Lessons From The Road / Travel

Transit Days: Grin and Bear It

Rowan_Atkinson_and_Manneken_Pis - Version 2

Plan as you might, whether between cities, countries, or continents, transit days are tiring and stressful. Some trips are harder than others of course, but in foreign countries almost all trips are demanding.

Plane Trips
The old adage “The world’s getting smaller every day,” has been true for decades and will be for the foreseeable future. Why? Look no further than the explosive growth of the airline industry. Face it, on a planet that’s 70% water there’s no avoiding planes. And don’t get me wrong, the lion’s share of my travel has been on planes, and I wouldn’t have missed any of it. But honestly, plane travel has gotten to be a real pain in the butt – literally.

902535 22.04.2011 Сотрудник правоохранительных органов производит досмотр пассажиров в международном аэропорту Владивостока. Виталий Аньков/РИА Новости

With added security and varying degrees of inspection diligence, it’s impossible to know what to expect going through an airport. Do you need shoes and belt on or off, computer gear in or out of the bag, travel docs accessible or not? Does a beeping metal detector mean the full-body scan, pat-down, or both? And you do NOT want “The Shakedown.” If you’ve had the misfortune, you know what a nuisance it is. It’s happened to both of us many times, but Terri was the most recent recipient. On our trip to Amman, Jordan she had a major dump-the-entire-bag search. By the end of the thorough inspection the surly and scrupulous guards had found and confiscated that old terrorist standby, her mini-umbrella.

Travelers in Copenhagen Airport

My other plane-travel bugaboo is cramped seats. I’m over 6 feet tall and you don’t want to get me started on this. Everyone among us, except the Munchkins, complains about it, so I don’t need to belabor the point. Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, the airlines come up with another knee-crunching, sardine-seat idea.

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 2.27.20 PM

This drawing was attached to an Airbus patent application, and I’m not making this up. It’s called “parallelepipedal seating” which in English translates into “more bodies on board no matter how squeezed and uncomfortable they are.” Puh-leze! The sadistic designer probably got a bonus for this ingenious torture device, and be afraid, be very afraid. It may be coming to a plane near you.

Chicken Buses

Bus Trips
Point A to point B bus trips aren’t so bad, except for the smoking/non-smoking deal, hard seats that only recline or don’t recline at all, and the important question of WC breaks. Just in case our bladder capacity doesn’t coincide with that of the driver, before most bus trips Terri and I put in place our LMP: a strict liquids management protocol.

If the bus has multiple destinations, then the dynamic changes. Having missed a few stops in the past, I can say that given unknown roads, language difficulties, and indifferent drivers, it isn’t always obvious when you reach your destination. If the window placard says this, Нови Сад, instead of this, Novi Sad, you could be in trouble.

train-crossing-the-wiesen-viaduct

Train Trips
Of the three methods, trains are usually the least hassle, and the most comfortable. We’ve written about our love of train travel in the past. There are no security checks (Yippee!), you can get drinks and snacks in the station to enjoy on the train, and there are toilets onboard. Locate the right platform, train, and carriage; grab a seat; and just kick back and relax.

Train to Ella, Sri Lanka

Also, one universal truth we’ve found about rail systems worldwide is that stations are clearly marked. So assuming you’re awake, there’s a much higher likelihood of actually reaching your destination. But don’t dilly-dally getting off because normally, the train rolls out quickly. On our last trip we saw a couple juggling too much luggage, miss their stop. Ouch!

Tuk-Tuk in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Unconventional Trips
Sri Lanka added an entirely new category to our transit file – Tuk-Tuks (pronounced “took-tooks”). Transport doesn’t get more practical and fun than this, and we loved it. But like everywhere else in the world, the drivers see tourists as marks. We were in search of a Buddhist Temple that just wasn’t where it was supposed to be, or more precisely, we weren’t where we were supposed to be. Finally giving up, we hailed one of Colombo’s smokey, noisy and colorful tuk-tuks. We agreed what I thought was a budget-friendly price of 50 rupees, about 50 cents. We hopped aboard, the driver gunned it and off we went. About 100 yards later, we pulled up in front of the temple!

Rome Subway

The bottom line is that you can’t travel without … well traveling. It’s an inextricable part of the package. Over the years we’ve learned what makes us nuts, and tried to change our approaches or develop coping strategies. A post on the rigors of travel might have you wondering why we travel so much. Believe me, there have been some trips where we wonder ourselves. But after a good night’s rest we wake up in a new and exciting place, and we’re pumped to explore. The wonders we discover, and the priceless experiences recharge our batteries, so on the next leg we can grin and bear it.

