Unraveling or Traveling?

Nobody asked my advice, but I feel pretty sure any kind of premarital counseling should include a mandatory trip for the two of you. That way, you’re welded together in either tiny airline seats or navigating terra incognita from the cramped front seat of a car. You find out whether the other person is a peppy and relentlessly driven sightseer, say, or a calmer, more contemplative sort who views the world from a barstool or coffeehouse and orders another drink before venturing out.

My husband and I are in the latter category. Some people would call us travel slugs. Since almost everything sounds better in French, we both strongly prefer the term flaneur. We stare, we stroll, we sip, we sit, we surmise.

Even so, the two of us have our differences — and there’s nothing like a little travel to tease out those differences and force you to decide out whether they’re amusing eccentricities on the other person’s part or felony offenses punishable to the full extent of the local police state.

We got off to a fine start flying to Boston, with both of us agreeing that the person who gets the aisle seat should be the menopausal woman. Well, anyway, my husband agreed once I parked myself in the aisle seat and refused to budge. Everything went quite smoothly till we got to the question of a rental car, with his usual insistence we lease the cheapest car and mine that tin cans are for soups and not for said menopausal woman. Fortunately, for some reason, we got a free upgrade to a fullsize car.

“Do you want to return it with a full gas tank or an empty one?” the woman behind the counter wanted to know.

Jeez, talk about a no-brainer. If there’s anything I can’t stand, it’s the frantic, last-minute hunt for a gas station. I will pay any price and bear any petroleum burden to avoid gassing up a car at the last minute. If you want to see what a total meltdown disaster that kind of cheapness can be, please check here, for our personal story of jetlag, angst, triple-digit temperatures and four flat tires because of someone else’s insistence on filling up the goddamned gas tank.

“We’ll fill it up,” my husband said, in the slightly panicky voice he speaks in when he fears I’m about to make an expensive choice.

We drove to Cape Cod. We met people, including my virtual — and now real — friend, Sandy, of Wellfleet’s famous B&B, Chez Sven, who blogs about local and environmental issues here. (She and her husband, Sven, are fascinating. How many people do you know whose grandfather was a friend of the last Russian czar, Nicholas II? I have a friend whose mother’s first name was Princess, but I don’t think that counts.) We drove to Provincetown and Truro, we complained about too many tourists, we ate enough seafood to grow gills.

When it was all over, we returned our rental car with a full tank and flew back to Austin, where it was, predictably, a zillion degrees. The land was parched and the hot wind was combustible, and it hurts to think it’s not even August yet.

Standing outside the airport, with traffic swarming around us and the heat blasting full-bore, my husband muttered something about how we should really take a bus home. I ignored him and hailed a taxi. We rode home, listening to the cabdriver’s story about bicycling cross-country with an HIV-positive team. Later, I told my husband we wouldn’t have heard such a great story on the bus and he said I was wrong. Every day, he hears fascinating stories on the bus.

His stubbornness, his cheapness, his sense of fun. Oh, hell. What could I do but find it amusingly eccentric?

(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)

20 comments… add one
  • I know someone whose grandfather was in prison with Gandhi. I know that has nothing to do with your post, other than the part about the Tsar but just had to share this random fact.

    I am a type A traveler. I feel like I spent so much money to get there that I want to eke every last thing out of the trip. My husband always says I need to slow down. I say I would rather see Buckingham Palace then sit in a rented apartment in London and play cards.

  • It’s a do it well or die proposition. Traveling. Together. Either you have it down, or you don’t.

  • Thanks for the shout-out, Ruth. It was such fun meeting you. Totally can identify with this post, only I’m the frugal one and Sven is always pushing towards consumption.

  • Love the idea of making travel a premarital obligation! Sounds like, despite the differences, you had a great trip. And how lucky you were to meet Sandy and Sven. Bring that cranky husband of yours and come visit Ashland again!

  • And after that heat, that you’re still finding anything amusing, is amusing in itself! 🙂

  • After 6+ years as we newspaper wedding columnist and attending 24+ strangers’ wedding per year, I’ve always said that couples should either ride a tandem bike or paddle a tandem kayak before they marry. VERY TELLING about teamwork, but you are right … traveling is another biggie. You simply do NOT realize how much daily, jot and tittle independence you have in life, until you’re on the road with someone and have to decide on @#$#@ everything together.

  • We just had family visit and we discovered very quickly that my husband and I tend to be the go-getters while our visitors were quite the opposite. By the end of the time we’d found a happy medium–it helped that we traveled to Amish country; slowing down is part of the experience (and sleeping in).

  • Isn’t it funny how we love to hate what we love?

  • costs aside, I’m with Jamie that you can hear many really good stories on that bus into Austin from the airport…

  • This is very sage advice, advice I wish I’d known before traveling with my husband just a few weeks after we were married. On our great trip abroad, he insisted on growing a mustache. A mustache! All the way through India. The photos are ruined and don’t even ask me about the memories … I should have taken this man on a travel test-drive before committing to visit foreign lands with him for the rest of my life 😉

  • Susan Link

    Agreed. Traveling with someone should be a prerequisite. I’m often shocked by how my SO’s have such a different travel style than what I expected. I like to relax but also feel like I’ve seen and done things I couldn’t do at home, while my current boyfriend would much rather veg out with his computer. My previous boyfriend was the opposite extreme (cramming as many activities as possible into as little time as possible).

  • Yup, a prenup trip should be required. Going on the honeymoon trip is too late. But then, after a certain number of years go by things get worked out….or not.

  • msue Link

    I’d like to think our successful travels are due to synchronous modus operandi, but it is more likely that he (finally) accepts the futility of insisting on cheap hotels, fast food, or boring venues. Civilized travel begins and ends at your front door. At least that is what I mutter endlessly whenever we’re away!

  • Sheryl Link

    So true. My husband and I have totally opposite travel styles. I’d rather wait until I get there to even look at the activities, while he likes to plan ahead with spread sheets. Something in between would be nice…

  • Steve Link

    I am completely confident that Jamie would correct your assertion that there were FOUR flat tires. There were only TWO.

  • I thought I had it covered. Before we got married, I asked my husband how we could co-exist when I loved to spend hours in museums, reading every label, and he had barely even been to a museum. He said, that’s why I want to marry you. I want to learn to go to museums. So now we go to museums. I still read every label. He sits in the cafe and sips a cup of tea.

  • At least neither of you re-enacted the Steve Martin car-rental scene from ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles.’ Or maybe you did and you’re saving that for another time.

  • Merr Link

    You know, this is a terrific idea. Truly. Traveling is altogether different than being at home (at least for me!). My husband is an excellent traveler…me, not so much! I think it has something to do with needing too many hair products and not being able to take them with me on the road!

  • Oh, I agree, test out travel differences before making a lifelong commitment to each other (uh, there are one or two other subjects you might want to test out first, too). Hopefully the differences meld into a successful combination of travel skills. I’m lucky to be married to a great planner. He maps out our journeys, researches transportation and makes the reservation, after we agree, of course. My husband currently detests flying. Even with all of today’s hassles, I still love it. He’s cranky, I’m optimistic. We manage.

  • Great advice, except this: Sometimes a couple do well on the road (or in the air) and have a blast exploring new places together. It’s real life, you know the one back home, that proves tough to navigate as a pair.
    Just saying.

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