The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men Often Go Astray


Vacation is all about relaxing. But sometimes, just trying to de-stress can be distressing. Why?

One main reason is that traveling involves planning. Unless you’re travel details are being planned by others, or you’re on a cruise.

And, as the saying goes, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.” No matter how loose vacation plans are, every day is made up of us moving through a series of objectives—from when and what to eat, to where to go and how to get there.

Sure, part of every plan is to be prepared. And the more we plan and prepare for vacation, the greater the chances of a smoother vacation, more like what we envisioned. Unfortunately, the more plans there are, the more opportunities one might encounter hiccups and stress along your travels.

I don’t think that’s an argument for not planning and preparing. I like a well-organized vacation. But the thing is, even minor bumps in the road that would be easy enough to manage life’s curveballs when you are home. If traffic is bad, you know what side streets are best to get you home. If the Metro is delayed, you know the best place to grab a cab and still get to happy hour.

But, those same little hiccups are much different away from home. When the airline ticketing agent in Peru says a “surprise airline strike” cancelled all flights out of Cusco, which would result in missing a return flight home…well…that can derail the peaceful, easy feeling attained at Machu Picchu. It’s disruptive to a vacation when one of the major highlights of a holiday is visiting India’s Taj Mahal, and while on the way, the driver tells you the highway is closing because of violent deaths and beheadings.  (Yes, both of those personally happened to me, along with a dozen other bumps and barriers.)

My approach to handling those stressful times is simple. I address the stress in five steps. First, I recognize it. This involves the initial bit of internal freaking out, and colorful language. Then, consciously and exercising extreme self-control, I make four things happen.

1) I put the stress into perspective.
2) I roll with it.
3) I figure out options (current and future), and then—most important—
4) I get right with it.

That might sound simplistic, or written off as obvious and easy. But wait until you’re facing stress on vacation, and then move through the above.

Traveling stress free is hard, you’ve put a ton of energy, time and money into details just to get to a particularly country. On our recent trip to Spain, I admit I was initially really disappointed with our hotel arrangements. In fact, I did more prep and planning for Spain, than any other trip.

I did everything experienced travel bloggers recommend: check the hotel website, check the online reviews (especially TripAdvisor—a MUST, in my book), called to confirm specific details like a hotel shuttle to City Center were correct, etc. To this day, there are no words to describe how angry I was when the receptionist informed me that I was, in fact, misinformed about the “free” shuttle timing and cost. She got a got taste of Irish temper on that one. But, I’ll tell you now, that didn’t help the situation. Never lose it. Allow a mistake to be “recovered” and believe in the power of the social network. Again, I flag TripAdvisor.

With that in mind, I do have some additional tips that have worked for me to get me through the little curve balls and bumps in the road that happen on vacation travel.

The fact is, even when a trip is planned “by the book” things can and do go wrong. Here are my personal Six Travel Tips to “keep calm and carry on.” They are obvious, but in the heat of the moment, trust me, they are easily forgotten and can get you through to the sunnier, fun parts of enjoying your vacation.

  • Read. ReRead and Read Again. Read all the details about your travel arrangements be it airline, train or rental car. Know what happens, and more importantly, be ready to accept it if your flight is canceled or if your car gets returned a day late.
  • Be kind. Most of the time, the person you want to scream at is not responsible for the problem at hand. Be compassionate because it’s not their fault and they could be the person to get you out of your current predicament. (Confession, I am guilty of violating this rule more than I want to admit. But, I’m learning and getting better each time I travel)
  • Cash is King. In this current age of debit and credit cards, we rarely carry actual currency. When I travel, I always make sure I, and anyone else with me, carries $50 of local currency. Not every store, or restaurant in developing countries takes plastic. More importantly, sometimes when you’re super lost and the smartest thing to do is get a taxi. Period.
  • Keep in touch with the home front. Being the owner of two dogs, we obviously can’t take them oversees with us. Unfortunately, we don’t have DropCam, but we do make sure our friend and pet sitting hero posts TONS of pictures of the fur babies to Instagram. (Let’s face it if you can’t DropCam, Instagram is the next best thing).
  • Don’t open your wallet in the middle of a street. Seriously, you wouldn’t just whip out your wallet while walking down 5th Avenue so why on earth would you do that in Piccadilly Circus?
  • Mind the carry on. If you are heading to the airport or getting on a train, your carry on bag should always have: money, passport, credit cards, hand sanitizer, a clean t-shirt and underwear, toothbrush and toothpaste, journal, and a good book because you just never know. The rest is up to you.
  • Be a copycat. If you travel alone, make copies of your itinerary and travel documents (passport, visa, etc.) and leave it with a reliable (and accessible) friend, or family member. If you know the phone numbers and email addresses where you are staying, include them in the itinerary. I did this when I went to Nepal and it was a huge help concerning a family emergency. (Of course there is always Facebook and email, but consider it an “added level” of security).