Happy Trails,
James

Chicken Bus

Photo Credits:
1. Antonio Zugaldia Wikimedia Commons
2. RIA Novosti via Wikimedia Commons
6. Kabelleger / David Gubler via Wikimedia Commons
10. Geoff Gallice via Wikimedia Commons

50 thoughts on “Transit Days: Grin and Bear It

    • You’re right Roberto, trains are usually the most comfortable option for shorter trips. Long distance trains can be very nice for seeing the countryside, but it needs to be a nice, comfortable train. ~James

    • Jeff, Terri and I always work really hard to make our travel days as short as possible. And if we want to make an intermediate stop with an overnight hotel, we do. It’s not always possible, but when it works it’s very nice, and a reason for celebration. On the long, long days, we just grin and bear it. ~James

  1. I must say I generally enjoy the travelling days. I regard them as much a part of the journey as the destination, but . . . . . . we don’t tend to travel on local buses which can be cramped and seriously uncomfortable even if they give a good taste of the local culture. Being only 5’2″ I don’t have an issue with airline seats and I love the airport time for catching up on blogging. We too love train travel – we have 2 overnight trips coming up, one in Turkey, one in Egypt. You’re in Jordan still?We head there Sept 30.
    Alison

    • Alison, in general, we choose the best option with a few caveats. We enjoy seeing the countryside, so in the case of short journeys, we choose train or bus (in that order). For longer trips we fly. But as you know, service varies on all these modes from country to country. We’re in Serbia now, and have used both trains and buses. But as you probably know, the movement of thousands of refugees through here has made things very tricky and difficult, hence the “grin and bear it” title. Travel is always an unknown – sometimes good, sometimes not so good. ~James

  2. I am still in that phase of feeling that train travel is exotic and wonderful. So, it would be my first choice. Planes are fun and amazing, but the whole process of getting on a plane, including the waiting time, is just completely annoying. Still, I’m with the comments above – the stories that one gets from traveling is all part of the memory making fun! 🙂

    • Liz, as you may have gathered from our previous posts, we absolutely love train travel in Europe. When compared to the rest of the world, train travel in Europe is the best on the planet. Even the US can’t come close. In fact, I’m constantly amazed that Amtrak can stay in business – it’s embarrassing and don’t get me started. We have so many great memories of our train travel in Europe. ~James

  3. Trains are great! In Spain there is a security check though since the 2004 bomb in Madrid. It isn´t too bad, just need to show up a bit earlier. They also give you lots of time to get off with all your luggage in Spain. We have tons of terrible air travel stories, annoying at the time, funny when told at parties after!

    • I haven’t been to Madrid in a while Darlene, but the security checks don’t surprise me at all. Like the airport, it’s a necessary evil and it will probably get to be standard procedure in more places. Of course, I understand the need, but man, it’s a pain. ~James

  4. The irony is it doesn’t much matter where you are traveling. I’ve had more than my share of airline/airport hassles right here at home in the USA, although the hardest airport time I ever had was in Munich. They made me dismantle every camera body and lens, plus put me though quite a “back room’ experience. The bottom line – I’m happy to motor down the road in the RV – everything on MY time. I won’t get off North America, but there is a lot to be said for exploring this continent. Wishing you only good travel days or at least as someone else said, good stories for later.

    • I’ve had a couple of really rough scrapes returning to the the US as well Laura. Once on a return through Miami from Bogota, Colombia. I think they thought I was a drug dealer returning with a briefcase full of drugs and/or money. And the worst was flying into LAX from China. They pulled me out of line and held me at passport control for 1 1/2 hours. And when the let me through, their only explanation was: “We maybe thought you were someone else.” And the biggest problem is that you’re absolutely powerless, because they can hold you as long as they want. Ever since then, no matter where I am, I breath a sigh of relief when I get through passport control. ~James

  5. Oh we can all relate. And I refuse to get on an airplane with backward seats. They wonder why passengers get grumpy? The tuk-tuk reminded me of an episode on the Amazing Race. Love
    Mr Bean!

      • We have an annual tradition of watching the Mr Bean Christmas and New Years episodes every December. Highly recommended! The Airbus idea is crazy. Remember when somebody proposed charging to use the restroom on planes?

