Nine Reasons Why You Like Summer Better Than Winter (And Spring Better Than Fall)

summer-camp3For those of you North Americans who don’t live in tropical or Mediterranean-style climates, we’re about to exit the time of year when people bitch about the cold and transition into the time of year when people bitch about the heat. Oh sure, there will be a two-week grace period where it’s 72 degrees, dry, and mostly sunny with a breeze. Then it’ll be hot and humid and everyone will forget all about how cold they were just weeks ago. That’ll go on for a while, then the 72-degree two week transition period kicks in again before brutal cold returns. Summer and winter are polar opposites and responsible for more griping than all the politicians in Washington.

Believe it or not, two of the seasons are objectively better than the other two, even if some of you don’t care to admit it. Spring and summer are superior to fall and winter. Oh sure, some of you will deny this, claiming you like hot cocoa by a fireplace, a new-fallen snow on a Christmas Eve, and crawling under the covers to warm up. We’ll get to those canards, but let’s start from the top.

1. Spring is the season of rebirth; autumn is the season of death. Yeah, yeah, leaves changing colors, apple cider, pumpkins, and a light sweater. Heck, even I can’t turn down a crisp October afternoon playing or watching football. Fall can be very charming at its absolute best. The thing is, spring at its most mediocre – warm rain, the smell of mud, the longer days –  still beats autumn’s best by a long shot. Meanwhile, autumn at its worst looks a hell of a lot like Old Man Winter. And most importantly: spring only gets brighter and warmer with each day, while fall only gets nastier. Now that we’ve gotten the transitional season out of the way…

2. Stripping down is better than bundling up. In the summer, you can throw on a pair of flip flops and run to the deli to pick up a gallon of milk in a couple of minutes. Wintertime means shoes or boots, socks, long pants, a jacket, gloves, a hat, a scarf, and God knows what else. By the time you have everything on you’re tired and forgot what you got all dressed up for. This of course goes double (or half) for recreational activities – a day at the beach takes a lot less planning than a day at the ski lodge. And speaking of recreation…

3. Summer recreation beats winter reaction hands down. Swimming, sunbathing, beach volleyball, outdoor barbecues, outdoor festivals. Sounds like a lot of fun, no? More fun than skiing, ice skating, snow shoeing, ice fishing, sledding, snowman-building, and other activities generally related to staving off madness? I thought so.

4. Summertime holidays are more fun. Summer (or more generally, summertime) brings us Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day. (And Bastille Day if you’re French.) In other words, holidays to let loose, fire up the grill, crack open a cold one, and celebrate the good life. Wintertime brings us Thanksgiving (awkward family dinners of dry, bland poultry), Christmas/Hannukah (read: weeks of crowded shopping malls and bad TV specials), New Year’s Eve (Amateur Night at the bars), Martin Luther King Day and Presidents Day (can’t do much with these EXCEPT fly somewhere warm), Valentine’s Day (corporate-invented consumerism), Mardi Gras (Amateur Night, Part II) and St. Patrick’s Day (Amateur Night, Part III). There’s a reason summer has such a dearth of holidays: they’re not necessary. And for those of you who romanticize Christmas with images of gentle snow, reindeer, and lights, remember that Jesus was born in a desert town which in December has an average high of 57 and average low of 45. Average number of December days with snow in Bethlehem: One.

5. Summer inspires songs about fun. Winter inspires songs about depression and death. “Summertime” by Sam Cooke, “In The Summertime” by Mungo Jerry, “The Summer Wind” by Frank Sinatra, “Hot Fun In The Summertime” by Sly & The Family Stone, “All Summer Long” by Kid Rock, “Summer In The City” by Lovin’ Spoonful, “The Boys Of Summer” by Don Henley, and every Beach Boys song….in other words, Fun! Fun! Fun! Even the melancholy songs of summer, “Cruel Summer” by Bananarama, and “Summertime Blues” by Eddie Cochran, are at least a little whimsical.

