Every year in December I like to summarize my year in travel and what I learned from each vacation. This year was a huge one for me in many ways but mainly because I made some major travel-related mistakes that were costly. I guess the more expensive the mistake, the more it’s reinforced in your head and hopefully won’t happen again. Even though I only took a handful of vacations, I learned many things so this is going to be a long one, so hang on.
My first vacation of the year was the first weekend in April when I went to Washington, D.C. for the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run. Although I have been to D.C. many times over the years, this was the first time I went by myself and it wasn’t work-related. I had airline miles that I cashed in and flew there even though it’s close enough I could have driven there. I just didn’t want to deal with the hassle and chaos that is Northern Virginia/Washington, D.C. traffic. If you’ve ever been there, you know.
Not only is traffic awful in the entire Northern Virginia/Maryland/Washington, D.C. area, parking is outrageous and hard to come by, even if you just drive to the city and leave your car in the hotel garage then take the Metro. You can expect to pay anywhere from $20 to $50 per day for parking at a downtown hotel.
I already knew about the traffic and parking, so what did I learn? Well, I learned no matter how many times I visit this city, I discover new places. I had never been to the International Spy Museum or ARTECHOUSE DC and I loved both places. I wrote a post on the spy museum, which you can read here: The International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.- Is It Worth Going To? but I didn’t write a post on ARTECHOUSE DC. It’s an immersive art place, similar to the Van Gogh immersive display that was touring a couple of years ago. The art surrounds you and is displayed on the walls, floor, and ceiling. Since opening in 2017 in D.C., another ARTECHOUSE opened in Miami and another location in New York City recently opened. I did experience motion sickness once or twice while I was there but when that happened, I just closed my eyes for a moment or looked somewhere else until it passed.
April was a busy travel month for me because just a few days after I got home from Washington, D.C., my daughter and I flew to Portugal. This trip was a huge learning experience for me. I learned so many travel-related things, some the hard way, meaning I had to pay (literally) for my mistakes. Where do I start here? I suppose I’ll start with some positive things I learned.
I learned that for the most part, driving in Portugal from an American point of view isn’t that difficult of a transition. The highways are in good condition and I had no problems getting from one city to another. I should say I was only in the southern part of Portugal, known as the Algarve. Only when I ventured to some of the city squares in the Algarve did I have any issues with driving, mostly with parking and the lack thereof. I didn’t think the drivers were overly aggressive but again, parking was another story. I got yelled at not once but twice by locals over parking spots (I know, not a positive but overall driving in Portugal was a positive experience).
Another positive thing I learned in Portugal is the food is every bit as amazing as everyone says. An array of fish is commonly seen on menus, along with a plethora of fresh vegetables. I also learned the grilled fresh sardines in Portugal (and I’ve heard in Spain as well) are NOTHING like the tiny, stinky sardines sold in tins here in the US, but they’re enormous compared to ones here and are about a million times tastier. The desserts are also some of the best I’ve had in any country, including their famous pastel de nata (little custard tarts).
One negative thing I learned in Portugal is the people weren’t as friendly as I’d heard they are. I don’t know if it’s a difference between northern Portugal and southern Portugal or it was just me but the vast majority of people I encountered were not friendly beyond being cordial. I’ve traveled to many places in Europe and never have the people come across as so unfriendly as the Portuguese I came across. Even the Germans, who are not known to be especially friendly were more friendly than the Portuguese I met. First Impressions of Every Day Life in the Algarve (Southern Portugal) from an American Point of View
Now the biggest and most costly thing I learned in Portugal is that if you miss your flight and it’s not the airline’s fault, don’t count on TAP Portugal to help you out. When I spoke to someone from the airline and explained that my daughter and I had missed our flight from Faro to Lisbon (and consequently to the United States), I was flat-out told I would have to purchase return tickets on my own to the US. Not only had I lost the money for the return tickets from TAP Portugal, I would have to purchase same-day flights from Faro to the United States, and I would not be reimbursed or even given vouchers from TAP Portugal.
I’ve missed flights before that weren’t weather-related or airline-related in the United States and every single time the airline put me on another flight for no extra fee. I even missed a connecting flight from Barcelona to the Canary Islands and Iberia Airline put us on the next flight at no extra cost, so I don’t think it’s just a European rule. TAP Portugal just sucks. Lesson learned.