Did you know that April is Stress Free Month? Am I the only one who considers that ironic, since it’s also the month taxes are due. What is your worst travel nightmare? Did you handle it successfully? What was your lesson? Have a tip of your own to share?

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Inca Trail Pack List

While chatting with a co-worker about her upcoming Inca Trail trip this November, i realized i never included a recommended “what to pack” list on my blog. In honor of her upcoming trip, here is a packing list of things you really need.

As the italics indicate, the key word in the above sentence is *really.* Friends and tour operators will give you advice about what to bring. But here’s the thing. Most people hike the trial as part of an organized tour. And for most people (including everyone I know) that is the right way to go. In those instances, you are given a small pack and told you can put six pounds of items in the bag. Anything else that you want to bring will not be carried by the porter. Who might lug the extra pounds over a demanding terrain, where altitude is a factor, you ask? You.

The beginning of the Inca Trail
Welcome to the Inca Trail

If you are seasoned hiker, this is probably not a big deal. If you are new to long, steep and demanding hikes, i strongly recommend you follow this guidance. Friends will tell you to bring unnecessary things. What I recommend below equates to personal pack light enough to enjoy the hike.

Inca Trail Pack List #1. This is the stuff that goes in pack your porter will carry:

  • 4-5 pairs socks. Invest in heavy-duty running or hiking socks so your heels and toes have some “cushion.”
  • 3 dry weave type shirts, short sleeve
  • 2 dry weave type shirts, long sleeve
  • 1 pair of hiking pants (converter style that double as shorts are best—in a fabric that dries out fast)
  • Select toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, travel size deodorant, bug repellant, sunscreen. That’s all you need. This is a hike, not a beauty pageant.) (Second note here: depending on how much your sleeping bag weighs, these may have to in your backpack)
  • 1 Headlamp and one small flashlight—invest in a good, light LED headlamp, you’ll thank yourself later.
  • 1 Deck of cards
  • 1 Sleeping bag

My body temperature tends to drop quickly after a hike. As a result, i get very cold. If you are genetically wired the same way, i strongly recommend sucking it up and packing two additional items: a long sleeve cotton shirt and a warm sweater. As soon as you get to your campsite, change into these. Immediately, don’t wait, or you’ll get cold and body temperature is key.

Not referenced above but necessary: dry bags. Invest in some dry bags for your clothes. I got my dry bags locally at Hudson Trail Outfitters. REI is another option—and I bet LL Bean has some terrific ones—they’re one of my favorite retailers out there. You don’t need anything super fancy, just something that has a very tight seal to protect your clothes. Tip: weigh your dry bags before you get to Peru! Once i was assigned my duffel, i realized mine were adding weight causing me to repack about six times.

One of the many types of dry bags you can purchase for your Inca Trial hike.
One of the many types of dry bags you can purchase for your Inca Trail hike.

Inca Trail Personal Pack List #2. This is what you carry up the mountains.

  • Water bottle—Alternatively is a Camelbak hydration system
  • Camera
  • Book or journal if you use them
  • Band-Aids and moleskin
  • Poncho
  • Rain jacket (yes, both)
  • Travel pack of kleenex
  • Any meds that you take regularly
  • Pocket Knife—Swiss Army variety is always useful
  • Sun Glasses
  • Passport, ID and $100-$200 in cash.

The cash is in the event you want to buy treats (candy, gum, Gatorade) along the trial. You may also want a t-shirt at Machu Pichu and of course you need to tip your guide. Regarding a camera, several people took photos on their iPhone. I love to take pictures and hauled a larger, more professional version with a zoom lens. The choice is yours but I do think you’ll be happier with at least a point-and-shoot camera. There are some images older iPhone cameras just don’t capture well.

I packed my bag a few different ways. Ultimately, the above is the smartest way to go. Pack list #2 are the items you will need throughout a given day. Don’t be foolish and have them miles ahead of you with a porter.

Now, i met a person on my trip who had a full on first aid kit on her back. It weighed a ton but she wanted to be prepared. I thought it was excessive but totally admit, we borrowed her duct tape. If you have questions about optional gear, shoot me an email. I’m happy to weigh in with my two cents.

Since i migrated my blog from Tumblr, i will be updating the Peru posts. As a side note: I am really unhappy with how the pictures transferred. I debated editing my posts but decided not to. It’s a reflection of my writing style and how it’s evolved. Thankfully, i’ve evolved a lot and found, what i think, is a better style. What do you think?

And so, good luck Ms. Toher!