Winter gives us “Snowblind” by Black Sabbath, “Hazy Shade of Winter” by Simon & Garfunkel, “In The Wintertime” by the Steve Miller Band, “Winter” by the Rolling Stones, and these three songs I’ve never heard and don’t want to: “While I Shovel The Snow” by the Walkmen, “Tenth Avenue Freezout” by Bruce Springsteen, and a Frank Zappa tune titled – I’m not making this up –  “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow.” That’s to say nothing of every obnoxious Christmas carol ad nauseum. Shoot me now.

Or, if you prefer poetry to pop music, consider that Robert Frost couldn’t resist mining winter for all its soul-crushing morbidity. He probably hated his surname and decided to take it out on future high school English students.

William Shakespeare took the high road and eloquently compared his beloved to a summer’s day.

6. Research shows that hot, humid conditions reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke, while below freezing temperatures may cause dementia and kidney failure. Okay, I made that one up. I would, however, like to point out that warmth and moisture are definitely better for your skin, sinuses, and yes ladies, your hair. You cannot seriously prefer static electricity and dandruff to a few curls. A little sweat is good for you – it cools you off. It’s sexy! I can see I’m getting nowhere with this, so I’ll move on.

(Rest assured that if you still prefer to freeze, you can do so during summer by stepping indoors and into the Arctic blast of any air conditioner. Wait – I better shut up, I’m doing damage to my own arguments…)

7. We’re healthier in the summer. We exercise more, eat less, and eat healthier. In the winter we’re sedentary, gluttonous, and alcoholic. Don’t ask me to back this up with data; you know it’s true.

8. But what about hot cocoa by a crackling fire? Let beer be your hot cocoa, and the sun be your crackling fire.

9. If you still don’t believe me, ask yourself: which images do you prefer?

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shoveling

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frozen

Donna Summer in 1979 At The American Music Awards

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I thought so.

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Travelin’ Playlist Essentials: Rukumbine

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I don’t know if all grade school music classes are this way, but in public school in the Midwest where I grew up, the majority of our musical education consisted of 20-30 students standing on risers and singing songs, led by our teacher who accompanied the tunes on piano. Only gym class, with its hurtling projectiles and sweaty exertion, stood as a stranger contrast to the otherwise rote academic schedule. We’d file onto the risers, the teacher would talk to us about a song and perhaps play it once solo, and then we’d all sing together with the lyrics printed for us on paper or scrawled on a dry erase board.

My fourth grade teacher elevated this technique to a level that proved memorable for me. She went out of her way to select songs the students might actually enjoy singing, to keep us, or perhaps her, interested. So we sang catchy show tunes from the musical Oliver! or contemporary soft-rock hits like “That’s What Friends Are For” (this being the mid-80s). We crooned the words of campy TV themes to The Flintstones, The Jetsons, and Scooby-Doo, in a curious medley of Hanna-Barbera cartoon hits. Perhaps most bizarre was her selection of a song from Return of the Jedi. “Ewok Celebration” was a victory song sung near the end of the film by a race of teddy bear-like aliens, after their successful defense of their habitat against the evil Empire. The song moved in a staccato tribal dance tempo, and its lyrics, which we dutifully learned and sang, were written in whatever primitive language the furry creatures spoke. While other students were learning about Gershwin and Beethoven, we were celebrating the intergalactic equivalent of the expulsion of the Soviets from Afghanistan. This went beyond the classroom, as we had periodic evening concerts in the school gymnasium, wherein parents would sit and listen to their nine- and ten-year-olds bellow such lyrics as G’noop dock fling oh ah!

But that’s just background, and today’s installment of Travelin’ Playlist Essentials does not come from George Lucas’ space opera. Obviously, my teacher’s musical selections proved memorable, and Ewoks aside, there was no song that stuck in my brain better than a random Caribbean ditty called “Rukumbine.”

