Reality television offers inspiration for travelWritten by Roger Holliday Claudia Fischer | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Maybe it’s the lackluster line-up of network TV shows that’s to blame. Or our attention span. But more and more often we find ourselves dialing up mini-docudramas on cable TV for our evening’s entertainment. Programs like “Project Runway” on Bravo. The pasta, pizza, panini and ground pepper shows on the Food Channel. And, absolutely anything on HGTV.
It’s not that we’re homebodies. Or particularly house-proud. But we just can’t seem to get enough of the chattering about crown moldings and granite countertops, hardwood floors and stainless steel appliances, curb appeal and designer colors. And, oh yes, that large fenced-in backyard for Rover. And “enough space to entertain.”
Tops on our list, understandably perhaps, is “House Hunters International,” where we jealously look on as the deep-pocketed search for the perfect Caribbean beach-front hideaway, restored farm house in Provence or Tuscany or one bedroom walk-up in Paris, London or Rome … that’s going to cost a million whatevers.
Another of our more recent HGTV not-to-be-missed hits is “Property Virgins,” hosted by a telegenic and real estate-savvy agent, Sandra Rinomato, “with 12 years experience,” who leads first-time buyers through the intricate maze of home ownership.
She begins each and every show by quizzing her clients as to why they want to buy a home, where they want it located and how much they’re willing to pay. Then she shows them three potential places. And pushes them in.
Sometimes they buy. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they get cold feet and simply run away. But it’s very informative. And always good fun.
In fact, it’s not unlike what we’ve been doing for the past 35 years. Trying to help first-time travelers — “Travel Virgins,” if you like — plan their first independent overseas trip instead of simply signing on to some highly organized package coach tour of the “If It’s Tuesday This Must be Belgium” variety.
We started our re-action by developing a continuing ed class at BGSU (in conjunction with a professor friend) in which we tutored our “students” on every aspect of foreign travel that we could possibly think of … from proper research and planning and packing light … to finding affordable accommodations, using public transportation, reading train timetables, renting cars, working with travel agents, handling money and staying safe. And so on.
We continued that education a few years later through our weekly travel columns, leading small group tours and counseling individuals. And it’s been quite a ride.
But, just like on TV, everything has to begin with a few basic questions. And some serious Self-analysis 101.
Questions like: Where do you want to go? And when can you go? Why do you want to go there? How much do you have to spend? And precisely what will you want to do when you get there? And then, most important of all, perhaps, … what are your specific interests … and how can you best work them into a trip?
Only after all that’s sorted can the actual research and planning stage begin.
But, oh my, how things have changed since we began.
In the old days (that would be pre-fax machines and home computers) basic research was a totally time-consuming and frequently frustrating experience involving writing to national tourist offices in New York or Chicago for brochures, events calendars and hotel lists.
Badgering local travel agents for airline fares and rental car costs and train tickets. Poring over guide books for potential hotels and prices. Then writing actual letters asking a whole list of hotels for possible reservations … and, if you ever hoped to hear back, enclosing international reply coupons.
Now everything is a mere click of the mouse away. From buying airline and train tickets and renting cars to selecting hotels rooms (that you can actually preview online), making reservations and even downloading whole guide books onto a Kindle.
This does not, however, mean that the average person actually does a better job of planning. The temptation is to obsess on airfare bargains and hotel deals — very small parts of a satisfying travel experience.
Because in the end it all comes back to asking the age-old who, what, where, when, why and how questions.
And then answering them.
That’s what makes a great trip. Today, it’s just easier.
E-mail travel columnists Roger Holliday and Claudia Fischer at RogerHolliday@wcnet.org.