After nearly a year’s absence, I thought I’d blow the dust off this puppy. I’ve been all about the “microblogging” recently, keeping up with Facebook updates and Twitter (follow me @thenotoriousmeg), but haven’t had the attention span to write anything substantive. But given the state of the economy, who knows how much longer I’ll be able to travel, so I might as well document it.
2008 was a banner year for my passport, ringing in the New Year in Nicaragua, closely followed by an all too brief trip to Paris (my first), two work trips to Italy in spring and summer, an epic trip to Portugal for which the Husband stayed on an extra two weeks alone, Labor Day week in Barbados for a gonga deal (no real photos from this trip), and ending the year in Istanbul (photos and commentary to come). Wow. I feel fortunate as hell. I wish I could go back and write about each place (and perhaps I will at some point), but a few things I realized in the course of all these travels.
- I’m really not a Caribbean person. We went to Barbados in September as a result of a really amazing, government-subsidized deal, along with a couple of H’s friends and made a few new friends. It was beautiful and relaxing, but a very different kind of travel than I’ve done in the past or plan to do in the future. While I love going to the beach, I could do without all-inclusive resorts (we actually stayed at the Silverpoint Villa Hotel, which was really awesome and highly recommended) or activities that involve wristbands or forced entertainment. Our vacations usually involve hours of walking and wandering each day, getting lost, museum fatigue, sitting down to eat hours after we were starting to get hungry, dive bars, and hole-in-wall restaurants. And we wouldn’t want it any other way.
- Good exchange rates don’t equal good value. My econ minor husband always gets rankled when I assume a destination must be cheap if the exchange rate is favorable to the dollar, pointing out that it’s more important what you can do with that unit of currency. Using two of our biggest expeditures, wine and museum admissions, as measures, I found despite the Euro, our Portugal trip was quite cheap. You could get some decent local wine for a few euro, and the museums all had free days or some way to get reduced admission. Whereas in Istanbul (with the dollar-friendly Turkish Lira), we paid full-price for every museum (often twice the amounts quoted in guidebooks, I don’t know when they jacked up the prices) to the tune of several hundred total and the cheapest local wine was usually about $15 or 20 US (not outrageous but a lot more than Portugal). We also found Dublin to be more expensive than Belfast, Paris to be more expensive than London, etc. New York can be outrageously expensive or amazingly cheap, it all depends on what you are looking for and where you go.
- Status makes all the difference. For the last few years, H and I have been really lucky to travel with airline and hotel status, due to the frequent business travel H was doing for a long time. The past year, however, he hasn’t been flying or staying in hotels weekly and the gravy train is finally coming to an end. I’ll miss the international flights on AA in business and the free upgrades and welcome amenities at Marriott, but in a way it’ll be nice to be free. There are so many places that American doesn’t fly that I want to go (i.e. most of the Asian and African continents), even if I won’t get to stand in the special people line anymore. There really is no reason to stay at a chain hotel unless you get a great rate or have points to cash in. I’m a big Marriott fan, the Plaza in Buenos Aires and the Shelbourne in Dublin are two of the best hotels I’ve ever stayed in, but now I can go places that Marriots and American Airlines don’t.
On tap for 2009: Cartagena, Colombia next month (very cheap tickets available right now, albeit with multiple stops and redeyes) and dreaming of Asia at some point. Also Iceland. And Berlin. And maybe Beirut. Damn, I need to win the lottery.