For this tune, our teacher provided us with lyrics written in pidgin English, and we sang them in a lively Jamaican creole fashion:

Train top a bridge jus-a run like a breeze
An’ a gal underneat’ it a wash her chemise
Oh Rookoombine eena Santa Fe,
Rookoombine eena Santa Fe,
Oh, rookoombine.

Went Kingston town
Just to have me look around’
But instead look aroun’
Oh, me spent every poun’.

Went yesterday
Just to buy conga drum
But instead of de drum,
Look, me drink up de rum.

She explained to us details like that a “chemise” was a shirt, Santa Fe was a town in Jamaica, and that the “Rookoombine” (spellings, among other details of the song, vary) was a train that supposedly took one there. The song’s catchy melody and other-worldly lyrics stuck with me beyond childhood. Ewoks I knew all about: Their forested moon home of Endor, their primitive weapons and attire, their singular hero Wicket W. Warrick. In fact it was about time we’d covered that in school, and I’d have aced any exam on the subject. But Jamaica – where and what in the hell was Jamaica?

For many years I never heard the song or any reference to it again. My musical interests expanded, including the requisite foray into Bob Marley’s venerable greatest hits compilation. My knowledge of Jamaica and the Caribbean grew as well. But not once did I hear the song on the radio, referenced in pop culture, or even its title ever spoken again. I’d begun to wonder how it ever wound up in a public school music class repertoire. Was my teacher the daughter of missionaries or members of the foreign service stationed in Kingston? Did she date a Rastafarian who played traditional folk songs on guitar for her? Perhaps the song was minstrelsy – written by whites for the soul purpose of inclusion in cheap songbooks, sandwiched between “Kumbaya” and “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore.”

But in the age of the internet search, few memories stay clouded long when one chooses to investigate. And so I found on iTunes a brassy, rollicking version of the song. Its title was not spelled as I remembered it, and depending on the album, it was credited either to Shenley Duffus (sometimes referred to as “Chandley Dussus”) or Bobby Aitken. Stranger still was the fact that the songs verses were nothing like I recalled. Gone were references to chemises and “Kingston town.” In their place were a salutation to “Mother Cuba” and not-so-subtle sexual verse:

Me seh the higher the hill
The greener the grass
The younger the gal
Is the sweeter she kiss

This ska version of the song seemed to have less to do with a train, as in the next verse a girl is picking an “ackee” fruit from a tree and a boy is washing khakis. Finally the song references an engine running on fire and coal, almost as an afterthought. At first I thought the song had made the rounds in Cuba as well as Jamaica. That would also explain the reference to Santa Fe; Jamaica was originally settled by the Spanish before the British took control, but I so far can find no reference to a Santa Fe on that island. There is, on the other hand, a Santa Fe town in Cuba, and a Santa Fe neighborhood in Havana. However, Duffus was Jamaican-born and bred, so I’m not sure why he’d take a Cuban angle on a traditional Jamaican folk song.

There are a few message boards discussing the song and parsing its lyrics, and it’s been suggested more than once that “rukumbine” is pidgin for “recombine,” meaning reuniting in sexual congress. I have not seen this confirmed by anyone, and it has been repeated so many times I wonder if it’s just an internet theory posing as truth.

In his dissertation, Mento, Jamaica’s original music: Development, tourism and the nationalist frame, Daniel Neely seems to have shed more light on the song than an army of internet keyboard jockeys could. Neely says that “Rukumbine” is a “nonsense word, sometimes having sexual overtones,” and that it was often used interchangeably in Jamaica with the more explicit “Soldering” to refer to intercourse. Neely identifies Rukumbine as a melodic style that may have first been laid on wax as far back as 1925, but the song of that title was first arranged and published in the early 1950s (in Tom Murray’s book Folk Songs of Jamaica). He identifies Duffus’ 1963 ska version (of the form, but also it seems the song), with backup by the Skatalites, among other versions. That recording may have been wrongly credited to Bobby Aitken by Treasure Isle Records at some point. According to the Jamaica Journal, the song was lyrically sanitized and performed in the ’50s by a traveling harmony group called the Frats Quintet.

