Patrick McIvor Travel Guide, Chapter 1

Remember,  you are going someplace.

When I was younger, my family’s annual summer vacation involved packing up and heading to the New Jersey shore with my grandparents, my two siblings, and our parents. After we packed our two cars to the brim the night before with everything we needed to enjoy our week, we would set off to Lavallette, NJ and spend our nights at Seaside, NJ on the boardwalk, now famous (or infamous) because of the reality television show, Jersey Shore.  

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We packed everything from soap to shampoo, to beach chairs, sand toys and boogie boards to hair gel, hairspray and outfits we would wear as we walked up and down the Seaside boardwalk at night. First, it was enjoying the arcade games when we were younger and then, as we grew old and became teenagers, it turned into enjoying the masses of other teenagers. Cruising the boardwalk at night, in the 1970’s and 80’s, it was almost a sport and a world of its own, but the reality was, like many Americans, our vacation took place no more than an hour from our home. Heck, we never even left our state! Other friends might have gone to Florida, like my wife’s family would often do, but the only true difference between New Jersey and Florida in the summer was Florida was more humid, a little hotter and some people dressed in costumes with others wore mouse ears. The reality of what you needed to take with you was not much different from what you needed at home during the same time of year.

Today, though, I watch and listen to friends and family members prepare and pack for their vacations, and most of the time what they are packing either won’t work or will make them stand out as a tourist, especially while traveling overseas.

In fact, many of the items they pack make them stand out as an American tourist at a hundred yards. Now, before I go any further, there is nothing wrong with being an American tourist, but if they can see you coming at 100 yards, your experience might cost you a bit more. You might lose some of the hospitality of the locals, and today, you might even be targeted by some not-so-good people. Like I said to my two teenage girls and reminded my wife as we packed for our European vacation last November, leaving just seven days after the attacks in Paris, “Remember, we are going someplace different and don’t be planning for what you would wear at home.”

When friends and family come to me and ask for advice on their trip abroad, whether it is their first time or a return trip, and they ask me or share with me what they are packing, I quickly realize what they all pack is what they need at home, at the moment. It’s like the adventure they are going to be having is in their backyard, not in New Zealand or Australia, or Europe and maybe even Asia. Where they are booked to go should really be what they are planning and packing for. In reality, what they will need is not what they pack. From blow-dryers, flat irons and curling irons that may blow up when plugged into a 220v electrical outlet because an adaptor doesn’t change the electrical current ( transformers do that), to not realizing that the whole world is not experiencing the same season; they are packing their summer clothes in June to land in Christchurch, New Zealand where it is snowing because it’s winter.

I have heard some really funny things to like, “Doesn’t Australia or Ireland have the same electricity because they speak English?” To which the response in my mind is “????????” Why would speaking English have anything to do with electricity? But the reality is so many people forget they are going someplace different when they travel which means things are not the same, and preparing to have experiences like you have at home can make things go very badly. For instance, innocent mistakes like a hand gesture or crossing your legs and pointing the toes of your shoes at someone, could be disrespectful or even considered a vulgar gesture in other cultures and societies. While asking someone what they do for a living, during a casual meeting in a pub, maybe considered too familiar and personal, even rude. But to an American, that’s probably the third question someone would ask after meeting someone new in a bar, on a plane or even a chance encounter in a cafe. And again, this could unknowingly put people off and take away from another experience that traveling and being somewhere different could have offered.

I think of all the things we miss or challenges we can create because we may be preparing for a vacation and forgetting that we are actually going someplace that is probably/hopefully different from home, in more ways than we expect.

Realize it’s not just a vacation or trip, and that you are going somewhere. Take the time to ask, or even Google today, local customs, information about traditional and street foods. I remember the time my cousin was once served guinea pig in Ecuador as the family who was unable to feed themselves sat around and watched as their guest of honor “enjoy” a very special meal they had lovingly created. Watch videos, read blogs from other travelers, know what season it really is (just because the “summer” Olympics started in September in Australia doesn’t mean that it was “summer” there).

Travel is, as the famous quote says, “the only expense that always makes you richer.” But what I find many times is it takes a seasoned traveler to realize that they are going someplace. Years ago that meant purchasing lots of travel books or maybe working with a good travel agent to try to learn what you needed if you were not already seasoned. Today, though, even with all the information in the world at your fingertips, not knowing the right questions to ask can still make a new travel experience different or even frustrating because where you are going is much more than just a dream on an old postcard, movie or story that may have inspired it. And the reality is that visiting another country is not like Disneyland. The actual realities are real, different and, honestly, from my experience, a whole lot more fun and rewarding.

Over the next dozen or so blogs, we will explore everything from playing games that can make travel more interesting and fun, to how ratings matter and that reality wins. But next up will be Chapter Two:Packing Better.

And we are off…

~ P


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