Flights of Fancy

During college, one of my roommates and I road-tripped to New York City for a girlfriends getaway (see us in the photo below). I wanted to get a taste of the Big Apple before making my graduate-school decision, and Toni had a job interview just outside the city. One afternoon, Toni and I stepped into Tiffany & Co. for an Audrey Hepburn moment, and I was captivated by a silver-and-diamond bracelet.

“Miss, would you like to try that on?” the dapper salesman asked.

“Oh, no; I’m just looking,” I said. 

The gentleman smiled, unlocked the case, gently removed the bracelet and fastened it around my wrist. It glistened in the showroom light, and was the most spectacular piece of jewelry I had ever worn. For a moment I was a glamorous, big-city girl, not a Midwest college student.

“It’s a Paloma Picasso,” the salesman told me.  “It costs $12,000.”

I blushed and said, “I’m really sorry, but that’s definitely out of my price range.” (In fact, when I started working a year and a half later, my annual salary wasn’t much larger.)

“Don’t worry,” he said.  “One day you will be able to afford it, and I’m hoping you’ll come back to Tiffany then.”

He was right; I always remembered his gesture, and I now occasionally shop at Tiffany’s, although not for anything so lavish.

However, that early experience taught me an important lesson about travel: when we’re out of town, we can step into a fantasy world, where our mundane cares and pressures slip away and all of our dreams seem within reach.

Witness my experience in Paris:

I had traveled to Paris a few times during my junior year abroad and several times in my 20s, always on a budget that allowed little more than street-corner crepes, bread-and-cheese dinners, cheap wine and museum entry fees.  The first time my husband and I traveled there together, we had four young kids in tow, so shopping definitely was not on the agenda.

As such, when Carol and I visited Paris in 2005, we gave ourselves permission to shop and spend.

Paris loved us. Tourism had retrenched after 9/11 and President Bush’s war on “Freedom Fries.”  Shops and restaurants that normally teemed with American travelers now were virtually empty.  The fact that I speak French fluently helped; locals were happy to chat with us and to discount everything we bought, even cups of carry-out coffee (simply because we hailed from the land of Starbucks).

After a few days away, I started to forget that I was a frazzled suburban mother of four, and began to believe that I fit into Paris’ fast pace and chic culture.  Carol and I drank morning espressos in bars, sampled cheese from the neighborhood vendor, walked for kilometers on end and tried to dress like Parisians.  The scarves and bangles we bought provided a welcome break from our carpool-driving jeans-and-hoodie uniforms.  

So, when we discovered a discount designer showroom that sold samples and seconds of top-name brands, I decided to take the plunge.  I found a beautiful blazer that fit perfectly; it was something Catherine Deneuve would wear. I decided not to calculate the exchange rate, handed the salesclerk my credit card and took a deep breath.

A few minutes later, when Carol was paying for her purchases, I overheard another customer bargaining with that same saleswoman.  I was mad at myself: why hadn’t I thought to negotiate the price?

All that evening and throughout the next day, I thought of my purchase, and got angrier and angrier. I kicked myself for being so fool-hardy, for spending too much on a designer garment I didn’t really need. I felt guilty for succumbing to my own whims.

A day later, after a friend from London had joined us, we took the opportunity to return to the showroom.  I brought my now-detestable jacket along.

Calling up my best French accent, I greeted the saleswoman courteously, and then explained my buyer’s remorse.  “I think I paid too much for this jacket,” I told her. “I feel I should have tried to negotiate the price.”

The woman sighed with exasperation, and said, “I don’t know what you expect me to do. You already paid for the jacket. If you want to return it, go ahead. If not, the best I can do is lower the price by 20 percent, just to make you happy.”

I accepted the 20-percent rebate, beaming inside. And now, when I wear that jacket, I am transported not only back to the cobblestone roads of Paris, but also to the bright Tiffany’s showroom where I got my first taste of luxury, endless possibilities and the magic of travel.

–Linda Williams Rorem, 28 Feb. 2011

Travel Compatibility Quiz

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Imagine socializing with someone new, and upon introduction you hand them a questionnaire, a digital camera and a #2 pencil. You politely explain that the provided quiz is needed to determine if you want to “friend” them. 

After getting over the surprise paperwork request, the person’s reaction would probably be to assess you as someone sorely lacking in social skills, not to mention rude and offensive.