    • And in addition Andrew, I suspect that there are a few staff members that are on a power trip. We’ve been detained and had a bag search to confiscate a plastic fork. A plastic fork? Really? ~James

  6. I spent some time in the Philippines years ago building houses for Habitat for Humanity. One house we built was for a couple—she a minister, he a tuk-tuk driver. They were squatters all their lives, living in stick houses (built over water) that blew down every so often, but they put two children through college and were proud people. The tuk-tuk was a thirty-year-old, 80-cc Suzuki with a sidecar. The house we built was concrete block, sturdy as a bomb shelter. When we presented them with the keys to the house there wasn’t a dry eye in the village. Rewards like that don’t happen very often and stay with you forever.

    • Great story Tom. Habitat is a wonderful organization and I have a great deal of respect for them and what they accomplish. Recently we attended the KY State Fair, and one of the exhibits that we had on our must-see list was a Habitat House that was a converted shipping container. It sounds creepy, but as you can guess, Habitat came through and it was a light, simple, and pleasant living space. Hell, Terri and I could have lived in it, and would have enjoyed it. The rep told us that the recipient of the home was a homeless Vet that wanted “a hand up, not a handout.” ~James

  7. James I have to agree with Jeff that some of the worst travel days, make the best stories. This post being one such case. 🙂
    Dave and I have a strict rule in place that whining while traveling is prohibited. We know that so many people on this planet would love to go to the places we do and for so many reasons ; finances, health, commitments, caring for family members, can not. It helps us frame the inconvenience and hassles that every trip brings. It doesn’t mean we haven’t had tons of issues, it just eases the pain thinking of those we know and those we don’t who would gladly swap places with us if only they could.

    • Good for you Sue. That’s an excellent attitude to have when traveling. There’s lots of truth in this philosophy. This idea and good health will keep you and Dave traveling for years to come. ~James

      • James I have been reflecting on my comment to you off and on throughout the day. I am afraid I came off sounding all preachy. My apologies if so. We all find our coping mechanisms and this is one that works for us. Having said that we are not even close to being 6’2″! So until one walks in the taller shoes one can not experience the same experience.

  8. Good post. I would like to add that with regard to plane trips it would be really nice if you can let the person sitting behind you know when you are going to recline your seat.

    • I would be happy if no airline seats reclined. I’m crammed into seats as it is, and have nowhere to put my legs. So when the seat in front of me reclines it only makes a bad situation worse. Grin and bear it. 🙂 ~James

  9. Lately, I have occasionally changed my tune about the trip/transportation being part of the travel fun. I still relish a nice long flight with reading materials, music, and snacks, and I love trains and even tour buses. I also enjoy renting a car in some cases and taking my sweet time poking around a country. But in the last few years, there seem to be so many more snafus – missed connections, long delays, extremely uncomfortable seats, etc. I still try to view the journey as part of the fun, but it’s definitely getting tougher!

    • I’m totally with you Lexie. When possible, we’ve started breaking our transit into smaller hops. Even if it just means an airport hotel overnight, it’s a chance to get off the plane, take a shower, and work out the kinks. On this trip, we stopped overnight at JFK and Gatwick with a nice hotel at each. We arrived Belgrade in great shape and ready to go. When we landed in Serbia we entered country # 64. I don’t dread the transit days, but as you say, it’s definitely getting harder. ~James

  10. Having worked in the airline industry years ago and traveling extensively, hubby and I stick to OUR truck and RV. We avoid airline travel like the plague. For us, the RV is the only way to roll these days.

    • Ingrid, traveling in an RV, now that’s what I’m talking about. We have a tiny popup, which we find extremely comfortable and loads of fun. As to air travel, you obviously know the drill, and unless you’re sitting in the front of the cabin, it’s gotten to be an experience to be tolerated. I’ve put in my share of air miles (in the front and back of the cabin), and I still love the “being there”, but the “getting there”, not as much. But it’s part of the deal, so I grin and bear it. ~James

  11. Very timely post, given I’m getting on a flight in a few hours (Gatwick to Strasbourg, at least it’s short). While suffering from some kind of virus – the clinic basically said take an aspirin and don’t call for two weeks. For TSA horror stories, should you need more, see: http://tsanewsblog.com. Besides trying to avoid connections, I’ve also started burning FF miles for business class for overnight flights. It really does make a HUGE difference.

    Like you, I am a big fan of trains. I once spent seven months traveling from Scotland to Saigon, with all forward motion by train.17,000 miles plus a number of detours. In general, I found European trains worse in the south and east, somewhat better in Russia and much better in China (soft sleeper class). Indian trains are a whole other issue! While the situation WRT trains in the US is a national disgrace, I did find sleeper class on the long distance trains quite good, although Canada’s Via Rail is even better – perfectly cooked rack of lamb on a moving train!

