When I was young, I wanted to travel and see the world. Today I have the free time and disposable income to pursue that youthful desire. The problem is that though I still want to see the world, especially if there’s a dog show there, I don’t much like traveling.
Let’s start with the whole process of making travel arrangements. There was a time when everyone who did any amount of personal or business travel had a travel agent. A good travel agent was your personal genie (you decide whether to conjure up Barbara Eden or Robin Williams), a genie that would know your personal tastes and idiosyncrasies. All you would have to do is say where and when.
At one point in my life, I managed an in-house travel office, and I still remember my head genie, Maurine, Mo for short. Mo made travel arrangements for a company of over 2,000 employees, half of whom were frequent fliers. Our company sent people all over the planet, often into very remote, dangerous areas. Mo knew which ones would only stay in hotels that offered room service and which required handicap-accessible rooms. She knew how far each person lived from the airport, who used public transportation to get to the airports, and who preferred to drive. She would also arrange to have you change flights in a city where you could overnight and have dinner with your cousin you hadn’t seen in five years. All I ever had to do when I left the office for the airport was say, “Mo, where’s my travel package?” and she would hand me a folder that had my airline tickets, rental car reservation and directions to my hotel and all my meeting locations. She would even include a list of recommended restaurants for selected cities.
Today few individuals or companies indulge in the luxury of a personal travel agent, and we weary travelers are left to our own devices. I start with the disadvantage of living in Memphis, TN. One would think that the home of Federal Express would be a major airline hub. Not so. While I can purchase a first flush Darjeeling tea from India and have it arrive at peak freshness thanks to Fed Ex, I can’t fly my fat carcass into the next time zone without my deodorant failing.
I subscribe to at least six newsletters that send me alerts on the latest travel deals. Though I value spontaneity, I usually like to make my travel arrangements well ahead of time. I mean, I already know I will be in Orlando in December and New York in February. Mostly the newsletters are good for reminding me I paid too much for my airfare and hotel.
Over the past 15 years, I have become pretty adept at navigating the multiple online services that purport to help you make your travel arrangements. I can’t say why anyone would put their confidence in either a garden gnome or Captain Kirk, but I usually do start with one of the ubiquitous booking sites. Most of the time, I am able to book my airfare through one of these sites. However, I usually resist the temptation to bundle my flight and rental car at the same time. I just have this vision of enduring another unpleasant day of modern air travel, capped by an extra hour at the airport waiting for a shuttle to take me to a rental car counter six miles from the airport to pick up a car that has inadequate air conditioning and drive another hour to a hotel that has a coin-operated ice machine.
I prefer to use the tried and true, a la carte method of checking out the show’s premium list for hotel recommendations. These days, I often travel without a dog, but it comforts me to sleep in a room that shares a floor with four Mastiffs. I also use one rental car company exclusively, in the hope that they might make sure the cruise control is working and won’t charge me for gas because I drove the car two miles after I filled the tank. Happily, all of this aggravation is rewarded by a weekend meeting new people and seeing more beautiful dogs. Hemingway may have believed the journey was more important than the destination, but then he never went to a dog show. And that’s today’s Back Story.