“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
As I have remarked many times in this column, it's important to be flexible with your plans. Sometimes it allows for explorations and adventures you hadn't counted on, and other times it consoles you when something falls through.
Sadly, our much anticipated trip to Europe this August has been called off. Economics, medical expenses and a badly-timed major engine malfunction in our SUV have combined to make the Scandinavian Tapestry tour on the MSY Wind Surf an expense we cannot afford at this time. This sort of thing has happened before when we bite off larger-than-usual expeditions such as our attempt to get to Hong Kong and Perth a handful of years ago (though that was canceled for medical reasons, not financial ones).
But it's essential you make these decisions and, as I have also remarked upon occasion, not do something that is beyond your means. Yes, we must see the world, but driving yourself to the poorhouse to do it is a commendable goal, but not terribly bright in execution.
So this permits us a luxury of sorts, and that is planning another, much less expensive trip to a perhaps nearer and less pricey destination. Possibilities include Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica and the rest of the United States (save Hawaii, which we already have on the planning books for next year).
Aborted plans can be a regular challenge in almost any trip. Not only far in advance, but also at the last minute. Sometimes events themselves force a retrenchment -- two years ago my wife collapsed at the Vatican Museum requiring we spend the afternoon at the emergency room and a quiet evening at the hotel instead of out exploring Rome. Yes, we could easily lament the lost opportunities, and stopping a few galleries short of the Sistine Chapel certainly hurt, but it gives us something to look forward to on a future excursion to Italy (nothing like a reason to go back to somewhere you enjoy).
In this case, while it is frustrating to have to cancel plans, lose some of the down payments, and inform our friends that we won't be joining them, it's a necessity born of knowing our limits and not making short term decisions that could leave us in a hole for 2014. Better to retrench and stick closer to budget than risk "confetti check" with serious downsides should another financial problem occur.
Staying within budget, or only slightly exceeding it, is the hallmark of a good traveler. From a planning standpoint, it's far better to understand and appreciate your limits than it is to try to keep up with the Joneses and discover you've lost your home on the gambit.
Budget travel is often as or more rewarding than is first class. How so? I truly believe that you see more of the everyday culture when you travel under a budget than you do by living it up. Case in point: if you want to sample the local cuisine most savvy travelers will tell you the local street market and street vendors are far more accurate a sample than are the three and four star restaurants in your hotel.
I enjoy luxury as much as anyone else does. No question. If I were again to head to Monaco, I would certainly want to stay at a nice hotel within walking distance of the casino. Who wouldn't? But do I really get an understanding of the culture and possibilities of the Riviera? I would argue you don't. A stroll through old-town Nice is far more instructive, fun and, frankly, appealing to me than is sitting in a sidewalk tourist trap in Monte Carlo (I know, I've made that actual decision and never regretted it).
Why do we travel if it's solely to live in copycat luxury at each destination? How much do I glean of Paris if I stay at the Westin -- which I have done -- versus a local though perhaps less comfortable inn? It's virtually the same equation as eating at the Olive Garden in Times Square versus, say, Sardi's a few blocks over. Or HB Burger on 43rd?
One of the minor -- exceedingly minor -- niggles I had with the anticipated cruise with Windstar was the inability to wake up in a foreign land and just go exploring on my own. It's part of the fun for me, and while the Wind Surf is an amazing cruise, and this itinerary was an interesting one, I do like the concept of pulling up to a small cafe's table in the corner of the town square, and just watch the world go by.
I wouldn't have a moment's hesitation of booking another Windstar cruise, and certainly will in the future. But sometimes having to live by a budget can teach you things and give you experiences that traveling first class cannot. In this case, I intend to make lemonade.