When it comes to traveling, inevitably the topic of travel partners comes up. Who do you go with? And why did you pick these people in the first place? I think I have experienced most if not all possible variations of traveling with partners.
Let’s start with family. This is the typical family vacation. Dad drives, mom provides the food, and the kids listen to a walkman/CD player/ watch DVD in the back seat of the car. Only, in the 1988, as my family drove from LA to San Francisco, we did not have a walkman, CD player, or DVDs to watch in the backseat. That was because: we didn’t own a walkman or CD player, and DVDs had not been invented yet. Still, it was great fun despite getting carsick from eating a Burger King whopper in the backseat of a Volvo 264. That I recall. There were only four of us on a self guided tour.
Fast forward to 2008 where I went on another family vacation, this time I went with my mom, her sisters, and father. Instead of a self guided tour, we were part of a larger group of about 40 people to Hokkaido, Japan. Hokkaido is beautiful; it has an active volcano, a chocolate factory, and a beautiful flower field called Furano.
The image to the left is from Furano. As you can tell, the skies were blue with nice clouds, the fields and trees and the flowers a spectacular contrast. I will admit that the camera work was a bit shoddy. The following year, my uncle joined us to Okinawa, Japan on another tour. Unlike Hokkaido which was cool and drizzled for the first three days and nice on the last two, Okinawa was blazing hot all five days.
Traveling together as a family on a tour has its upside when no one in the family has to make any decisions except what to wear and what trinkets to buy for souvenir. And since all of us on the last two Japan trips were all adults, there was no need to hassle a young child to eat his food, shower, dress, etc. The only thing that came close was trips to the bathroom with my 90 year grandfather; although still hale, it was still best to have someone accompany him so he does not slip. Nevertheless, on the 2008 trip, as he was in a large swimming pool with the water up to his waist, he slipped and nearly went under. I was nearby and righted him. Scary moment.
2. Traveling alone
My second trip to Paris, France in 2003, my day trip to Heidelberg in 2003, and going to Grand Rapids, Michigan in 2006. When I visited Paris the second time in 2003, I had stayed with some family friends in one of Paris’ suburbs. Peter drove me to the regional commuter rail station near his house and I rode the train into Paris. I had not yet left for Strasbourg for the study abroad program and had a few days to spend by myself. This was good since I could go wherever I want, eat wherever I like, and spend however long as I want in whatever place I want. And if I got lost, there was not fighting over maps and recriminations as to why I got lost. This created one happy incident: I found Maison Victor Hugo and spend a happy 30 minutes looking over the life of Victor Hugo and artwork dedicated to his magnum opus. The downside: if there was something really special I wanted to share with someone, I had to wait until I met people. There’s no “Hey, you gotta see this…” Instead, it’s “oh wait, I can’t tell anyone except through photos. You missed the smell, the ambiance, and 3D view.”
3. Traveling with friends
Traveling with friends are stressful especially if you don’t know them well enough. The Planner – Bohemian dichotomy comes to me. Friend A is a planner who wants all the hotels, airfares, train fares, and rentals booked 2 months in advance at the best rate possible. Friend A will have a set schedule of where to go, when to go, how long to go, and how much money is budgeted for souvenirs and food. Friend B is carefree; show up at the hostel and see if they have room. Obviously, they will be at loggerheads. And if one of them is not licensed to drive or have a license for that country, yeah, I leave it up to the reader’s imagination.
4. Traveling with random people
This I haven’t quite done. Although in a tour, everyone else is random, I mean just walking up to another group of people who happen to share the same itinerary as you do and joining them in the same bus, car, or train carriage AND then agreeing to travel together for the duration of that leg. I’ve snuck in with tour groups so that we go up together; for example, when I was in Shanghai 2010, I wanted to go to the observation deck of this one building (forgot which). I had just bought my ticket and walking towards the line to take the elevator when I saw THREE tour groups enter the building and get in line. It was obvious that groups would be given priority over individuals. What do I do? Join one group and pretend to be in that group. What else could I have done?
Perhaps because I fall into the planner category, I have never joined random individuals and tour something together, like the Louvre or Heidelberg.
5. Traveling with co-workers
This was a first for me. Last year, my company sent six employees to our China office in Dalian. Also joining us where two toddlers and a boy in the womb (so, 2 and a half). Then joining us where two more girls who were helpers for the mother. And what a trip it was. Our company founder and his wife were in town as well. They had been in Dalian before and they decided to take us all around. We all decided to go to the park in Dalian on October 1, the Chinese national holiday. In my experiences in China, October 1 is crazy there. Everyone and his mother are out and about that day. Worse, it rained that day so everyone was a bit wet. In the right, the picture is taken from Xinghai Park where there is a structure that resembles an open book. When I first saw it, I thought it was a skateboard ramp, except no one uses skateboards in China. That comes from my upbringing in Huntington Beach. Notice the rain clouds in the background.
This was probably only the second time I went out with co-workers. And it’s interesting to see them outside the workplace. After all, they are all mothers and fathers and daughters and sons. How they interact in fun situations is probably a fallback to when they themselves were children. When you meet coworkers outside the professional context, you see a different side of them especially how they deal with their children. A lot of parents have said it was easier to negotiate with an attorney from a rival firm than their own six year old.
I leave for China and Singapore in three days. This trip is a mix; at times I will be by myself and at times I will be with family. But then, as a grown adult, isn’t that’s what expected of me?