Facebook allows us to read profiles and see pictures of potential “friends” prior to engaging much effort. We learn about each other’s lives and dialog about common interests. The time, money and emotional commitment is minimal because the friendships exist on-line, not in our homes. We don’t stress about our appearance before we chat; we can socialize in our jammies with hair sticking up, and just enjoy the visit.

 Meeting with real people takes a bit more effort. Live face-to-face does have different social mores than Facebook.

Although we do not advocate interviewing potential friends in this manner, Permission Slips urges you to use a discussion guide process to determine a travel mate’s suitability.  Even if your potential partner is your best friend, sister or mother. A candid discussion upfront can be the difference between a fun trip and a long-lasting relationship or a friendship and trip that goes bust. Too much time in close quarters can be treacherous.

“To know me is to love me” doesn’t always hold. Our friends can be our saviors and sounding boards in small doses. However, spirited lunch conversation might seem less charming over the course of a trip.

 Your time is valuable and it is your time off so you get to set the rules. . Getaways should be fun and restorative, stress-free and light.  Decide who you want to travel with, how you want to travel and what you want to do each day, and you’ll come back ready to tackle your life.

Many women have regaled the tales of their vacation disasters to us. While some disasters are related to sub-par accommodations or transportation snafus most involve conflict with a traveling partner. Many of these issues could have been averted with a little pre-work.

Here are the “big three” discussion topics of travel compatibility that must be considered before embarking on a venture with a girlfriend. Our book will have a complete travel compatibility quiz but this will get you started.

1.       Discuss expectations for budget and comfort

             Which describes your spending for trips?

a.       Minimalist, will trade-off comfort for lower cost.

b.      Budget minded but will make exceptions.

c.       Splurge all the way.

2.       Understand you and your partner’s desire for pace and adventure

               Which statement is true for you?

a.       Once I get there I don’t want to move.

b.      I need action all the time.

c.       I want it predictable.

d.      Surprise and Serendipity are my middle names.

3.       Make sure your partner’s goals and morals are acceptable to you

             How do you like to use down time for your mind?

a.       I want a true escape and not discuss my life while on vacation.

b.      I want someone who can hear me out while on vacation.

c.       I want to presume a different alias while on vacation. What happens in….

We all know that routine keeps us happy: waking up and going to sleep at roughly the same time, eating lunch and dinner at set points during the day, getting a specific amount of exercise, etc.  While your traveling partner doesn’t need to be completely in sync with your biorhythms, it does help to discuss routines in advance, and to make sure your needs for sleep, food and adventure are compatible.

Carol Lewis Gullstad

Love and Lecture, Then Let Go and Live

Love and Lecture, Then Let Go and Live.

Love and Lecture, Then Let Go and Live

Earlier this month, our small island community was stunned to learn that an 18-year-old from a neighboring town had died in a high-speed car crash while heading to high school.

Like other parents, I’m left not only with profound empathy for the family and friends that the boy, Tyler, left behind, but also with a harsh reminder of how truly powerless we are in protecting the creatures that we nurture and love.

We take prenatal vitamins and cut out coffee and alcohol while pregnant. We breastfeed for as long as possible, and avoid foods that could agitate our infants.

We plug up outlets, lock up potential poisons and gate stairways, and carefully screen caregivers and playmates.

We teach our children to avoid strangers, look both ways before crossing streets and wear helmets when biking, skating and snowboarding.

We lecture about bullying, violent video games and internet usage; and discuss drinking, drugs, communicable diseases, abstinence and, perhaps, safe sex.

Some parents cocoon their children as much as possible, homeschooling, avoiding babysitters and never spending nights away. Some believe we just need to trust in God’s will or plans; others say that fate controls our destiny. But the botom line is, no one really, truly, can guarantee their kids’ safety. 

When a child is at a friend’s house or school, we trust that he or she will behave and be supervised, but can we ever be sure that others adults will hide prescription medicine, lock doors, check seatbelts and drive safe and sober?

When our own kids start driving, are we positive that they’ll stay alert and obey laws when out of view? We can’t control peer pressure, which is an undeniable force among teens. In fact, a recent study at Temple University revealed that teenagers will engage in riskier driving behavior, such as racing through yellow lights, when their friends are with them or nearby.