Whatever its origins or lyrics, “Rukumbine” is an infectious song, something to cue on your flight to the warm waters of the Caribbean.

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Peace And Tranquility In Szeged

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I stayed two days in Szeged, Hungary, and loved it for what it was: A relaxing, charming college town with a lot of outdoor recreation. Everywhere I explored those two days in June, people were out biking, running, swimming, sunning, or just eating ice cream in the square. After the rush of having to get to Istanbul, then Belgrade, and then Timișoara, in Szeged I could slow done and just be. I didn’t feel the pressure to see touristy sights or do anything elaborately planned. Instead, I did just as the locals did: I ran in the park, I had coffee in the square and people-watched, I crossed its river bridge time and again and enjoyed the scenery of this lively college town. I was on a break from my own vacation.

I’d arrived by an old beater of a train from Romania, but had clearly stepped into a more modern version of Old Europe once I set foot in Szeged. A sleek tram pulled up and I hopped on and took it to the center of town, with some help from an English-speaking local. As in previous countries, the only words I’d really master in Hungary were thank you (köszönöm) and hello (Szervusz). The latter is pronounced more or less like “service,” which means every where I went and said hello it felt like I was rudely demanding service.

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City Hall.

I stayed in the Aquarius Vendégház guesthouse, where the owners folded bath towels into swan shapes but otherwise seemed intent to stay out of my way. It was a quiet, clean place, with no breakfast but adjacent to a restaurant and bar where I know I had one of those amazing Eastern European meals, but for the life of me I cannot remember its details.

The town is divided by the river Tisza, with my hotel on one side and just about everything else on the other. Trams and buses crossed the river bridge, but walker that I am I hoofed it back and forth several times in an effort to stretch my legs, which had been bent sitting on trains, planes, and automobiles the past few days.

All in all it felt like one of those towns you read about in quality-of-life articles online. Culture, architecture, orderliness, health, safety, nature, education, all seemed there for the enjoyment of everyone. I’m not sure if that’s really true, but it sure felt that way.

By far my favorite sight was Szeged Vasútállomás train station, a different station from the one at which I arrived. I don’t have the words to do it justice, so here are two pictures to close out this post:

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Timișoara

I had simply assumed that I’d be able to reach Timișoara, in Romania, by train from Belgrade. I was mistaken. When I went to the Belgrade train station to inquire about tickets, the not-very-polite teller scoffed, “Timișoara?” Then she wagged her finger and said, “No trains to Timișoara.” I asked how I might get there, but I knew there would be no expansion on the scope of her assistance. She shrugged and went back to chatting with her co-worker.

Luckily, the staff at Hostel 40 Garden Park, where I was staying, were able to help. On my Eastern European trip, Hostel 40 was the only true “hostel” I’d stayed in. I had a private room but used a shared bathrooms, and some of the rooms were dormitory-style. It was recommended by a local, and because there is a bit of a value gap in Belgrade-area hotels (at least from what I could glean in travel guides before I went), Hostel 40 seemed to be the best deal. And it was indeed a great deal. The people were nice, fellow guests invited me to a kafana, and now the owner was arranging for my transportation to Romania.

It turned out to be a minibus, and I was its first passenger. I erroneously assumed I’d have the bus more or less to myself, but we then spent another 90 minutes picking up other passengers at various points in Belgrade until the bus was packed. Then it was a six-hour slog to Timișoara, which included a stop at a highway oasis, a long wait at passport control at the Romanian border, and a drop off at the airport. Apparently half our passengers had booked cheap flights out of Timișoara. Cheap enough to warrant a long bus ride, anyway. I was the second-to-last drop off, and it took the better part of the day to travel 100 miles.

As for Timișoara, I wish I’d stayed longer than 24 hours. It’s a beautiful city, proudly Orthodox but with tinges of Latinization here and there, reminding one of Italy. Cobblestone streets unfold into sweeping piazzas, where seemingly everyone in town is out and having a beer or dinner outside. The people themselves look more Mediterranean, not at all obviously Eastern European, as Serbians clearly are. In fact, recent foreign investment from Italian companies has resulted in some migration. But more historically, the Romanian language is a Romance island in a Slavic sea and shares much in common with Italian.

