Travel Troubles: How To Break Up With Your Travel Companion

Our options for ending romances are plentiful, ranging from face to face meetings to changing a Facebook status knowing your soon-to-be-ex will stumble across the unhappy message you are sharing with him and 500 other “friends.” Depending on your perspective, we live either in a golden age of communications or a social media hell of our own making.

Travel breakups are a bit trickier. Maybe you’ve planned a trip with a mate then realized a week in that your idea of bliss is a day at the spa while hers is climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Or you’re losing sanity because the jackhammer snoring your buddy characterized as “light wheezing” is keeping you up nights. Whatever the reasons, sometimes we need to part ways with a travel companion. Here’s how.

You can plan your itinerary, your route and your meals. But as far as I know there is no fool-proof way to calculate how you and your friends will interact after, say, getting lost for the 300th time or when forced to make nice with the frat boy, who always smells like cheese, your friend has fallen for. Be honest about needing some space. Here’s a script to help you practice.

“Hey, Dave.”
“What’s up bro?”
“Well, I’ve got some things on my mind, Dave.”
“Cool, cool.”
“I’d like to strike out on my own for a bit, maybe meet up with you in a few weeks in Uzbekistan. How’s that sound?”
“Right on.”
“Awesome. Great talk, Dave.”

Okay, it might not be as painless a conversation as it is with surfer Dave but the premise still holds. Be direct. Be kind. Be strong, grasshopper.

Pros: This strategy is your best bet for remaining friends after your trip and, let’s be real, the healthiest suggestion on this list.
Cons: Honesty is tough. Just ask any politician, anywhere.Avoidance
My friend Christina went on a three-week tour of Europe with her two best friends. At the end of the trip, one friendship was firmly intact but after saying goodbye at baggage claim, she never spoke to the other girl again. She describes her former BFF’s travel personality as miserly, rude and condescending. A triple threat! Christina practiced one type of avoidance, dodging confrontation during the trip itself. But this strategy can also be used on the mate himself. Do you notice your companion is already dressed and out the door before your alarm has even gone off? If you get more than one hastily scrawled “gone exploring for the day” note stapled to your backpack (not that I recommend stapling things to your backpack, who even brings a stapler on a trip?), you might be the recipient of the avoidance strategy.

Pros: Great for those who loathe confrontation.
Cons: Your silence might unintentionally cause more suffering, not less. Instead of ripping off the bandage, you’ve chosen to bleed out.

The Bad Hotel
Recently in Sydney, Australia, some folks decided that the 5000 grey-headed foxes making their home in the Royal Botanical Gardens needed to be evicted because they were destroying the batch of trees that house them. The relocation strategy was dubbed “the bad hotel” and it involved blasting the creatures with noises described as “glass smashing, fast hum, and whipper snapper” – imitating the type of unending renovations that might cause you to book accommodation elsewhere. My friend Jenna offers a disturbing example of how the bad hotel strategy could work with a travel companion. On a road trip, for instance, tell a buddy who is bugging you that you need to drive from now on because you’re getting carsick. Then drive like a maniac, Jenna counsels. Text, go too fast then too slow, stop all the time, eat messily in the car, smoke if she hates it, etc. Bonus points if your mate screams: “Stop this car right now I’m getting out!”

Pros: You get to practice your acting (you are acting, right?).
Cons: Texting while driving is dangerous. Seriously. Don’t do that sh*t.

The Switch
The Switch and the Ditch, although I have rhymed them adorably, are not for amateurs. Both strategies involve a good deal of planning and mental fortitude. Consider yourselves warned.

I’ve never successfully pulled off a switch but I’ve seen it done and it was a thing of beauty. In Ireland, I once shared a dorm room with two guys (let’s call them Tom and Jerry) who had been traveling together for a few weeks after meeting abroad. One night I was out with a group of backpackers from the hostel when Tom confessed to me over a cold Guinness that he was a bit sick of Jerry. However, his new friend was a timid traveler and he didn’t want to leave him in the lurch, despite being ready to hit the road on his own. But Tom had a plan, he said, nodding in the direction of Jerry, seated a few chairs over, and deep in conversation with a guy named Aaron. Tom had met Aaron that morning and thought he seemed like a worthy replacement. So he ferreted out some details about Aaron’s upcoming travel plans and dropped delicate hints about how much Jerry, too, was keen on heading to Dublin soon. Then he introduced the future bros at drinks that night, a matchmaker on a mission. Sure enough, a day later Jerry announced he was going to take off with Aaron. Switch accomplished.