We can’t control the weather, which can create unsafe driving conditions. How many young drivers were stranded or injured in this month’s Midwest blizzards? Here in the Northwest, a friends’ son recently headed off to ski with five friends, hit a patch of black ice on the freeeway and skidded into a semi-truck. If the car hadn’t been a Suburban, the teens wouldn’t have walked away, as they did, completely unscathed.

We can’t control other drivers, who might be texting, lost in thought, singing falsetto to an old Queen song, drifting into sleep or under the influence. What would prevent an inattentive or distracted driver from breezing through a stop sign at a suburban intersection, T-boning an unsuspecting SUV and causing it to roll down an incline (fortunately seatbelts and side airbags protected my family  when this happened two years ago).  

We can only control what is within our own power, and reduce the odds of disaster by taking precautions. We can set up safeguards, teach lessons, repeat instructions and demand compliance. We can model safe behavior (remembering our own seat belts and helmets, never drinking or texting while driving), talk about good choices, remind kids of our expectations, and above all, love and cherish them every day. I’m sure that’s what Tyler’s parents did.

So, should be live in fear and create bubbles around our families?

Our kids need and deserve a certain degree of freedom with their friends. We parents should enjoy time away on date nights, couples’ weekends and girlfriend getaways. Yes, something terrible could happen to us or the kids while we’re apart, but it could just as easily happen when we’re in the same city.

We need to continue moving forward, embracing life while protecting our families as best as we can. No one can predict how much time we’ll have together. I choose to love and lecture, then let go and live.

-Linda Williams Rorem, 14 Feb. 2011

Vacation Mishaps — Managing Lost Luggage and Perilous Political Situations

Vacation Mishaps — Managing Lost Luggage and Perilous Political Situations.

Vacation Mishaps — Managing Lost Luggage and Perilous Political Situations

It’s always disappointing to have a long-craved vacation fail to live up to expectations, such as the time I spent a week shivering in Florida during April only to return home to sub-zero Wisconsin.  Missing luggage presents its challenges, too, and conflicts with friends or family during a vacation can leave one wishing to return to work.

But as Midwesterners are fond of saying, it could be worse.

Last month I heard about an exciting dream vacation my high school friend was taking with her extended family of 11. Their destination was–unbelievably–Egypt, arriving on January 22. These American Tourists had no idea that word had circulated calling for country-wide demonstrations on January 25.  Their long-planned trek to see the pyramids turned into a scary civics lesson of watching a major political uprising take hold in one of the most volatile regions of the world!

By January 29 the group was sequestered in the Cairo airport. They were not permitted to leave; no one was allowed to enter. All concession stands were completely sold out of water and any scrap of food. There was no information at the airport: Nothing about flights; no newspapers, no useful TV or radio broadcasts. The Internet was shut down.

They, and thousands of other stranded fliers, were looking for a way out, waiting for flight crews that could not get to the airport through the riots and chaos that gripped the country.

The family safely flew out of Cairo January 31, one of the earliest groups to leave; they were able to do so because of two key disaster-prevention steps that they had taken. Odysseys Unlimited, their tour planner, had registered all travelers with the State Department prior to leaving the U.S. and two group members had fully charged operational cell phones that they used to get aid from relatives outside the country. It was a tense situation with a happy ending.

Certainly events of this nature are extraordinary; however, you can take a few well-planned steps to prevent any girlfriend getaway from turning into a disaster. Just follow the Boy Scout motto: Be Prepared.

Here’s what should be on any traveler’s  Must Do list to prepare for travel outside the United States

  1. Carry your passport, one credit card and some cash with you at all times.  Wear it in a holder beneath your clothes. 
  2. Register with the State Department before you depart home so that that the U.S. government can expedite leaving and provide help should you need it. 
  3. Make copies of your passport and credit cards and keep them in a second location in your luggage;  also leave copies for a contact at home.  You can also email the images to yourself.
  4. Take with you a mini emergency kit that includes two Band-Aids, two Tylenol, needles and small spool of thread, two safety pins, one mini tampon, one small packet of tissue, one small bottle of hand sanitizer, one small bottle of sunscreen and a water bottle. Be sure to pack a small bag of nuts, a protein bar and an empty water bottle, which, if you are going to an airport, can be filled after clearing security.
  5. Keep your PDA/cell phone fully charged at the start of each day and carry and extra battery.

–Carol Lewis Gullstad, Feb. 7, 2011

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