How We Tolerate Travel: A Weekend Trip By The Numbers

I’ve been working on a theory for a little while now about why some habitual travelers continue their journeys, and I’m starting to think that it’s got to do with the level of anguish involved in being on the road – or rather, our tolerance for it. Hipmunk uses a style of this data on their search engine called “agony,” which is a measure of suffering incurred by lower leg room, higher baggage fees and a variety of other variables that can make airline travel miserable. That level of duress can be applied to other experiences as well.

To apply this to experiential travel, it’s first useful to think about the influences presented to any person in motion. While external influences like class of service, traffic and weather affect every passenger, internal factors such as purpose (i.e., business, leisure, wedding or funeral), health and state of mind can vary by each person. Add up the external influences in parallel then multiply that number by each person’s perspective, say, their Coefficient of Travel Tolerance (COTT), and one can produce a relative comparison between each experience.

So someone with a low coefficient of travel tolerance (i.e., someone with a high tolerance for difficult travel) could handle a journey in a chicken bus just as well as someone with a high coefficient (i.e., someone who hates leaving home) could handle a flight in international first class.

Wanting to quantify part of this theory with actual data, I ran an experiment on my weekend trip home for a wedding this past June. The itinerary I concocted was complex but not difficult: leave work on Friday, take the train home to visit my parents in West Michigan that evening and then pick up the train again the next morning for a wedding in Ann Arbor. On Sunday I would take the last flight out of Detroit to return quickly back to my home in Chicago.

I broke down the journey into several categories and separated my time out in groups of five minutes. Travel, whether by car, bus, bicycle, airplane or train was one section, while leisure, work, wedding, eating, sleeping and “other” filled out the rest. A few sections overlapped; for example, the meal consumed on the Amtrak train between Chicago and Niles counted as both travel and eating time (category: meals, dinner, prepared).

Breaking down the data by category at the end of the trip, I found that 25.33% of my time was spent traveling, 28.97% was sleeping, and 9.26% was spent eating and working respectively. Of my time in transit, 44.1% was spent on trains, 23.8% was spent in a car and 18.5% was on foot, while 7.3% of my time was in an airplane, 4.7% was on bicycle and 1.6% was on a bus. Of those in a car, 36% was spent in my father’s Mazda MPV 6 while 55% was spent in my friend Aaron’s BMW 3.28xi. At the wedding, 8.9% of my time was spent in the bouncy castle.

For me, that 25.33% of time in transit for a weekend visiting family and friends was entirely worth my investment. I held a few meetings with colleagues, worked on the train, watched the news with my parents and told stories with Aaron and his wife.

Others might find that 25.33% too high to justify the trip. Whether it’s work or family commitments, high stress levels, reality television or budgetary, for many, a short weekend spent traveling the world is often not worth the destination.

On the other side of the spectrum, there are plenty of people who would be comfortable spending most of their weekend on the road. Mileage runners, people who book and fly itineraries solely for the valuable miles, often fly across the country or the ocean just to spend an hour in the airport and return home. Those travel ratios can be as high as 90%.

Now combine that time on the road with one’s Coefficient of Travel Tolerance. My journey worked well because I have a high tolerance and only needed to spend 25% of my time on the road. The mileage runner works because he’s got a really high tolerance despite being on the road almost exclusively. Our will to travel dictates how complex our itineraries become.

As it is right now, my tolerance is high because I languish in the art of travel and in the problem solving in getting from point A to B. I enjoy staring out the airplane window, people watching and drinking coffee from train station cafes. I’m happy on the road, and will continue to be for the near future. Ask me again after I have kids.

The Abbey Resort and Spa: Luxury on Lake Geneva

Billing itself as “the only full-service resort” on the shores of Lake Geneva in Wisconsin, The Abbey Resort and Spa is one of those places where you can almost feel the ghosts of the past whispering around you. The resort was completely renovated in 2005, but its timber A-frame and low-slung bungalow style buildings look much as they did when it was built nearly 50 years ago, when the Midwestern elite made it their summer playground.

There’s plenty of nostalgia for the “good old days” here – the nearby Geneva Grand Resort proudly boasts that it was a Playboy Club in the 1960’s and 70’s. And money. Lots and lots of money. The houses that front Lake Geneva, the 9-mile long lake that is the centerpiece of the area, are multi-million dollar affairs that bear the names of families like Borden, Vicks, and Wrigley. Yet despite the vast wealth of the “haves”, those who aren’t descendants of the Midwest’s titans of industry can still share in the benefits of area. There are several public beaches and marinas, and every lakefront property is required to have a public walkway so that all area residents can enjoy a stroll around the lake. And in the towns of Lake Geneva and Fontana, more modest homes and affordable restaurants lines the streets where wealthy summer residents mingle with the local families who live here all year round.

For Chicago residents, getting to The Abbey couldn’t be easier. It’s about 80 miles from the city (50 miles from Milwaukee), but the Metra Rail will get you there in less than two hours from downtown. You’ll get off at the end of the line, at the Harvard Station, where a shuttle will pick you up and drive you the remaining 15 minutes to The Abbey. You can also request service from the resort to anywhere in Lake Geneva, making a car completely unnecessary.

The Abbey is family-friendly – there are childcare services, organized kids’ activities, free games like bags and croquet, two outdoor and one indoor pool, and a 2,000-square foot arcade complete with Wii system – but it’s also perfect for a romantic or relaxing retreat. The rooms have all been updated and feature pillow-top mattresses, LCD wall-mounted TVs, mini-fridges, and patios or balconies.

I saw a few families, but mostly couples in their 30’s to 50’s, during my stay. My room was comfortable and spacious and the bed soft and inviting. My only complaint was with the wi-fi service. It was free, but I had a very hard time getting a signal. When I did, I was bumped offline every 15 minutes or so, and web pages loaded very slowly. I can’t say if that would be the case all over the resort, or just in my location, but it was inconvenient when I needed to get some work done.

