A guide to easy do-it-yourself travel (honestly)
We seldom have a fixed schedule when we travel. We like to get off the plane and work our way around going here and there.
In 1992 Sue Miller, my wife, and I spent three months on a motorcycle, just camping where we could, with a couple of family stops in Scotland, Poland and France.
2011 seemed much more structured, since we had to meet some of our Black Mountain foodie group for a week of binge-eating in Spain. But getting from England to Spain consisted mostly of lolly gagging across France in a “camping car,” or a motor home. High points included a beautiful, fluffy, snowy evening at the Cathedral in Rouen, France, complete with a Christmas service and choir practice (watch out for tears) and then attending a real Wassail at Lord Chamberlain's House in Birmingham, England (again with snow).
2016 seemed to be the year of the real schedule, though. It all started with some friends who wanted to visit Ireland. They had never traveled and didn't know what to do. They literally begged us to lead them.
OK, folks, this is where you need to listen up. You do the same things you would do for any vacation. Book your flight, find your lodging and rent a car. Yes, it really is that simple. Pretend you're going to Orlando. If language is your fear, try English-speaking countries the first time. Then branch out to Germany, Belgium or Holland, where nearly everyone speaks English. English is even one of the official languages of Tunisia.
My first airline reservation to Carthage, Tunisia went really smoothly. We picked Tunisia for three reasons - it was the cheapest way to get to Ireland (go figure); we could get 10 days at a resort on the Mediterranean for $534, including our meals (for both of us); and the people are so friendly and excited to talk with Americans.
Feeling confident, I did the second reservation from Tunis to Nice, France, then a third to Dublin. But Tunisair has 12 kilogram carry-on limit, and Aer Lingus is 10 kilograms (about 22 pounds). After reviewing the entire schedule, I simplified all the airline regulations to the least common denominator - 10 kilograms carry-on and a purse. (The purse was Sue's, of course; I had the cameras and computer.)
Of all our trips, this would be the longest ever, late March to the middle of July. The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy Races, on my bucket list, was the only firm date. The rest of the vacation schedule was flexible.
In the old days, we would rent a car to get from country to country, but we now live in the age of discount airlines. It is so much cheaper to fly (I can fly from Glasgow, Scotland to London for less than putting gas in a car). So this year all the internal traveling was done by air.
If you want the best price, plan ahead. For us, that meant flights to Tunisia to the Riviera to Dublin, then Birmingham, to France, back to Oxford, then the Isle of Man (we skipped the $1,000 pub crawl to John Lennon's favorite pub in Liverpool). Then back to England, return to central France, train to Paris for the flight to Carthage, and then home via Frankfurt and Chicago. I even splurged for a trip on the high-speed TGV train just to say we did it. Even with five stops, the train averaged 135 miles an hour.
So why would we do this? The money, the experience and the memories. The 11 total flights only cost us $1,245 per person. The experiences of looking at the Mediterranean from North Africa, riding a BMW on the Snaefell Mountain Course (no speed limit) at the Isle of Man (watch out for the fog), and a last-minute decision to watch some of the Tour de France, are just a few examples. We even saw the “Kelpies,” (a name Scots give to shape-shifting spirits that inhabit pools or water). No tour bus can replicate such varied experiences. So all in all, this was the best trip ever.
Well, it's 2017, and we have itchy feet. Sitting in The Trailhead one evening I punched in some fictitious dates to South France. Kayak replied with “Charlotte to Toulouse” - $422. See ya!