My wife and I are finally making a return visit to France next spring, our 40th anniversary follow-up to the “trip of a lifetime” our family enjoyed in 1995.
I am the designated travel planner. Of the two of us, I am the spouse more willing to put time and energy into reducing the chance of disappointment and increasing the likelihood of satisfaction, so I pretty much take over the planning process. I do touch base with her on the major points.
I am guessing that many, if not most, couples have a similar dynamic regarding travel.
This trait of mine is a blessing and a curse. I enjoy surprise but hate unpleasant surprises. It is next to impossible, however, for one to grant admission to the element of surprise without allowing the unexpected or unsavory to slip through the door. One’s tolerance for the unexpected negative experience is called resilience. I do not want to overestimate my resilience when I am an ocean away from home and a language away from the only one I can understand. And so I plan — and I enjoy it.
We intend to spend two weeks in France: one week in Paris to explore its museums in a way we could not with our children (we lost Peter, or actually he lost us, in the Louvre!) and another week in the Dordogne region of central France, where hills, caves, castles and duck have established a dynasty. The first draft of my plan had us spending the first week in Paris and the second in the Dordogne — until I realized we would have to waste an entire day at the end of our trip, just to grab the late-morning flight from Paris to the USA. It dawned on me that it would be smarter to start our trip in the Dordogne (by taking the four-hour high-speed-train from the Paris airport to Bordeaux) and end our trip in Paris, with only a short train ride from our hotel to the airport the morning of our departure.
So, I have booked the flights, reserved the hotels and rented the car we will use to explore the Dordogne. I have scouted out restaurants that TripAdvisor users recommend. I have looked at train schedules, car rental agency hours (this is important — they tend to close in the afternoon) and market days in the villages of the Dordogne. I am looking at handheld translation devices, but I don’t hold out much hope for their utility. I am now trying to figure out how I can make restaurant reservations and phone calls while we are overseas.*
I run the risk here of destroying all sense of anticipation and replacing it with unrealistic expectations of a trip (dare I call it an adventure?) unfolding according to plan. So I must (must!) leave some hours unscheduled, some paths unexplored (in spite of the temptation to visit via Google StreetView) and some restaurants unreviewed, to allow for the pleasant surprise and, yes, the possibility of disappointment and stress.
In my later years as a research engineer for Eastman Kodak, my supervisor (who gave me unprecedented latitude and trust I will always be grateful for) approached me about taking a new position in a different department, to broaden my horizons so to speak. I was pretty burned out at the time, having recently dealt with a heart attack scare (which turned out to be a stress-related issue) so I was resistant to the idea. I recall that our talk about this turned to sailing metaphors, as he was a sailor — and I was not — and it struck me at that time just how different we were. My supervisor embraced life as a sailor, anticipating and handling whatever the next wave or wind had in store. But my thinking was, what’s the point of venturing into dangerous waters? I had my health to protect and nothing that important to prove.
[I didn’t take the position in the other department at that time but did so a few years later when I felt more resilient. It would be my next-to-last assignment before I signed up for the latest Kodak separation package and left the company. Broad horizons, indeed.]
That same supervisor had been responsible for my first trip to France, my first anywhere overseas. He was trying to build bridges between Kodak’s talented enclaves in the USA, France, England and Australia, and so he arranged a couple of conferences for us to share ideas and other ways of doing things that we might apply in our own workplaces. This not only opened my eyes but made me feel in some small way a citizen of the world, not just another Suburban-American.
He was and is a sailor, a seat-of-the-pants adventurer. I am a course-charter, a navigator. He may not agree but I think such people need each other. Happy Christmas, Guy.
* It has been 18 years since we visited France. A nice dinner for two with wine cost us about 500 francs then. The last time someone used francs to pay for dinner in France was 2002.