Dear Eleanor and Wesley,
Some time ago I was met with an opportunity: a three day/ two night stay on the date and at the location of our choosing for $100. Having the impulsive tendencies of a preteen at a Bieber concert, or a hipster at the Tom’s shoes warehouse, or a meathead in a meat shop, or a vegan at a veggie patch, or a three year old in a department store (I’m looking at you Ellie) all rolled into one, I clearly made the right choice. I brandished my credit card immediately. All I had to do was sit your mom down and decide on a date and location. Simple…Easy… too easy. I mentioned it to her in passing, and then promptly forgot to arrange the vacation. In my defense, I’m sure whatever distracted me at the time was extremely shiny and unavoidably fascinating. After a few months of near constant intention to make the call, I let it slip to the back of my mind and unconsciously gave up on the hundred buck vacation. Lo and behold, eighteen months later, just this last week, I get a phone call. We have two days to book our spot. I feel like this is like Christmas, as if a free trip has just fallen out of the sky. The whole turn of events has me thinking about traveling, making it a perfect time to pass on a few tidbits from my past ventures.
Born out of experience, let my admonitions help you to avoid these all too obvious pitfalls when traveling in far off lands. First, when you go to play a radio station in Chicago on MLB’s opening day and someone offers you free tickets to Wrigley field, take them. Do not miss the most woefully hopeful spectacle in all of sports, even if your keyboard player is a bit under the weather and your lead singer is cold. Chicagoans celebrate this sacred moment, when expectations of inevitable defeat are freshly fostered for the new season, in all sorts of ways. Whether it be wandering on that crisp morning through a sea of blue, losing their tickets on the subway en route to the game, or initiating their beer flavored water consumption as early as 7AM, everyone finds a way to participate. If you are in Chicago on that fateful day, so should you. Wes, go it alone if you must.
Next, when stopping over in London at the beginning of a trip, do not be the American who makes their only UK dining experience a McDonald’s run. That is embarrassing. In fact, I wouldn’t even advise an intentional trip to McDonald’s stateside. Yes, you and your Grammy enjoy the occasional Golden Arch indulgence, but grandparents are a bit of wildcard. The point is that traveling is about experiencing the best of a new culture, not the worst of your own. Have a reasonably open mind about these things.
Likewise, when you characteristically choose Pizza Hut as your first Hungarian meal, know that they will under no circumstances bring the check until you specifically gather their attention and directly ask for it. They will, however, allow you to sit uncomfortably at the table for hours as they collectively shoot daggers at you from their server station. You will stew in each second of cross-cultural no man’s land. However, the look of relief on everyone’s face when you finally realize what must be done will almost make the ordeal worth it. The Hungarians are actually a very sweet and warm people.
You both may not find yourselves in these exact situations. In fact, I hope this letter is able to steer you clear of such misfortunes. Looking back on them though, I realize that I was a rather nervous young lad. I spent so much time in remarkable situations worrying over tiny details that amounted to almost nothing at all. A bit more courage and a willingness to communicate past social or cross-cultural awkwardness could have opened all kinds of doors and at least allowed me to live in moment. Such boldness might be able to get out of your own head and start to recognize the people around you for who they are. That is really the best you can do in any situation. Now, don’t get crazy with this. Be smart about it. It can get rough out there and you have to look out for yourself. Also, I don’t want you thinking that your old man was a ninny. When the chance for redemption came, in the form of an unmarked cargo van filled with sound gear, I took it. I hopped in among the crammed in speakers, was smuggled across the Slovakian border into Hungary, and enjoyed the finest five course Belgian meal I believe I will ever experience. In summary, Europe is weird.