No matter where or how I travel, it seems I can always count on at least one fellow passenger to run into difficulties because he or she was unprepared.
The other day I watched a young woman, about to board a flight to Europe, search through her luggage at the check-in counter because she had packed her passport. That's old hat.
Then there are those who forget to attach identification tags to their bags in advance and have to go through that process at the airport before departure. Or they pack their playing cards or their money or their reading material in their checked baggage.
My seatmate on a plane to the East Coast a few weeks ago was looking very sour when he joined me. He sat down and, though he was carrying a thick book and a couple of newspapers, he didn't read.
It turned out that he'd packed away his reading glasses. So he sat through the five-hours-plus flight with nothing to do but make small talk. And, frankly, small talk is not something I like to invest a lot of time in while flying.
Problems Relatively Minor
All of these problems, annoying as they may be, are relatively minor, but they do detract from one's travel enjoyment.
There are things that people do to themselves, though, that are potentially more than just inconvenient. They're dangerous.
Example: During a recent cruise through the Panama Canal an elderly woman told her companion that she didn't want to listen to the shore-excursion lecturer while at sea.
"What's he going to tell me?" she asked. "I'll see it all for myself soon enough."
A day later I came across that same woman, red-faced from exertion, huffing and puffing, sitting on the wall of an old fort in Cartagena, Colombia, trailing way behind the group from the ship.
This time she was complaining bitterly that nobody told her there'd be so much walking, or that it would be so hot, or that she'd have to climb hills and stairs.
Less Strenuous Alternative
Somebody would have, if she had taken the trouble to sit in on the talks. She also might have learned something about the area's culture and history.
Armed with adequate information, she could have arranged to do something less strenuous.
Another example: A woman on tour in Calcutta became quite emotional, to the point of being physically sick, by what she called "the unexpected squalor" of the street dwellers in that city.
How could any thinking person visit Calcutta, and places like it, and not expect to see poverty and hunger?
People with weak stomachs shouldn't go to India. Or they should restrict themselves to the more fashionable parts of Delhi and other cities, or those identifiable areas in which the problems of squalor are likely to be less visible to casual viewers.
Another example: A swinging young couple in Israel, he in tank top and thong sandals, she in skimpy shorts, shoeless and with a covering of her upper body that, frankly, didn't do a very good job.
They couldn't get into some of the holier shrines because, they were told, they were improperly dressed. They were not pleased.
At one point along the way they made such a fuss that a policeman began to take an interest. Fortunately, nothing came of that.
Nobody told them there was a dress code, they moaned. They simply didn't bother to find out what was required. Even if nobody had told them about the dress code, common sense should have prevailed in the Holy Land.
Mugged in Panama
Another example: A cruise passenger, male, was mugged in Panama City, Panama. He lost his wallet, watch, gold neck chain, the lot.
He seemed terribly surprised when told that he shouldn't have been wandering around certain parts of the city on his own. He didn't seem to be aware that there was an outbreak of political unrest and violence in that beautiful Central American nation, although it has been well publicized and doing "his own thing" was not the way to go.
Preparation, research, planning . . . call it what you like. It can make or break a vacation.
Your travel agent, carrier, cruise line or airline may be able to help.
Call representatives with the national tourist office of the country you intend to visit. Most have offices in Los Angeles. They'll give you good advice.
I don't want to give you the impression that I'm always so prepared that nothing ever goes wrong. I'm the one who once went to that great Sun Belt city, Dallas, in winter, without a warm coat.
The temperature dropped to below 30 degrees--I came home with a warm coat!
I'm also the person who, having been told that there was a plague of dishonest taxi operators working London's Heathrow Airport, unthinkingly jumped into one of the "Gypsy" cabs--and paid double what I should have paid for the trip into the West End.
Things do go wrong occasionally. The trick is not only to do your homework but to make intelligent use of what you've learned when you get where you're going.