“One’s mind stretched to a new idea can never go back to its original dimensions.”
~Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
The hope and excitement in her eyes make me smile in the deepest of places.
After weeks of pouring over the seemingly infinite details that come with planning a wedding, our daughter Emily is telling me about where they’d like to spend their honeymoon. Her enthusiasm is so palpable that I’m ready to take the trip myself – except that I’ve already been on a honeymoon. A mere thirty-nine years ago.
Our Caribbean honeymoon in 1979 has secured its place in our family lore as truly the worst trip we’ve ever taken. We’ve shared the stories, filed away the nine photos that turned out (more on that later) and laughed at what a debacle it was. I hadn’t thought about that trip in a long time, but when Emily mentioned the word honeymoon, the memories came flooding back as clearly as if I’d just been there.
What also came into focus this time was something I hadn’t realized before, or at least hadn’t consciously put into words. Woven among our experiences on that long-ago October journey were an extraordinary number of teachable moments. And although learning invaluable travel lessons was never on the itinerary, Herb and I must have been paying attention.
We’ve never made the same mistakes since.
* * * * *
Travel Lesson #1: The least expensive route is not always the wisest.
My Miami-native husband had always wanted to spend his honeymoon in the Caribbean. And he thought it would be even better if we could experience more than one island. He discovered a promotion from Eastern Airlines in which you could fly to as many Caribbean islands as you wished, with one slight catch: You had to stop in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on every flight. It didn’t seem unreasonable at the time, and we happily booked our tickets to Barbados – because it was the farthest away – and Saint Martin – because we loved the idea that there was a French side and a Dutch side.
Our early morning flight took us from Minneapolis to Atlanta to San Juan to Barbados. While waiting in the various airports, we played hours of Scrabble on our shiny new travel-sized game board. I think it must have been midnight when we arrived in Barbados. After a few days, we packed up for Saint Martin and another trip through San Juan. This time we had a four-hour layover, put our bags in a locker and took a taxi to the beach. A few days later we flew back to San Juan, where we spent the night at a nearby hotel in order to make our connecting flights to Atlanta and home to Minneapolis.
We had completely underestimated the impact that this special “traveling through a hub” promotion would have on our limited timeframe. What we saved in air fare cost us a day in Barbados and another in Saint Martin, a hidden expense of time we could never recover, no matter how many Scrabble rounds we managed to play.
Travel Lesson #2: Be sure the hotel room you book is the hotel room you get.
It sounded absolutely charming. An 1820 Georgian mansion-turned-hotel within walking distance to a nearby beach. But when our taxi arrived late at night at Sam Lord’s Castle in Bridgetown, Barbados, we were shown to a room in a different building that could best be described as ordinary – both the room and the building. We had told the hotel it was our honeymoon, but nothing special had been done, which we later assumed was probably because everybody staying at Sam Lord’s Castle seemed to be on their honeymoons!
The following morning, we spoke to the hotel manager and were offered a room in the Castle, which was only available for one night. It turned out that the “Castle” was just a small part of the lodging at Sam Lord’s Castle. We moved into our new quarters and spent one night in the room we had thought we’d booked for the entire stay.
Travel Lesson #3: When you make plans with people you don’t know, always have a back-up plan.
One of the big attractions on Barbados at that time was renting a Mini Moke, an open-sided two- or four-seat vehicle for touring around the island. Rentals were fairly expensive, hard to come by and required a two-day minimum. Herb and I didn’t need a moke for both days and met another American couple at breakfast – we still remember their name and that they were from Long Island – who also were interested in a one-day rental. We agreed to share the moke; they would take it the first day and turn it over to us the following morning.
We mapped out a route for our moke adventure, plotting our way around the island. Herb even secured a temporary Barbadan driver’s license, required at the time. The next day at breakfast, the couple never showed up. We finally tracked them down in the hotel parking lot, getting ready to leave – in our moke. “We decided to keep it both days,” the man said before driving off.
Herb and I were speechless and felt foolish for trusting people we didn’t know. It had never occurred to us that they wouldn’t keep their word. We salvaged the day by hiring a taxi to take us to a few places around the island. It wasn’t quite the same as traveling by Mini Moke, but it was the only option for going beyond the resort.
Travel Lesson #4: Tourist traps are tourist traps.
“Are you going on the Jolly Roger?”
It was a question we were asked almost hourly at Sam Lord’s Castle. We had decided to pass on the pirate-themed party boat, preferring quiet time on the beach to walking the plank with honeymooners we didn’t know. But then the nagging questions kept playing with our sensibilities. What if the Jolly Roger was really fun? What if it wasn’t a tourist trap? Could it be something we’d regret not doing?
We gave in to curiosity and booked a cruise on the Jolly Roger. And it turned out to be exactly what we had originally thought. As we stood watching yet another young woman being tossed from the plank by a costumed pirate, we could only laugh at ourselves for having fallen for all the hype.
It was a poignant lesson in staying true to yourself. Always.
Travel Lesson #5: Bring along extra items you may not be able to find at your destination.
Before our wedding I was having trouble with my tried-and-true hard contact lenses and had switched to soft lenses that needed to be sterilized every night in a little portable boiler. The boiler came with a specially-designed case to hold the lenses for cleaning and storage.
Somewhere between Barbados and Saint Martin, I misplaced the case. I had no idea what had happened to it, and I quickly learned that I couldn’t pick up a replacement at the local drug store. I bought a regular case to store my unsterilized and unwearable lenses until we returned home and had thankfully remembered to pack my glasses.
And then there was the matter of my camera. My beloved and always trusty Nikkormat film camera had somehow stopped working properly on that trip. We didn’t know the extent of the damage until we sent in the rolls of film for developing and discovered that only nine pictures had turned out.
I like to think this travel lesson was lurking somewhere in my mind when we traveled to Antarctica in 2017. The importance of not-available-at-your-destination takes on a whole new meaning in such a remote part of the world. Herb and I began traveling with extra batteries and memory cards and a camera for each of us on that trip. We still do.
Travel Lesson #6: Love conquers all.
I oh-so want to protect my daughter from making the same mistakes we did. But I know she and her fiancé will have their own lessons to learn and their own path to follow. They are much savvier travelers than Herb and I were, and they will undoubtedly have some advice to pass along to us.
And thirty-nine years from now, I hope they will look back on their life together as the great love-filled journey that a life together is meant to be.