Finally, the last thing I learned in Portugal, and the reason I missed my flight back home is because of the strange fluke that happened to my phone and GPS-enabled watch. Both my phone and watch had reset a couple of days before we were to fly home, to what I thought at the time was the local time in Portugal. For some reason that I still have not figured out, both my phone and watch reset only partially, going ahead not the full five hours like it should have but only four hours. So when I looked at my watch and thought it was 5 am the day we were flying back home, it was really 6 am. We had missed our flight by a full hour because of this mix-up. Only when I looked at a clock in the airport after we missed our flight did I realize that both my phone and watch had reset to the wrong time. Going forward, when I travel to another time zone, I will always Google the local time when my phone and/or watch reset to what seems to be the local time. A Couple of HUGE (and Costly) Travel Learning Experiences For Me
In June, my daughter and I went to Costa Rica, the second time there for me and her first time. I had been wanting to go back to Costa Rica for some time to see if it’s a potential retirement place for me and my daughter wanted to visit some of the volcanoes there (among other things), so it was a perfect choice for us. I decided to have our home base be San Jose, the capital, in central Costa Rica, and take day trips with a guide. Day Trips From San Jose, Costa Rica- Poas Volcano, Waterfalls, Hot Springs, Manuel Antonio National Park, Sloths, and Monkeys!
Although I’ve shunned guided trips for the most part before, other than multi-day hikes to Machu Picchu in Peru and in Yosemite National Park, I was unsure about driving conditions in Costa Rica especially during the rainy season so I thought having a guide would be the way to go. I learned just how valuable a guide can be in Costa Rica. As I mentioned, we were there in the rainy season when it’s not uncommon for roads and bridges to be swept away by strong currents from flooding. Our guide knew all of the safe roads and alternate roads to take so I never had to worry about our safety. Nor did I have to learn any of the many intricate little nuances involved in Costa Rican driving (two quick toots of the horn mean one thing, one long toot another, if you flash your lights that means something else, etc.). Christian, our guide, also explained some important history and other tidbits about Costa Rica and I learned so many things from our conversations with him. Insider Information As Told To Me By a Costa Rican
I also learned how much I loved quirky San Jose. My daughter and I would take Ubers from our resort to the city and just walk around, popping in whatever stores looked interesting, and that was utterly fascinating. I learned San Jose is also full of museums, theaters, and so many other things to do in addition to the Sodas, or local restaurants that serve delicious and affordable meals where you can just point to what you’d like and they’ll put it all on your plate. I learned my Spanish isn’t half-bad (although I’m far from fluent and not bragging at all) and with the help of Duolingo I was able to brush up on my Spanish enough that I could understand people when they spoke to me and they could understand me. Don’t get me wrong, it was simple, short sentences so we weren’t discussing anything complicated, but it was good enough to get by. Why You Should Spend Time in San Jose, Costa Rica.
One final thing I learned is not to let the rainy season scare you away from an area. If you bring weather-appropriate clothes, you’ll find it’s usually not as bad as you build up in your mind. It rained every day we were in Costa Rica but we didn’t let it stop us from getting out and doing the things we wanted to. A good rain jacket and waterproof shoes go a long way.
In September, I went to Asheville, North Carolina, a place I’ve been to many times over the years but like Washington, D.C., I learned there are still new places to discover even in a place you’ve been to multiple times. I also learned I had been stuck in the hiking and/or Biltmore House rut, two things that Asheville is best known for. When I branched out and did other things, I discovered a new botanical garden, an enormous antique place, and some new restaurants. Digging a Little Deeper Into Asheville, NC
Discovering new places in a city where you’ve been many times should be my theme for 2022. In November, I went to Charleston, South Carolina, another place I’ve visited many times over the years and I learned there’s an enormous tea garden just outside the city. I love tea so this was a place I was looking forward to visiting and thoroughly enjoyed tasting all of the samples in the gift shop, admiring all of the unique tea pots, and of course touring the garden. Charleston Tea Garden, America’s Only Large-Scale Commercial Tea Garden
I also learned it’s a terrible idea to try to strap an inflatable paddle board to the roof of your vehicle without straps made specifically for this or a roof rack . My daughter and I both have inflatable standup paddle boards, which we took with us to Charleston. For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to pump up one of the boards in the hotel room so we’d only have to pump up the other when we arrived at the drop-off point at Shem Creek, where I had paddle boarded before on previous vacations. I used bungee cords to secure the board to the roof and less than 10 minutes later, I saw it fly off the car and land squarely in the middle of the road behind me.
Fortunately it was a quiet Sunday morning so no one was right behind me and I was able to pull over, jump out, grab the board, deflate it in a parking lot, and throw it in the back. Of course I had to pump the board up again when we got to Shem Creek, only to discover I had left the fin back at home. Not at the hotel, but back at home where I live. I knew this because it wasn’t in my board bag and I knew I hadn’t left anything back in the hotel room. We took turns on my daughter’s board and it all turned out in the end but it was a big lesson for me that could have turned out much worse (my board was fine).
If you actually made it to this point, thank you for sticking with me and I hope you enjoyed reading about the crazy travel journeys I went on in 2022! This has to be one of my longest posts so far. It was a huge year for travel for me and one where I learned so many important things in life.
Care to share something you learned from travel in 2022? Were there any mishaps that happened when you were traveling this year?
Happy travels and happy holidays!