My hotel was situated a block off of Victory Square, birthplace of the 1989 revolution. The square is bookended by the National Opera and a stunning and dignified Orthodox Cathedral, pictured above. In between are beautifully landscaped gardens and hedges and laid back cafes, perfect for a morning brew or an evening stroll.

Unfortunately, I didn’t spend enough time here to settle in and get a read on the people or culture. I simply passed through, but Timișoara is memorable enough that I’d love to go back and spend a week or two absorbing it. I encourage anyone with any information or memories to share to leave a comment.

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Announcing A New Blog About Calabria & The Mezzogiorno

Last year I wrote a post about visiting part of Calabria, in which I touched on some Calabrese history, culture, travel, and a little family/immigration history. The subject has continued to interest me, to the point that I have decided to start a separate blog dedicated to it. Italophiles are everywhere, and there’s certainly no shortage of information on the Boot, but the majority of content online and off is about the north or Sicily. I want to give some less-famous parts of Southern Italy their due. I figured I’d start with my roots and see where it takes us. But don’t worry – it won’t be a vanity project. I plan on covering a lot, and I welcome any suggestions, corrections, or contributions from readers. Anyway, without further ado, here’s In Bruttium.

 

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Off The Beaten Path In A Serbian Kafana

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Denizens of the the literati, the cognoscenti, the blogerati, and yes even the intelligentsia (here’s looking at you!) may be pleased to learn that there are still places on this green Earth not extensively Yelped, TripAdvisored, and Zagated to death. Foursquared and YouTubed, yes, and I’ll get to that in a minute. That’s not to disparage our modern means of sharing information. I’d be a hypocrite to do so; here I am typing away on a WordPress travel blog – who am I to pretend I’m not a cause of, and beneficiary of, such sharing? Nevertheless, it pleases your writer to know he was in a place of little documentation, and he’s going to document it.

Serbia itself is not exactly destination number one, certainly not for Euro-bound travelers or even those headed for Eastern Europe. Memories of war-torn Yugoslavia are still fresh in the minds of those foreigners old enough to remember. Indeed, the shells of NATO-bombed buildings still stand, as open-air museums of the region’s recent, violent past. Of course, modern Belgrade is a peaceful place, and while it may lack the obvious charm of a Budapest or a Prague, one can still find charm if one looks. I looked in the obvious places: The Bohemian Quarter with its cobblestone streets and tourist-adjusted prices, restaurant hostesses beckoning you inside; the cafe of the Hotel Muscovy with its decadent (but affordable) coffees and pastries and polite waitstaff; and of course a large Orthodox cathedral that was unfortunately under renovation inside. All on the Belgrade checklist, but all fairly run-of-the-mill. Returning to the guest house that afternoon, I felt a little defeated, by my attempts to sight-see as well as the dreary 50 degree weather (it was June!).

Two Danish graduate students happened to be in the same hotel, and as they were conducting an anthropological study on something called the kafana, they invited me to one that evening along with another guest, an Englishman. What was a kafana, I asked? (On this trip I did not bring large guidebooks, since I was visiting six countries. It left me feeling culturally ignorant. All I gotta say is, those Lonely Planet guides with their insets and essays really cover the bases and make for great time killers on long rides. Big, big mistake not bringing any, even on my phone. Lesson learned.)