If you don’t plan on working while at The Abbey, you’ll find plenty of things to do to keep you busy. The resort rents bikes and fishing poles and there is a golf course nearby. The 35,000-square foot AVANI Spa offers treatments like facials, massages, body wraps, waxing and manicures. It features a pool, whirlpools, inhalation spa, steam room, sauna, sundeck, and spa menu for dining. Guests can also take advantage of the Spa’s fitness center or full line-up of exercises classes liking spinning, yoga, zumba, and pilates, which are geared towards any fitness level. I found there was always equipment available for use, the yoga class was just difficult enough to challenge me (but not hard enough to make me feel like an uncoordinated idiot), and the spa staff was always friendly but unobtrusive.

The resort borders a marina, but the small beach isn’t suitable for swimming. There is a nicer, sandy beach less than a five-minute walk off the property, or you can take the shuttle into Lake Geneva proper to visit the beach there. In town you can rent a boat or wave runner, water-ski, or take a cruise past the historic mansions around the lake. Nearby parks offer hiking trails and horseback riding, two wineries offer wine tasting (a wine festival is held in September), and there are farms where you can pick your own fruit just a few miles away. You can also soar above the lake in a hot air balloon or small airplane. In winter, locals hit the frozen lake for ice fishing and skating.

The Abbey offers an impressive variety of delicious food, all made from scratch in the resort’s kitchen. Meals are served at one of two restaurants, and there is a coffee shop, gazebo grill, cocktail lounge, and cigar bar. The resort also offers catering and meeting spaces, and hosts many weddings throughout the year. The weekend that I visited, a wedding was being set up on the lawn in front of the marina. For a resort-style destination wedding close to Chicago, I can’t think of a more beautiful place in the Midwest at which to get married.

To be honest, when I hear the word “relaxing”, I think “boring”. I prefer my vacations to be packed with sightseeing, learning, experiencing, and of course, eating and drinking. This makes me generally shun resorts where I think I’ll feel as though I’m held captive and at a loss for things to keep me entertained. I’m also very budget-conscious. Since I spend so little time in my hotel room, I don’t like to spend too much on it. And I can’t stand when resorts jack up their prices for food, drinks and activities just because they know guests will pay rather than head off-site. So I was a bit worried that The Abbey wouldn’t be my style. But I was pleasantly surprised.

One of the things that I liked about The Abbey was that leaving isn’t a hassle for guests without their own wheels. The shuttle will take you anywhere you want to go, and there a few restaurants and shops within walking distance of the hotel. And The Abbey doesn’t gouge its guests on food and drink just because it can. Management knows that it isn’t just the hotel guests who keep the resort in business, especially in the off-season. They aim to attract local customers too, and keep the prices reasonable so that everyone can enjoy The Abbey.

Despite any initial reservations, I found myself enjoying The Abbey immensely, and trying to convince my husband that returning for a “relaxing weekend” (in my case, meaning one chock-full of wine-tasting, boat tours, horseback riding, and cooking classes) at The Abbey would be the perfect fall trip. And as it turns out, fall is one of the best times to visit. Weekend rates start at $216 per night, and include free breakfast buffet and a 25% discount on spa services.

Disclosure: The Abbey Resort did cover the cost of my stay, but don’t think they had an easy time wooing me with spa treatments and Pelligrino. Freebies are nice, but they won’t make me forgive a hotel’s shortcomings. My review of the resort represents my own views and experiences as a guest and were not influenced in any way by fancy cheeses or free champagne.

Joe the Plumber’s Lucas County Ohio: There are decent things to do there. How about a corn maze and Toledo?

When I heard Joe the Plumber, the guy McCain made his personal friend in Wednesday night’s presidential debate, was from Holland, Ohio, my first thought was maybe there’s something to do in Holland–a weekend getaway perhaps?

Not exactly. Not Holland, per se, but, it’s close to Sarah Palin’s corn maze for some fall fun. Whitehouse is also in Lucas County.

Corn, Palin and Joe Plumber aside, this is a part of Ohio has been on my list of places to go for sometime–Toledo, specifically.

Just this month, Toledo won first place in the America in Bloom Awards for cities of 100,001 or more people. The award is given to a city for its beautification efforts. Toledo must be lush with flower gardens. The Toledo Botanical Gardens would be a place to start to see the floral bounty.

For art lovers, the Toledo Museum of Art recently expanded its weekend hours because visitors had requested more access to this gem of a museum.

Two aspects of this art museum I’ve always been drawn to are the extensive events and art classes offered each month. Some are one day experiences.

A weekend trip to Toledo could include one of these. Make sure you arrive in time for It’s Friday. Each Friday the museum is open until 10 PM. Tours, music and glass blowing demonstrations are part of the fare.

Also, not to be missed is the museum’s Glass Pavilion where the museum’s collection of more than 5,000 pieces of glass art pieces are housed. The pavilion won an award in 2007 for being the best designed museum.

Another Toledo high point that achieved fame with the television series M*A*S*H is the eatery Tony Packo’s Café. Jamie Farr who played Corporal Max Klinger is from Toledo.

His first mention of Tony Packo’s during an episode came with the line “If you’re ever in Toledo, Ohio, on the Hungarian side of town, Tony Packo’s got the greatest Hungarian hot dogs. Thirty-five cents…”

Known for its chili dogs and Sweet Hot Pickles, Tony Packo’s has been serving up Hungarian style food since 1932.

So, one of these days I’ll head to Toledo, but probably not before Palin’s maze is browner than brown. Maybe next year when the spring flowers have bloomed. First stop, Tony Packo’s. I’ve wanted one of those chili dogs for years.