Pros: You get to exercise concern and cleverness.
Cons: It’s a delicate dance, the switch, and many of us have two left feet.

The Ditch
It is not nice to ditch someone. Truly, it is a last resort. But some situations call for extreme measures and I want you to be prepared. This last strategy requires little in the way of explanation. You simply, well, you abandon someone. You should be aware, though, that there is a strain of traveler immune to the ditch, often the same clingy folk who need to be left behind in the first place. My friend Carly once told a love-struck guy she was traveling with to meet her in the hostel kitchen for breakfast. She said she was just going to pack up and would be down in a few minutes. Then Carly slipped out the back door and disappeared into the frenetic Sao Paulo streets. Only she didn’t vanish quite well enough. Two days later she was hanging out on the balcony of her new room when a familiar voice called up to her. “Carly! Carly! There you are!” her suitor shouted, convinced their parting had been an accident and not an intentional ditch.

Pros: No muss, no fuss (usually).
Cons: You might have to stop once and for all using the adjective “nice” to describe yourself.

Air travel observations of a former flight attendant

“A gate agent stood on the counter and shouted: ‘Don’t ask us for help! We cannot help you!'” is one of the lines in Ann Hood’s recent and enlightening Op-Ed piece “Up, Up and Go Away” in the New York Times. Hood, now a novelist–her latest novel is Knitting Circle, was a flight attendant back in the day where there were meal choices and the idea that flying was special.

Hood’s essay of comparing and contrasting air travel then and now was prompted by a recent trip she took to Rhode Island where the plane didn’t get her there. It wasn’t exactly the airlines’ fault that she and a few other passengers rented a van in Charlotte, N.C. after they arrived at the airport from Miami for a connecting flight. Upon arrival at the Charlotte airport, they found out there wasn’t going to be a plane to Rhode Island for quite some time. Bad weather had created the snafu. People were facing days of waiting.

Along with looking back on how flying used to be in the good old days, Hood makes an interesting connection between the state of air travel then and now. In the 1970s, when she worked for TWA., there was a fuel crisis and flight attendants had mandatory unpaid furloughs. From what she writes, it seems as though courtesy towards passengers never wavered despite the economy.

From what I gather, Hood thinks that airlines are creating problems by not ensuring that passengers are treated well. In her mind, what good is it if passengers get off of an airplane feeling disgruntled? I have to say that I’ve generally been lucky when it comes to courtesy, although I did have Hood’s experience where the ticket counter folks were nonchalant in their treatment of stranded passengers. I haven’t flown that airlines since then.

There’s nothing worse when travel is not going well when the people who are supposed to help things run smoothly say, “We cannot help.”

At that point I wonder, who will? In Hood’s case, when you’re stranded at an airport, you help yourself.

(The photo by gas_station_sushi is of a TWA airplane in the 1960s.)

Amazing Race 13: Brazil has crappy taxis, beautiful beaches and travel lessons worth learning

This week’s Amazing Race dash from Salvador to Fortaleza, Brazil showed how much crappy taxis can affect travel, and pointed out how much mood and personality play into a person’s good time.

Travel lessons in episode 2:

  • Exchange money at the airport before you leave one destination for another in order to have money on hand when you need it.
  • If you are in a broken down taxi, find another one. Better yet, pick out taxis that look like they run.
  • If you are going to be making a quick stop in a remote location, have the taxi wait for you. This will save you from being stuck without a taxi and unable to easily find another one.
  • Write down names of the places where you want to go in order for someone to help you with directions. Showing people the names of places ensures that you will be understood, particularly when a location is hard to pronounce.
  • Don’t run-off willy nilly without paying attention to your surroundings and what other people are doing. Keen observers have a better chance at successful travel.
  • Knowing a bit of the local language can help make life easier.

Recap, observations and cultural highlights:

The before the crack of dawn start times of this game would just put me over the edge. The first team, bro and sis duo Nick & Starr, left the Pit Stop at 4:07 a.m. for the airport in a taxi with a thing for speed.

“He’s going a little fast. It’s making me a little nervous,” said Starr.

Yep, I’ve been in a taxi with that kind of driver–Nigeria, to name one place. White knuckles and heartfelt prayers of don’t let me die are not the best start before a morning cup of coffee. Close behind was the married, but separated pair, Ken & Tina.

After finding out that the next plane for Fortaleza was not until 11:30 a.m., the two couples refused to believe that nonsense and found a flight departing at 6:45 a.m. One catch though, there was only one seat left.