The two Danes explained that a kafana was the Ottoman Empire’s idea of the neighborhood meetinghouse or bistro, serving ales and coffees, and often having live local music. In Serbia unlike elsewhere they also served food. Trying to conjure up an image, I pictured the nifty “supper clubs” of my Midwestern homeland, where people spent the evenings eating, drinking, and dancing all at one boisterous banquet hall. There, those clubs fell into a certain level of contempt as something quaint and passe. But like all things shunned they have made a comeback, as all kitsch must. “Supper Clubs” are sprouting up not only in urbane Midwestern university areas, but as weird cultural exports to New York City. And so it was, and is, with kafane. For many years these dives were considered something akin to the bar in Star Wars, a gathering place for society’s dregs – gamblers, whores, smugglers, drunks, and shady politicians. I don’t know whether the kafana has made a full recovery to the point that it’s frequented by Serbian scenesters, but the one we went to felt nothing like an intergalactic cantina. More like a simple, local family eatery.

In fact, with its checkered tablecloths and tight seating, at first blush our kafana, Ribolovacka Prica, felt more like one of those rustic Italian restaurants found in the U.S. There was no music that night, but loud, cheerful conversations filled the room, as did copious amounts of cigarette smoke (Serbia not yet having gotten around to criminalizing this lifestyle choice). Our meal consisted of a couple of large fish to be shared, along with potatoes and a few bottles of white wine. All told we paid between $12 and $15 U.S. dollars each.

You won’t find much about Ribovlovacka Prica online, but there are some photos on Foursquare here, as well as this interesting video on You Tube featuring live singing. (The woman who posted it cheerfully remarks that it is the only “fish tavern” where you can find tripe and gelatin served.)

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Here Comes Football – 2013 NFL Preview

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Read my 2013 NFL “Preview” at The Fanzine. It’s jam-packed with Jeopardy knowledge. Just don’t expect any reliable predictions.

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Plenty Of Eastern Europe Content Coming Here Soon

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Salutations! Beginning this weekend I’ll be embarking on a five-country tour of Eastern Europe, through Istanbul, Turkey; Belgrade, Serbia; Timisoara, Romania; Szeged and Budapest, Hungary; and Bratislava, Slovakia. (I may stop by Vienna if I have the time.) After that I’ll be spending four days in southern Spain. It should be quite a trip and depending on my internet access I’ll try to find time to post updates here. But you know how these things go – relaxation tends to take over and computers tend to be avoided, so we’ll see. In any case I’ll make sure to provide plenty of intelligence when I’m back if not sooner.

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Five Ways To Game The Airlines

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1. Check the seating chart the morning of your flight. The day you book your flight and choose your seat, you’ll probably see only a certain number of seats available. Choose the best one for you, but try to remember to look again the day your flight leaves. That’s when unsold seats often suddenly “appear.” You may even find an emergency exit row seat without a fee.

2. Ask the gate agent if any upgrades are available. Corollary of sorts to #1. The day of your flight, especially minutes before departure, is when the airline has a clear picture of what’s available and what they can give away (since it won’t be sold). You may think you’re ineligible for an upgrade, but simply by asking you may put yourself in position for something. I’ve gotten Economy Plus seats with more legroom just by asking day-of. Sure, it’s not First Class, but it’s a nice improvement.

3. If you’re flexible, offer to be bumped from a busy flight. You’ve got to be in the mood to hang around an airport for a few extra hours, but if you’re amenable to that it can pay off in spades. I volunteer to be a “victim” all of the time, most recently from a Delta flight from Atlanta to LaGuardia. That route has a flight every couple of hours, and Hartsfield-Jackson is one of the friendlier and nicer airports in this world, so it was okay by me. (Since it was my return flight I wasn’t in as big a hurry anyways.) I got a $600 voucher, good for a year on any Delta flight, plus some partner flights. A couple on that same flight said they’d been bumped both ways and thus received $1200 each in vouchers.

On another occasion I volunteered to be bumped, it turned out there was no need. However the gate agent told me she appreciated my gesture and instead put me in a seat in business class – which was fine by me. You never know how a little flexibility might pay off.

4. If you’re ever rebooked by an airline, investigate your options. When you book those dirt cheap tickets, they’re usually dirt-cheap booking codes that give you little flexibility. But when an airline rebooks your flights, say in the instance of a missed connection or bad weather, often it will be in a more flexible economy fare. Look into it – go online or call the airline and (again) ask what your upgrade and mileage options are. Just recently I got 125% of the miles on a rebooked coach flight.

