When vagabonds go on vacation.
When I first began traveling my parents thought that I was living the life of a laggard, lazing around as a tourist all over the world. While they may have been correct on some counts — tourism, as I define it, is simply travel for the fun of it, no matter what style you employ — but living like crap and being too poor to go to any tourist sites and having to work isn’t really most people’s idea of tourism.
Then some years went by and I began making some money (enough to actually afford hotel rooms and go wherever I wanted, at least) but my work was a 24/7 obsession — I traveled to collect content and experiences for articles and books, and I still failed to meet any standard conceptions of tourism. Few people would define hanging out in half finished cities and abandoned ports as “travel fun.”
While I would sometimes take time off and travel around with my family just for the fun of it, I always felt like I was just dipping my toes into the world of tourism — we drove around Australia in a car, we traveled around New Zealand in a campervan, etc … we came close to getting there.
But then the “pandemic” hit and I got wiped out. I never had a contingency plan for not being able to travel internationally. I never thought I needed one. An odd era was also ushered in where journalists were needed more than ever but were overtly unwanted by the companies that usually hire them. What was wanted was individuals willing to regurgitate the press releases and words of government actors and corporate PR divisions — precisely the exact opposite of what journalists are supposed to do. The gunk oozed out by the NY Times and WaPo isn’t journalism. It hardly even qualifies as fake news. When corporations and governments dictate the news to the extent that the obvious can not be stated we’re dealing with that other dirty word that begins with the letter P.
So I went to the other side of the aisle, helped start up a cable show that’s now a hit … and in the process committed myself to being in NYC every Thursday night for filming. Meanwhile my wife works a standard 9-5 (well actually 7-6 and then some) job as a Montessori teacher. It feels like we’re getting close to living the life of normal people, and like normal people we had some time off during the end of year holidays and decided to do what all the other normal people were doing: we went on vacation.
A real vacation to a real vacation destination. To Cancun.
Why did we choose Cancun? Honestly, because everywhere else was too expensive to fly to … and Cancun has enough available hotel rooms that it could serve as a refugee compound in the event of nuclear war. So getting a nice room at
an acceptable rate an acceptable rate for tourists — even at the last minute — was not a challenge. We also have always enjoyed our time there, and for a while we were planning on moving to Mexico.
During the big tourism seasons the traveler hunkers down and bides his time. It’s a normal part of any perpetual travel strategy. He knows that everything will be more expensive, more crowded, and less enjoyable during peak travel times, so he gets a few good books, rents a room for a month, and waits for the storm to pass.
But when you find yourself locked into the same holiday schedule as everyone else you don’t have this option. So my wife and I donned our flying saucer hats and khaki vests and followed the herd.
It was an experiment.
And it didn’t start well. Our flight was delayed like thousands of other flights on that day. “Air traffic control issues” was the stated reasons. But air traffic control issues is really just a euphemism for “America is becoming a third world country.” Basically, greedy airlines and private companies book more flights than what airlines have capacity for. For the airlines, at least, it’s far more profitable for them to book as many flights as they can and then just cancel the ones that breech capacity issues than limit their flights to what airports can reasonably handle. Remember, airlines are not on the hook for food, transport, and accommodation for their passengers due to “air traffic control” issues. They just put a little smirk on their faces, cancel flights, and tell their passengers to go fuck themselves. They truly don’t give a shit that you have non-refundable hotel rooms, transport, event tickets booked … or that you need to book new hotel reservations at your own expense.
While our flight did depart from Rochester hours and hours late we missed our connecting flight from Orlando to Cancun. So we paid for a night at a hotel in Cancun that we never went to and dropped over $100 for a shitty hotel by the airport plus whatever the Uber cost to get there.
The next day our flight to Cancun departed … late. But we eventually got there just to find that our checked bag didn’t make it. This seemed strange to us as the airline had quite a bit of time to get our bag on the flights. But it turned out that the guy at the Frontier check in booth never bothered to scan the bag in ….
Now, some long-term readers of this blog will point out the fact that I checked a bag as being against my own advice. To them I will respond that that advice was given back in the days before you had to pay for carry on baggage … and back before the days when airlines such as Frontier would start charging significantly more for carry on bags as they do for checked bags. The economics of the matter went like this: we could easily fit two carry on bags worth of stuff in one checked bag. I thought I was being clever and saving money — $30 is less than $120. I did not anticipate that Frontier would lose our bag and we would spent an entire vacation without … without anything, really.
As we didn’t have any carry on bags we essentially arrived with nothing but the clothes on our backs. Welcome to Cancun.
I will write more about this fiasco, as it deserves it’s own post for how appalling … and hilarious it was. In terms of customer service, I’d have to say that Frontier ranks #2 on the shit list only to the absolute worse airline on the face of the earth: Wizz Air.
Air travel seems to have changed during the pandemic. Airlines lost all pretenses and now no longer care that you know that they don’t give a fuck. My pilot friend — who actually flies for Frontier — said that his company did the math and found out that 97% of customers that get pissed off and say they will never fly their airline again actually fly their airline again … and customer service has little impact on profitability.
A newfound empathy for tourists
Tourists are comical buffoons to the swaggering, sophisticated vagabond … so we like to think. They spend more, get less, and seem to do everything in their power to allow themselves to be screwed over. We watch them, mock them, and laugh at them. But what I’ve never considered before are the conditions their decision making is predicated upon.
When traveling long-term, time is cheap — you have a lot of it and can spend it like a drunken pipeliner. The long-term traveler can travel slow, get to know places, dilute the cost of flights — their biggest expense, and get daily expenditures down to truly negligible levels. But when you’re a tourist you don’t have the luxury of time — every moment of your trip you’re paying a significant amount for, and this pressure to expedite the nuances of travel leads to poor decision making.
I experienced this directly. We were to have a week in Cancun and we wanted this week to be as enjoyable as possible. Our flights cost about a grand and our room was about the same. We wanted to be right on the beach to save the time it would take to commute there from downtown and to get the things we needed and wanted as fast as possible, and we were willing to pay for it.
This was an odd turn of the strategic wheel for us. I’d never been on a trip where time was such a commodity. On one hand it added an additional pressure — is this how I want to be spending this moment that I’m paying all kinds of cash for? On the other hand it decreased my concerns — I was going to spend a lot of money and therefore didn’t worry about the little things. In other words, I didn’t bother walking around the block three times times to find a restaurant where I could get a plate of eggs for fifty cents cheaper.
… and gained a new perspective on travel.
The good stuff
We paid a lot of money, missed flights, had our bag lost, and endured a prime tourism destination during high season … but we had a good time. I had a week where it was just my wife and I hanging out on the beach, riding around in a golf cart, chatting in bars, eating expensive food, and having a ridiculous amount of sex. I’d gladly endure all the annoyances and expenses to do this again. Which is really the bottom line statement of any trip.
About the Author: VBJ
I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. VBJ has written 3657 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.
VBJ is currently in: Astoria, New York
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