So what? Here’s a Travel 101 lesson that sometimes works. Refuse to leave the ticket counter and plead–or look flummoxed. A “no” can turn into a “yes.” I’ve looked flummoxed on a few occasions and it once put me on a Japan Airlines flight out of Tokyo when the Korean Airlines flight was sold out. I had a non-refundable, non-transferable Korean Airline ticket.

In the case of our Amazing Race friends, pleading worked like a charm. Tina’s perseverance led to a bigger plane so there was room for everyone. That included dating team, Anthony & Stephanie whose taxi belched smoke all the way to the airport, the first indication of woes to come. “Looks like you’re burning a little exhaust,” quipped Anthony.

At this point, Terrence & Sarah were having the biggest travel dissonance. Terrence, an emotional train wreck, relies on Sarah to make life better for him with kisses, band-aids and apologies. He bumps his head, whines for a band-aid and she gets him one. My word, Terrence, you’ve hardly begun this journey to be falling apart so soon.

Once in Fortaleza, all headed pell mell via taxi to Plaza do Cumbuco and their first task. With a knack for picking out clunkers, Anthony & Stephanie’s taxi stalled. Determined, Anthony tried to get the driver to pop the clutch while he pushed. After dumping that taxi for another, he observed, “Everything is broken in this country.”

At Plaza do Cumbuco, the teams road along the beach in dune buggies, a happy task for all.

“I love Brazil,” cried out one of the South Carolina blonds as the wind whipped her hair. Even Terrence, who has had a hard time deciding if he’ll ever have fun or not–ever, was pleased with the ride and felt love was all around.

On the way to Plaza Cumbuco, Anthony & Stephanie looked at the run down houses and said, “Makes you appreciate what you have,” followed by Anthony’s, “If they learn how to fix a car, they’ll make it rich.”

Humorous, in a way, but there is a point he missed. Fixing items is often a money flow problem. Of all the couples, Anthony & Stephanie are the ones who were shown noticing a bit of Brazil’s economic issues. Perhaps, if their taxis hadn’t had issues, they would have sped by the signs of economic distress as well.

The next task was to “Beach It” or “Dock It.” With Beach It, the teams had to push a traditional boat with the help of a two-man crew a few hundred feet across the sand into the ocean, a process that used logs to roll the boat along.

This task also gave a nod to Brazil’s traditional fishing industry. The other task pointed out Brazil’s role in the shipping world. The teams who chose this task were to head to a shipping yard and look for a specific container out of hundreds that held their clue to the Pit Stop.

Finding the container involved scrolling through the computerized list of all the containers, finding the corresponding area on the dock that held their container, and then finding the number match. Of course, this was right up Mark & Bill’s brain brawn alley.

Southern Belles, Marisa & Brooke also wanted this task because neither of them see themselves as physically strong. Not brainy either, they made a mistake and ended up at the boats instead of the shipping yard. To their credit, instead of whining, they got busy giving their boat the mighty heave hos to get it in the water.

Moving a boat across the sand is not easy, but the logs worked like a charm if placed correctly at the bow–just in case you’re ever in the situation where you need to move a heavy boat.

During this segment, it was evident how maintaining calm and paying attention to details affect outcomes. Terrance & Sarah didn’t pay attention to their surroundings and missed the taxi stand which seriously put them towards the rear of the pack.

Divorcees Kelly & Christy got their tasks mixed up and dug around in the sand for a container after they finished moving their boat. Once they realized their mistake, they sped off to Parque de Vaquejada in Ceará for the next task and another mistake. They forgot to tell the taxi driver to stay at this place that does not have a taxi park.

Who hasn’t had one of those travel days where it’s one thing after another? Hmmmm? Be honest.

At Parque de Vaquejada, one person from each team searched a wall filled with Portuguese words, several of them ads, to find the name of the place of the next Pit Stop. When in doubt, write down every word that looks like a location. It works like a charm as each team eventually discovered.

The Pit Stop, Cidade da Criança was built in Fortalesa as an “oasis for children.” What is an “oasis for children” exactly. It’s a park.

Ken & Tina hoofed it to the oasis, running neck and neck with Mark & Bill, and landed on the mat first. No children were bowled over by the efforts.

What Ken & Tina won: Two off-road vehicles.

Why Mark & Bill don’t care they didn’t win this leg after all. They said that if Ken & Tina’s marriage could be saved, it’s worth two off-road vehicles. How sweet.

Eliminated: Anthony & Stephanie. I was sad to see them go since they seemed to be the two people who were getting the most out of international travel.