5. Miles, miles, miles. Hustling for miles is so easy I don’t see why everybody doesn’t do it. Some people fly across the world and don’t bother to sign up for a program. I sign up for every program I can, and check who’s partners with whom, on every flight. Why not? It’s free, and the airlines are just hoping you’ll forget. If you buy things online with a credit card, an airline card can’t hurt either if you’re careful with it. When I buy things like jeans or shoes online – things I would buy anyway – I always make sure I get at least one mile per dollar. More often than not I get multiple miles per dollar. I’ve gotten 2,800 miles for a single magazine subscription, and 2,500 for a TV. Again, I’m not suggesting you go into crippling debt to get miles. Just be smart about it and exploit the programs as best you can. And even in this era of stripped down perks, membership can have its privileges. Every year I get two free passes to the United Club mailed to me. It’s a helluva lot more relaxing than sitting in the main terminal in Newark International.

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Just Travel

Air Afrique Art Print

Browse the airfare websites and daydream. Run a few searches and see what’s out there. Write down a few bargains for destinations you’ve never been. Think it over and wonder what it would be like to see that place. Resolve that if you buy the ticket you will find a way to make it work. Let your finger hover over the mouse for a few seconds before you choose “purchase.” Let your index finger drop until you hear the click. Exhale.

Go to the bookstore and find the travel section. Let your eyes run up and down the shelves. The sections are like the continents themselves, and within them lie little regions and nations and municipalities. Take in the bright colors – orange, blue, red, white, green. Wonder how there could be so many different viewpoints and experience about any one place. Take a book from the shelf and flip through it. Cities, towns, hotels, restaurants. Safety tips. Health precautions? Your heart skips a beat. Skim it over and feel reassured – someone has blazed a trail for you and taken the time to write it down.

Run your searches for hotels and hostels. Make a list of the clothing and necessaries you will bring. Sandals and tennis shoes. Shaving cream and toothpaste. A day pack and a camera case. Wrap your head around the local currency. Spend your free time on language learning sites. “Hello.” “Please.” “Thank you.” “How much?”

Mention your trip to your friends. It turns out one of them has been to that very place before and has a restaurant to recommend. He had a blast, he said. He wishes he could go with you. You’re feeling less nervous and more excited with each day.

The day is here and you’re at the airport. Take a deep breath and summon your inner Buddha for the security line. Laugh at the guy ahead of you who forgot to remove his watch. Roll your eyes at the TSA agent’s salty attitude. Grab yourself a beer at a cheesy airport bar. Talk to the bartender – she’s met someone from literally every place on earth.

Board your plane and take your seat. Grab your book from your bag. Zone out while you watch the other passengers. Who are they? Are they beginning their trip like you or returning home? Smile at the person seated next to you. Make a little small talk. Eat what you can of your airline meal, watch half of a Matthew McConaughey romcom and then drift to sleep.

Awaken at the crackle of the PA – it’s the pilot speaking and you’re ten minutes from landing. Rub your eyes and look out the window at the dawn. The clouds give way to land; it looks like farmland. Soon you’re seeing subdivisions and streets and cars, swimming pools and soccer fields. Brace for the bump as the wheels hit the pavement.

Follow the crowds through immigration and customs. You didn’t sleep well but you’re wide awake. Pick up your bag at the carousel and walk out the exit. There are cab drivers hustling for a buck here just like back home. Talk to one and make a snap judgment – he seems legit and the price is right.

As your taxi flies down the highway into the heart of town, gaze out the windows. A lot is different but many things are the same. You see a couple of Toyotas pass you by. There’s a Coca-Cola ad on the side of a building. The radio is playing Lionel Richie. In the distance, you see an unfamiliar skyline. Within it are millions of people going about their lives, again different in some ways and similar in others. Soon you’ll be among them, and a few other travelers like you.

Relax and enjoy the rush of anticipation. The journey has only just begun.

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