The shame of old (travel) blog posts

February 27, 2005: I posted about jetlag and date confusion, about how I can’t keep a calendar straight, how my expat life made that even harder for me to do, and how oh, we’re going skiing and also, I can’t wait to eat noodles later! It is written as though you know all the details of my life, who’s in it, and actually care about those things.

October 31, 2007: I posted a review of a 1966 movie about Hawaii. I managed to cross reference that review with some sharply written references about Hawaiian history and then, I tied all this in to the frustrations and vanities around the sun break guide to Hawaii I was writing at the time. I found a way to complain about writing a guidebook to Hawaii. Imagine.

March 17th, 2009: I posted a link choked name dropping round up of a day I spent at SxSW,the Music, Film and Interactive mega-event that takes place in Austin, Texas, every year. Do I tell you who these people are or why they’re important? No, I do not. Do I tell you why I’m in Austin at all? Nope. I make all kinds of assumptions about what and who you know. I proudly alienate all of my readers who aren’t there at the time. Way to go.

Old (travel) blog posts. They’re there to keep us humble. The shocking typos and editing oversights. The tone-deaf attempts at humor and self deprecation. The utter failure to provide any kind of context for, well, anything. The vain assumptions that these things matter to me, therefore, they must matter to you. I’m talking about my blog, of course, your archives are a library of beautiful syntax, of sensible contextualized advice, and entries that stand alone on their own merit, each one a well formed travel essay or service piece that could live a healthy life outside of the confines of your blog. Right? Right.A punishing little WordPress plug in called Advanced Random Post tortures me every time I refresh my site. It works its nefarious self-esteem busting evil by publishing, in the second slot on my home page, a post pulled at random from the archives of my site. On the one hand, this is a good thing. It pulls up selections from a series of guest posts I ran one April while I was traveling, 30 days or so of well written stories from friends and fellow travelers who kindly sent a story my way to keep my blog from going dark. It reminds me of, oh, that time I took a tour of the shipping terminal on Seattle’s Harbor Island or visited the Ballard Locks when they were full of running salmon. I see these old posts and I think, “Wow, that was a great day out.”

But Advanced Random Post also presents writing from my days as a volunteer for the Kerry/Edwards campaign. Those aren’t about travel! What was I thinking! And oh, no, I didn’t really choose to write about how tired I am after that hike in the Austrian Alps, did I? Not when I could have either posted a simple photo or told you how to do that hike yourself. That would have been useful to my readers. Instead, it’s two paragraphs of whining about fatigue. Why did I think you’d want to read that?

Every time I load a page, I’m confronted with the mistakes (and less often, triumphs) of my past. I can see the trajectory my writing has taken, I can see things change. I’m not the same traveler I was in 2004 when I started my blog in its current incarnation, and I’m certainly not the same writer. Seeing that old work reminds me of places I’ve been, of what’s changed. Sometimes I’m pleased but mostly, I’m just embarrassed. Did I really publish 600 typo choked words about an hour in a tea house? What was I thinking?

British Airways computer glitch posts super low cost flights to India

Late Friday night, an alert went out on Twitter. Fares to Mumbai, India, from locations all over the US were being offered at rock bottom prices on British Airways. Flights from Chicago to Mumbai were just $550 per person.

I quickly logged on to Orbitz, selected my dates, and clicked purchase. I received an email from Orbitz confirming my purchase and then got to work planning the trip. My husband was out with friends and had left his cell phone at home, so I was hoping he’d come home just tipsy enough to not mind that I’d just bought $1100 worth of plane tickets without discussing it with him first. Besides, he is accustomed to me buying plane tickets on a whim, just because they are on sale.

Luckily, he was just as excited as I was….until Saturday morning, when I received an email from Orbitz saying that due to “limited quantities”, our order could not be fulfilled. As it turns out, it’s because the fare never should have existed. Someone at BA obviously messed up (how’d you like to be that person come Monday morning?) and entered the wrong number. The fare should have been more like $1550 per person. The fat finger fare was corrected, but not before several people, myself included, had bought tickets at the faulty price.

