Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | November 29, 2005

Benefits of travel outweigh its irritations

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” ~ Saint Augustine

After two weeks off work and ten days on the other side of the pond, I’m feeling the full force of the end-of-vacation blues.

My husband and I spent ten days in Munich, exploring museums and shops and plazas and castles, doing pretty much what we wanted when we wanted. We enjoyed a day trip to the Bavarian Alps with German friends, and later in the week enjoyed dinner at their flat. We learned a lot about the German language, politics, educational system, and views on ice (Americans use too much). No deadlines loomed, no email messages beckoned, no appointments awaited. If we felt like sleeping late or reading in the sauna, that’s what we did.

With no kids along and surrounded by a language I don’t speak, I frequently chose to read. I finished five books during the trip, such luxury! I found myself listening for snippets of English as we traveled on the U-Bahn (Munich’s subway), strolled the Marienplatz, or wandered through the city’s Pinokothek museums. My brain is extremely wired for English, and I missed hearing it in the background.

I learned that, especially on a chilly, snowy November afternoon, the best thing to order in a German café is not a pastry but a bowl of soup.

I liked that in Germany, the value added tax (instead of sales tax) is included in the sticker price on an item. When I purchased a puzzle for my daughter, the price of 8.9 Euros on the box was the total I gave to the cashier.

I enjoyed the efficient and well-designed rail system that went all over Munich and its suburbs, with frequent trains that arrived and departed on time.

I appreciated the respect that German drivers have for pedestrians. When pedestrians approach a crosswalk, drivers – get this – stop. Pedestrians don’t feel that they have to make eye contact with the driver before it’s safe to cross a street. I must have gotten a little spoiled, because I was almost run over in a crosswalk in Mountain View shortly after we returned. Never mind that my group of four people had the right of way, that we were halfway through the intersection when a speeding car approached and rolled through the stop sign. In our car-centric, why-the-heck-would-anyone-walk-when-they-could-drive society, pedestrians must beware.

I didn’t enjoy the cigarette smoke that fills Munich’s cafes, restaurants, and coffee shops. While I have Libertarian tendencies and believe people have every right to take up the idiotic tobacco habit, I don’t believe that they have the right to inflict it on everyone else. Europeans clearly have different notions on the topic.

I also didn’t appreciate the early (6 to 8 p.m. weeknights, 2 to 6 p.m. Saturdays) store closing times, and the fact that stores are nearly uniformly closed on Sundays. As an American churched in capitalism, I’m used to being able to buy most goods until 9 p.m., and many goods 24/7.

“The modern airplane creates a new geographical dimension. A navigable ocean of air blankets the whole surface of the globe. There are no distant places any longer: the world is small and the world is one.” ~ Politician Wendell Willkie

Despite Willkie’s idealistic and, to a large degree, accurate notions about the effects of air travel, the fact remains that the cattle experience of flying is, for me, one of the biggest reasons not to travel.

I understand why I need to be searched, patted, X-rayed, unshod, and questioned whenever I fly, but I don’t enjoy it. The lines, the cramped jets, the poor and ever-deteriorating service on major airlines, the air pressure earaches, and the agony of missing connecting flights have left me with just one conclusion if I want to continue to travel – and I do. I must become fabulously wealthy so that I can afford a private jet.

But right now, I’m writing on the final evening of my two-week vacation. I’m catching up on laundry, stocking the pantry, getting ready for another week of school and work (and bracing myself for the slew of email messages and projects awaiting my return) and starting my holiday preparations. A scheme to create wealth to rival Oprah or J.K. Rowling will have to wait.

Travel is a lot of work. It’s expensive. But there’s nothing else like it, and my husband and I are already debating our next destination.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” ~ Mark Twain

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