Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - July 19, 2019
Never been so easy
If the traveling bug bites, real challenges need to be met to produce a successful trip. But many problems are more perceived than
actual. I have often wondered how many people decide to experience the world vicariously by watching television travel shows, kept
at home by problems they imagined would be hard for them to overcome. While bus tours and cruises may fill the bill for some, they
tend to be pretty expensive. Husband Art and I frequently travel to Europe for two weeks or more for what one person may spend on
a trip of half that time. These arrangements also limit the sense of really experiencing the places visited. Rigid schedules do not
allow a person to linger on those aspects they enjoy or skip over the ones they do not. Moving as a group from place to place with
the same group of people encourages making new friends within the group, but discourages interactions with the locals. In some
respects, it is just a more-intense version of television travel.
With my being a teacher and Art having his own business, we have been lucky to have the flexibility needed to easily travel. Our love of family history made Europe and Great Britain a common destination for us. So several times over the years, I wrote columns discussing how we have solved typical travel concerns. This was done with the hope that they might encourage others who want to travel, but were inhibited by their concerns.
Not wishing to repeat myself, I did some checking and quickly discovered three columns, each addressing a slightly different angle. The most recent was "Not in the guide books" in 2016. It didn’t address any concerns, but instead emphasized that often the most memorable events occur when you are on the way to, or returning from, some “big” intended destination. It is as spot-on today as when it was written. An example happened recently when Art, his daughter Karen and grandson Josh were in Berlin. While stopping across from the Tiergarten, a group of young woman approached, raising money for a bridal bachelorette party for one of them. Art had fun quizzing them at length. At first this was to see if it was some sort of scam, but when they discovered it was the “real deal,” all chatted a considerable time just discussing the details.
"Travel technology" from 2014 did address actual concerns, showing how much easier travel is today due to technology. However, things have changed enough in the past five years that an update was fitting and most of it relates to communications. Whereas WIFI was as valuable then as now, its presence in 2014 was limited. Now, virtually every accommodation has it. And the venerable pay telephone is now as rare in Europe as in the U.S. If a person does not want to entertain the difficulties of modifying his or her cell phone to work on the local networks, American carriers have made arrangements with local suppliers so that a traveler’s smart phone will work just as it does at home ... although the price can be steep. However, I foresee that as demand increases, the price for seamless service will continue to decline.
But when I reread my "Easier than you might think" column from 2011 - just 8 years ago - I was startled that several important aspects had changed dramatically. The third paragraph began:
In Europe, motels are quite rare and hotels quite pricy. Bed and breakfast establishments are the least expensive and also the most abundant.
While true when written, inexpensive motels and hotels have exploded in number with prices in the same range as an U.S. Comfort Inn.
In some places, you can even rent a motel room in the middle of the night with just a credit card and without speaking to a person.
You use the card at an outside kiosk. The card is charged and an access code and room number are presented. The code opens the hotel’s
front door and the room door. No muss, no fuss!
While “bed and breakfast” accommodations still exist, most people now rent via the internet using services such as Booking.com or AirBnB.com. We were originally apprehensive about the latter. But we have now used the service five times and have a sixth place reserved. Our experiences have been positive to extremely positive. We get to rate our experiences and these ratings are available to all future prospective renters. We stayed in a place for three nights last summer where both Art and I wished our home was that nice and were charged the equivalent of $60 per night as well as eating figs fresh from the tree next to the apartment.
In that earlier article, I also said in the typical bed and breakfast, cash was king and you pay at the end of your visit. That has switched almost completely, so now payment is usually just like in the U.S.
I also mentioned how some people are anxious about eating, but many familiar dishes are offered in Europe. That too continues to change. The number of American companies, such as McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Burger King, is increasing, so you can now opt for Subway or KFC is some locations. But many local pizza and burger joints seem to be doing their best to emulate the American chains. Art, Karen and Josh ate at the “Block House” in Berlin - an establishment shameless in its goal of emulating the American steak house. After a day of sightseeing fueled only by cereal and sandwiches at their place, they decided to splurge. Art opted for the filet mignon and reported it, the baked potato, salad and toasted bread were among the best he has had.
With sites such as Orbitz.com, Hertz.com and AirBnB.com, people can book their flights, a rental car and accommodations from the comfort of their home. They can have a Big Mac or Pizza Hut pizza once they arrive until they feel comfortable enough to try the local cuisine. It has never been so easy!
Left: Karen and Josh with the bride-to-be and some of her friends across from the Tiergarten in central Berlin. Right: Karen and Josh enjoying their half-liter beers before the steak arrives.