Word on the web is that tickets bought before the error was discovered will be honored, if they were purchased on British Airways. So far it seems that those of us who used Orbitz will be out of luck. Christopher Elliott posted the story on his blog, along with a response from the company. They say British Airways didn’t honor the purchases made with Orbitz ,so people who tried to book that way will not receive tickets.

This isn’t the first time a technical error has crushed some budget traveler’s dreams. In February, Northwest refused to honor $0 fares that were “purchased” online in error. So next time you see a fare that seems to good to be true, watch out. It might not be.




A Few Tips for Speaking Spanish in Mexico

“I’m done.” I said in Spanish as I smiled and looked at our waitress, “Muchas gracias!”, I continued, beaming at my Spanish prowess. She smiled back — actually she looked like she was struggling to hold in laughter when I realized my error — I had just told her I was done like DEAD. Ack! The embarrassment of the situation got me, I smiled sheepishly and dragged Tom to the exit to make a quick escape.

When traveling in a foreign country it is important (and so much more fun!) to try speaking the language — even just the tiniest effort can make all the difference. So far the Mexicans seem to be pretty encouraging, they happily smile and nod while we stumble through our limited Spanish. They even are nice enough to pretend that we are making sense!

When you are learning a new language you are going to make a lot of mistakes, that it just the way it goes and, of course, the only way to learn is to make a few errors. However, there are some things that would be nice to know before you start chatting away in another language.

Here are a few tips for Mexican Spanish that you might want to keep in mind to prevent awkward speaking situations:

This first person pronoun ( “Yo” which means “I”) is often over-used by beginners. If you end up “Yo-yo ing” too much it starts to sound very vain and self-centered. “I this and I that…” starts to sound like ” Me, me ME!” to Mexican ears. Since verbs, when conjugated correctly, implicitly hold who is speaking, try to drop pronouns as they are not necessary. Children are taught at a very young age to drop the “Yo” pronoun and travelers should too.

I want….
A verb that is picked up very quickly by travelers is “querer” which means to want. “Yo quiero” (or just “Quiero”) translates to “I want…”, a very useful phrase except for the that fact that when used it actually translates to quite a blunt request. A better and more polite term to use is “Quisiera….” (Kee-See-EH-Rah) which means “I would like…”. This term is extremely useful and is viewed by the Mexicans as a much more polite.

The dangers of asking for dairy products…who knew?

Mexico has a TON of sexual innuendos. A lot of them seem to focus on the male anatomy. “Leche”, milk in Spanish, is a slang term for semen. If you need to purchase milk do NOT say “Tiene leche?” ( Do you have milk?) or you are sure to hear giggles erupt around you. To prevent this type of embarrassment the best way to ask is to say, “Is there milk?” (Hay leche? which is pronounced Ahee Lay-Chay). There is the same type of situation for eggs, known as “huevos”, which can refer to testicles (ah…machismo culture at its finest). You’ll sometimes hear little old ladies ask for “blanquillos” (little white ones) instead of using this offensive term.

But it sounds the same!
Many Spanish words sound very similar to English words which makes it easy to improvise and try out a word that sounds like it should be correct in Spanish. It is great to get in there and try, in fact, that is what you should be doing — but a word of caution. Words that sound similar can have totally different meanings in Spanish than in English. For example in English we say “I’m embarrassed”. “Embarazada” in Spanish means that you are pregnant. A rather large difference there, right?

Fumbling and messing up are all part of the learning process but sometimes it is much nicer to have a heads up before you stick your foot in your mouth!

“No Wrong Turns” chronicles Kelsey and her husband’s road trip — in real time — from Canada to the southern tip of South America in their trusty red VW Golf named Marlin.

Reminder: Dumb Travel Mistakes = Prizes

Don’t forget to enter to win a copy of The Smart Traveler’s Passport: 399 Tips from Seasoned Travelers this week. The deadline for the contest is June 6, 2007, at 8 pm. That means you still have plenty of time to enter — but you need to get cracking!

All you have to do to win a copy of the book — which we reviewed recently and which will undoubtedly help you travel smarter in the future — is share your dumbest travel mistakes with us. Tell us your stories here.

Even if you don’t have any mistakes to share (which we don’t really believe), you should check out some of the stories others have shared. People have done some really head-smackingly dumb things.