    Tuk-tuks show up all over Asia under various names and almost always require bargaining. Just don’t take one in Bangkok, you’ll be stuck in traffic breathing exhaust fumes. (Try a motor bike….) The Middle East tends to go in more for shared taxis, called marshrutka in Ukraine and the Caucasus.

    • That’s quite an accomplishment Kathy. Wow! 17,000 miles and 7 months on trains. I’d say you are the hands-down expert. That must have been an incredible trip. As I said, we too love train travel, and do it all the time in Europe. But I can’t tell you how many times we’ve researched a trip in the US, and ruled it out because of god-awful departure times and high prices. We’ve always wanted to get one of Amtrak’s one month passes, but they put so many restrictions on them that we always rule it out. As I said to someone else, the Amtrak system is an embarrassment and I’m surprised they can stay in business. And the government continues to put tax dollars into more highways and nothing for a national rail system. You can probably tell this is one of my pet-peeves. ~James

      • Well, nothing to be done about the timetable, alas. However, prices are better if you are older, and if you book ahead. And better for you because there are two of you, since Amtrak doesn’t have single or shared cabins. On Via Rail you can (or could) get half price fares booking in January for travel before the end of May. For my trans-continental US and Canada train trip see my blog, the RTW train trip is on my old website – wilhelmswords.com

  12. Great post James! We have not had the pleasure of so much international travel like you two, but we got a glimpse when we traveled through Mexico, particularly the bus system. Even so, we hope to brave the various systems and add more international travel to our adventures. As for the LMP, we have already begun to practice this daily, to avoid those wake-up calls in the middle of the night. 😉

    • We did lots of bus travel in Mexico as well LuAnn, and honestly, we were impressed. We’ve been on a few buses in the Balkans, and the standard is quite a bit lower – in some cases waaay lower. And I wasn’t joking about the LMP. We had a 5 hour bus ride today with no WC on board. Thank goodness there was a stop about half way – but it still took planning. Ahhh – this getting older sucks. ~James

    • Marie, short flights aren’t too bad, but Transatlantic and especially Transpacific flights are a killer for me. Especially when the person in front of me decides to recline their seat. And there are only two places my knees can go: into the aisle, and over into poor Terri’s space. She’s very good about it though. I’m sure Commando can relate. ~James

  13. Ahh, getting from here to there–you just never know what’s in store for you! I’m in awe of your travels. I lived in India for 10 years, so I’ve traveled throughout it and back and forth to the U.S., but right now day trips around Kentucky are about the extent of my travels. GPS “problems” just land me in unexpected, but interesting, places! Thanks for stopping by my Kentucky blog–are you originally from Kentucky?

    • Hi Karen, Great to meet you! We were writing about architecture in the Balkans and I came across your Kentucky Day Trips blog. James is a KY native (Glasgow) and my family moved there when I was a senior in high school. We went to UK, got married, and moved away many years ago to take jobs all over the US and the world. We just moved back to Lexington this summer and love it dearly. Looks like you’re enjoying it too! What brought you to Kentucky from Kansas? So glad you stopped by. And India for 10 years – I bet you’ve got some stories there! 🙂 All the best, Terri

      • Yes, I’m delighted with Lexington and Kentucky, in general. It’s all new to me! My daughter is working on her doctorate at UK, so I’m a tagalong. (I just saw the official definition of tagalong: “a person who follows or goes somewhere with another person or group often in an annoying way.” I try to minimize the annoying part, of course!) As for my India stories, I’ve posted a few on Bubblews, but no longer write on that platform. I’m not as intrepid a traveler as you two are. 😉

  14. You think that the Tuk-Tuk is a rustic form of travel until you get to Iquitos in the Peruvian Amazon… and discover that is where the older ones from Thailand go to die (well it is the largest city in the world not accessible by road).

    All good fun I’m sure you will agree 🙂

    • Chris, I can’t imagine how some of the rattle-trap tuk-tuks we saw in SE Asia could possibly have a second life, but transport is all relative I guess. On one of our trips to Kenya, we flew over the Serengeti in a ancient DC3 that must have been 65 years old. I didn’t see any duct tape, but it wouldn’t have surprised me. ~James

      • I was only talking to Sarah the other day and wondering if there were any DC3’s still flying!

        Would love to have a chance to fly in one 🙂

What do you think? We'd love to know!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s