of sub­ur­ban sta­bil­ity, I re­cently sold my house, pulled up my stakes and hit the road. I’m a dif­fer­ent per­son be­cause of it.

A new Book­ing.com sur­vey re­veals the trans­for­ma­tive power of travel. More than 10 per­cent of re­spon­dents said a first-time travel ex­pe­ri­ence led them to switch ca­reers or change a re­la­tion­ship. And 21 per­cent de­cided to move some­where com­pletely dif­fer­ent as a re­sult of trav­el­ing.

So if you’ve never re­ally made it past that sum­mer week in an Ocean City, Md., condo, or a camp­ing trip to Shenan­doah Na­tional Park, this story’s for you. It’s the one I wish I’d read be­fore I be­came a global no­mad.

Pre­pare for change: Whether you’re start­ing a job that lets you travel for busi­ness or be­com­ing a post-re­tire­ment vagabond, con­stant travel changes you. You’ll be­come part of a fra­ter­nity of fre­quent trav­el­ers whose per­spec­tives have been shifted by new places and peo­ple. You’ll be less afraid to em­brace new ideas or cul­tures or to try new things. Ei­ther you’ll learn to live with the va­garies of life on the road or you’ll go mad. I’ve seen that hap­pen. So my first piece of ad­vice: Be flex­i­ble. Be­cause if you aren’t, this won’t work.

Find an ad­viser: Whether you work with a cor­po­rate travel man­ager, a travel agent or some­one who just un­der­stands travel, you’ll want some­one you can turn to. “In­vari­ably, prob­lems can be avoided by book­ing with a travel pro­fes­sional,” says Arnt Ped­er­son, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Accent Travel In­ter­na­tional, a travel agency in Min­neapo­lis. He’s right. Al­most ev­ery day, I see sit­u­a­tions where hav­ing a knowl­edge­able ad­viser could have pre­vented a misun­der­stand­ing, a lost reser­va­tion or an in­tractable prob­lem. And while us­ing a travel agent may add a lit­tle to your cost, in terms of book­ing fees, it can re­ally pay off when you find your­self stuck at the air­port with only the floor to sleep on. I’ve been there, and for­tu­nately, I was saved by an agent.

Mind your man­ners: Proper eti­quette will keep you out of trou­ble while you’re on the road, and I don’t just mean us­ing “please” and “thank you.” I’m talk­ing about cul­tural sen­si­tiv­ity, some­thing that might not be en­tirely in­tu­itive. Take the hand­shake, for ex­am­ple. You prob­a­bly knew that ne­glect­ing to shake some­one’s hand is con­sid­ered rude. But did you also know that Western and Eastern Euro­peans shake hands again when they part and that you should al­ways re­move your gloves be­fore shak­ing? “Also, a woman ini­ti­ates a hand­shake with a man in all Euro­pean coun­tries,” says Pamela Eyring, pres­i­dent of the Pro­to­col School of Wash­ing­ton. That’s a lot to re­mem­ber.

Plan ahead: The most ex­pe­ri­enced trav­el­ers never wing it. They think about each trip and plan each seg­ment, of­ten in painstak­ing de­tail. And if you spend a lit­tle time talk­ing to them, they’ll tell you about the “kit” — a col­lec­tion of must-have items they bring on each ad­ven­ture. Or­lando-based event plan­ner Jamie O’Don­nell never goes on a car trip with­out a phone charger or ac­cess to a GPS-en­abled de­vice for di­rec­tions, plus the lat­est ver­sion of Waze, an app for road con­di­tions and di­rec­tions. “It will sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce your stress lev­els,” she says. To that I would add car­ry­ing a spare charger and us­ing it in your ho­tel room or va­ca­tion rental. That way, you’ll never find your­self in the car with a life­less phone, scream­ing, “Where’s the charger?”

Know the rules: Travel rules are a lit­tle wacky, so take some time to get fa­mil­iar with them. Air­line con­tracts are among the strangest and most coun­ter­in­tu­itive. For ex­am­ple, did you know it of­ten costs less to buy a round-trip ticket than a one-way ticket? Or that if you miss one leg of your flight, your air­line will can­cel the rest of your reser­va­tion with­out of­fer­ing a re­fund? If you’re trav­el­ing for busi­ness, you have an ex­tra layer of ab­sur­dity — your cor­po­rate travel pol­icy. “Know your com­pany’s travel pol­icy,” ad­vises Evan Kon­wiser, a vice pres­i­dent for Amer­i­can Ex­press Global Busi­ness Travel. “It might sound te­dious, but the best way to make the most of your travel is un­der­stand­ing what you can and can’t do.”

Avoid bad habits: Travel can be fun and ex­cit­ing, but it can also turn you into an en­ti­tled and in­suf­fer­able card-car­ry­ing fre­quent flier. Re­sist that temp­ta­tion. I’ve spo­ken with count­less trav­el­ers who re­gret the habits they picked up along the way. One of most mem­o­rable con­ver­sa­tions was with Bob McIn­tyre, a re­tired busi­ness trav­eler from San An­to­nio, who de­scribed him­self as “a for­mer loy­alty pro­gram ad­dict.” Points are a nat­u­ral byprod­uct of travel and can be re­deemed for even more travel. But you’re eas­ily se­duced into tak­ing a darker path that tempts you to ma­nip­u­late the sys­tem, us­ing man­u­fac­tured spend­ing to earn even more “free” trips.

Try to re­lax: A ma­jor­ity of trav­el­ers in the Book­ing.com sur­vey (61 per­cent) ad­mit­ted that any ner­vous­ness they felt be­fore they de­parted was un­nec­es­sary. It’s true: In my ex­pe­ri­ence, the jit­ters you feel be­fore a trip are com­pletely un­founded.

Even so, not ev­ery­one is suited a life on the road. Travel has the power to al­ter the course of your life for bet­ter or worse, and as some­one whose life has been trans­formed by travel, I would urge you to con­sider that care­fully be­fore you go. I now find ex­pe­ri­ences are far more im­por­tant than ma­te­rial things. The peo­ple in my life are more valu­able than my pos­ses­sions. And the here-and-now is worth more than what might come next. That’s the trans­for­ma­tional power of travel.

And it’s a warn­ing, too. Be­cause once you’ve ex­pe­ri­enced it, you may never want to come back.

El­liott is a con­sumer ad­vo­cate, jour­nal­ist and co-founder of the ad­vo­cacy group Trav­el­ers United. Email him at chris@el­liott.org.

The Nav­i­ga­tor CHRISTO­PHER EL­LIOTT

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