There are two types of travel: one of necessity and one of pleasure, the latter being the desire of legions of daydreamers .
Traveling for pleasure is a matter of choice: Should one spend the money to paint the house, upholster the furniture--or take off for Sorrento?
Your trip often involves months of anticipation, research and stimulating reading. Once the trip has been completed, your experiences, both visual and physical, will remain with you for a lifetime. What you get is not something you can touch or feel; it's an inner gain.
You have broadened your horizons, perhaps seen uncommon flora and fauna plus other life styles and other cultures. You've heard and maybe learned other languages and listened to new sounds. Your outlook has broadened. Perhaps your tolerance has increased. You are richer in the abstract.
But why would anyone want to spend money to leave a comfortable chair, a favorite bed? Why eat foreign foods or drink liquids that may be different? Why do travelers subject themselves to the unknown?
It is true that in the ever-expanding travel industry, authors of travel books, travel agents and tour operators have made travel more efficient and enjoyable, dispelling many unknowns ahead of time.
Still, the unknown is a part of all travel. Will the plane or train or bus leave on time? Will you make your next connection? Does the hotel have your reservation? Will your destination be in sunshine or rain? Will the dollar fluctuate against foreign currencies?
You realize the existence of the unknown but decide to go ahead anyway. You make the commitment. You look forward to getting away from your daily burdens.
Distance is in itself a great destination, so you will enter a cocoon. Your cocoon should be immutable; you'll be untouchable, unreachable, away from everyday problems.
A Time of Trivia
But no matter how carefully you plan your trip, whenever you choose to enter this cocoon your life will be filled with trivia.
For example, shall we take tour A or tour B? Shall we take the first seating or the second seating? Can we wear shorts to a restaurant? Do you think the T-shirt is a good gift?
Your normal days are suddenly reduced to a grab bag of trivia, which I find therapeutic. You may, too.
Aren't we entitled to 7 or 14 or 21 days a year without having to make difficult decisions, to free ourselves from work, chores around the house or problems of family?
The answer is yes. We all need rests in which we stare mindlessly at a sunset, a verdant valley or a massive mountain range. This is not time wasted, but a healing process.
However, even this therapy is dangerous. You want no problems, no decisions, no disappointments; you expect perfection .
This is a tall order, whether on a pristine beach in the Bahamas, a barge on the canal of France, an elegant hotel in Singapore or a cozy inn in Switzerland.
In most cases you are in the hands of professionals who make their livings trying to achieve that perfection for you, be it a general manager of a five-star hotel, a ship's purser or a busboy in a Paris bistro. They are working, you are not.
A Better View
So don't stew. The room you get might have a better view than another. Tour A might turn out to be more fascinating than tour B. And the table in the dining room, not your first choice, may turn out to be filled with charming fellow travelers.
No matter how you travel, it will probably never be as you expect.
Your tour guide may be knowledgeable but weak in English, the weather may be inclement or your tailor in Hong Kong may be out of your favorite houndstooth woolen cloth for the sports coat you've always coveted.
Brush it off. Walk the side streets, visit a school, try a bakery, befriend some students; for each disappointment there could be many other rewards.
It is the unexpected, the intimate glances, the mingling with the people, the tastes, the colors, the smells and the sounds that will loom largest in your mind once you return.
If you have doubts, or if this is your first major travel experience, consider package tours from reliable operators.
The Help You'll Get
They'll see to your luggage, safeguard your passport, arrange for decent hotel rooms, provide good ground transportation, send you to reliable restaurants and have proficient tour guides on hand.
But after one or two package tours you may not want to visit museums all day, be dropped off at someone else's choice of establishment to buy a souvenir, have your luggage outside your door at 6 a.m., eat breakfast at 7 a.m. and board a bus at 8 a.m.
You may want to travel on your own, linger an extra day at one place or delete a stop the next day. You may want to forgo lunch one day or eat a late dinner on another. Get up when you feel like it.
Solo practice will make you a seasoned traveler; you'll learn to use a vaporetto on the canals of Venice, master the subway . . . and learn to pack.