Their words of travel wisdom:

Be thankful for what you have at home.

Anthony ran down the list: house, people you love, your looks. You name it, be thankful was the basic message. In his case, I’m sure he’s thankful for having a car that runs.

Irritating behavior to never do while traveling:

Kiss people you don’t know on the cheek. Starr kissed each of the two men who were to help them push their boat into the water. Her reasoning was to give them extra motivation. Gaad.

Funniest part: When Terrence saw an ice-cream shop and wondered if they should stop to get one. Sarah said, “As if we are on a tour.”

For last week’s recap, click here.

Travel fight club: Fist fighting on airplane diverts flight. Any others?

Last month I wrote a post about Franz Wisner’s book, Honeymoon with my Brother, an account of two brother’s travel around the world that lasted for two years.

In contrast, there’s the story I read yesterday on Wallet Pop that illustrates the opposite of the brotherly love found in Wisner’s book. The two brothers that the Wallet Pop post refers to were duking it out on a JetBlue flight Saturday because one of them smoked in the airplane’s restroom. Now, that’s a reason to clock someone. These two brothers weren’t able to travel together for more than a few hours. Perhaps their book could be Travel Hell with my Brother and highlight all the sib trips that have gone wrong. It might make for great reality TV. Send the pair to various destinations and watch the sparks fly.

The result of the flight that was host to the seemingly endless brawl was a diversion to North Carolina. I’m sure the passengers have not finished telling tales about their trip to Florida. Travel Hell with Two Brothers

I know that flying can create stress between family members so I’m wondering what else led up to this. Or does this family actually live in a B-rate movie or have too many hours of watching Jerry Springer episodes under their belts?

The only time I remember people physically fighting when I’ve traveled, and I’ve traveled a lot, was a pushing, shouting and shoving match in a Greyhound bus line at Port Authority. The fight was between two unrelated people–also males. I attributed it partly to summer heat that makes people a bit crazy in New York. The other passengers in line stopped the fight by intervening and talking sense into the lunkheads who forgot that all they needed to know should have been learned in kindergarten.

Any great fights when you’ve traveled? Not yours, someone elses? The photo shows that a lack of sisterly love could apply.

American teacher accused of being a spy: Hold onto that passport and register it to be safe

Perhaps you’ve come across this story of Michael Lee White, the American teacher at a business college in China who has been accused of being a spy involved with the CIA and having a role in the recent small scale war in Georgia. Those teachers. Just kidding. White doesn’t seem much like spy material from the description in the AP article.

He wears T-shirts that say “Save The Whale,” for example. And if he is a spy, I certainly hope he would have better digs somewhere else. He’s cramped up in a small apartment without a lot of furniture. Where’s the glamor? This doesn’t sound very James Bond like.

The reason White is under scrutiny is that his passport was found in the basement of a house in Georgia along with other items belonging to soldiers who high-tailed it out of there.

According to Michael Lee White, he lost his passport on a flight from Russia to the U.S. October 2005. And, he has never been in Georgia. Besides that, when the war was happening, he was back in the U.S. taking care of his sick father. The CIA also says that White is not in the CIA.

It seems to me that White will be cleared, and this will be chocked up to a weird travel story snafu, but it does hammer home the point, guard that passport carefully.

I know people who have lost their passports and it has always caused a problem. The good thing is that with a lost passport, you can create a paper trail to back up claims about your whereabouts.

Here are the four situations people I know have lost their passports. White’s is similar to number 1. The others were the result of robbery.

1. Left behind at the Milan train station when buying a ticket.

2. Taken from a backpack while the person was sleeping on a train in France.

3. Taken from a backpack while the person was sleeping on the beach in Vietnam.

4. Passport slipped off his neck when he ducked out of his shirt to foil a robbery attempt in Fez, Morocco. When robbers grabbed his shirt, he threw up his arms, ducked out of his shirt and ran. The passport pouch that also held his money and train pass came off along with the shirt.

If your passport is stolen, or if it goes missing because you left it somewhere, make sure you report it missing immediately in order to cover yourself. Your passport will be canceled so no one else can use it (ideally).

There is a form to fill out. Here’s the link for that. You can also call to report it missing or stolen–or you can do that on line at

One way to add protection in case your passport goes missing is to register at the American embassies or the consulates in the countries where you will be traveling.

If you lose your passport, this may speed up getting help. If there are problems when you travel, registering may also help the embassy or consulate serve you better. Here’s the link to the page about registration.