TBT – a postcard from the past

TBT – a postcard from the past
October 30, this day in history – an airline accident resulted in today’s Safety Checklist that every pilot must complete before take off, making air travel that much safer and Turkey and Greece signed a document of friendship. http://ow.ly/i/7ol7f

Think left and you’ll always be right!

Think left and you’ll always be right. One day that phrase could save your life. Literally. Nothing ruins a good vacation faster than navigating a road in unfamiliar territory only to see a car hurtling towards you in your lane. Only, it’s not your lane. As it would turn out, you’re actually in someone else’s lane. Adding to your disorientation is the steering wheel that’s now on the “wrong” side of the car (actually the right side of the car) you can at least take comfort in the fact that the pedals will still be where you expect them to be: beneath your feet.

While the majority of nations orient their driving laws to the right, the average American’s chance of visiting a left driving nation is pretty high. When you include most of the Caribbean islands, England, Ireland and Wales, you’re talking about some of the destinations most visited by right-driving Americans. Add in standard shift vehicles to the equation and you’ve basically got pandemonium on wheels.

My favorite bit of advice in preparing for a driving trip abroad comes from a British website. It advises “ If you are planning to visit the UK and happen to come from one of the many countries that drive on the wrong side of the road, the following advice, direct from the Ministry of Transport, is for you:

“Visitors are informed that in the United Kingdom traffic drives on the left-hand side of the road. In the interests of safety, you are advised to practise this in your country of origin for a week or two before driving in the UK.”

Surely, they jest. However, if you do choose to rent a car while visiting a left-driving country I find that the two person approach works best. One person will actually drive the vehicle while the other acts as a look out. An additional pair of eyes and an occasional helpful shout to “watch out” when necessary is a tactic that seems to work best. It’s sort of an escalated version of the American style where one person drives and the passenger proceeds to remind them to watch where they’re going or to slow down. But really, it does help to have another person to co-navigate. What I found works best is a clear division of labor. For example, the driver can concentrate on driving while the passenger can give the “all clear” signal for a lane change or function as an early warning system for an approaching exit. This is not a time for egos but for partnership with the shared goal of arriving alive.

In the States we call them traffic circles but abroad, they’re known as Roundabouts. Americans seem to have trouble grasping the concept of the Roundabout. Think of Raymond Avenue in Arlington by Vassar College and I’ll bet you can name someone that will drive 3 roads over to avoid passing through the series of small circles that were installed to improve traffic flow. By far the trickiest part of driving on the left is navigating through a roundabout. When is it safe to enter the circle? Worse, how do you get out? And how many times do you go round the circle before others notice that you’re recreating the famous scene from the Chevy Chase movie “National Lampoon’s European Vacation”. “Look kids, Parliament. Big Ben.” When you’re finally brave enough to try and make an exit that’s where those additional pair of eyes will really come in handy. The second trickiest part of driving on the left is making a right turn. This is the moment when you might really appreciate that second person reminding you to swing from the left lane into the corresponding far left lane.

Hardest yet is when we tourists tend to take off on foot. In a motor vehicle we have a constant reminder to be on guard. On foot, we are missing the physical cues that help remind us that we’re not in Kansas anymore. England, of course, handles this potential diplomatic nightmare of running over American with a practicality that is truly British. At every street corner when you look down you’ll see a pair of cartoonish eyes staring back at you. It reminds you of the correct direction to watch for oncoming traffic and it’s possible that those extra set of “eyes” just might save you from becoming street pizza.

I actually have more trouble upon my return to the states. After spending a period of time out of the country constantly reminding myself to think “left”, I carry that home with me. On the first day back to work, I’m fairly easy to spot – I’m the one pulling out of my driveway and turning into the wrong lane.

The Travel Bug If you’re a traveler, yo

The Travel Bug

If you’re a traveler, you know what it’s like when the Travel Bug hits. You can’t wait to start planning the next expedition to a tropical destination or some far flung locale. But, what if the travel bug is actually a virus and it strikes while you’re traveling? Certainly, the more you travel the more likely that the odds will eventually rise up against you and you will be stricken in a distant land. International misery is a different kind of misery, unlike domestic misery where you can at least retreat to the comfort of your own bed. Years ago, I travelled to Israel. I had been looking forward to the trip. Several days in, I was surprised by a stomach bug. I can say that I’ve been to Haifa, but I never got to actually see Haifa. Some “thing” affecting my head and stomach kept me in bed for all of the time I was scheduled to be there. Now, the writing may have been different but the product was the same. The little pink box, in any language, can be a traveler’s best friend. It helped enough to get me back on the road and onward to Masada and the Dead Sea region. I’ve also been sick in Antigua, West Indies where general maladies were treated by a unique local mixture of Alka Seltzer with codeine. I’m not sure if it cures what ails you but you sure do sleep well after that one. Aloha and mahalo to Hawaii where a travel companion had a bout with a stomach bug and was forced to take a private tour of the local restrooms. While I don’t consider them suitable for framing, I do have several photos of him posing in front of a variety of restroom exit doors. I find that it helps to always see the humor in your situation. The roughest time I ever had was while visiting South Korea, a beautiful country and a techno-geek’s dream come true. Wanting to enjoy a local experience, I chose to reserve a traditional room called an Ondol. The heating system is directly under the floor and the traditional sleeping mats are directly on top of the floor. It started slowly but soon became clear that I was getting sick. Needing to take to the comfort of my bed was a reminder that I had willingly chosen to sleep on the floor for 5 days. A second mat and all the pillows in the room were used in an attempt to increase my comfort. After not eating for 2 days I sought medical help. The nurse was kind and seemed to care but the language difference definitely proved to be a challenge. When it came time to return to the states, I was nervous about the body temperature scanners at the airport. I was sure I was running a fever but desperately wanted to come home to my own medical facility and my own bed. Fortunately, I was allowed to board my flight which was a whole different type of discomfort due to being sick. Sometimes the illness follows you home. I’ll spare you the details, but after a trip to England I apparently brought home more than my souvenirs. Suffice it to say that this time the Department of Health got involved. Certainly, I don’t intend to scare anyone away from travelling and I could have just as easily gotten sick from a trip to the local grocery store but, some sage advice: always pack pain reliever, antidiarrheal, a few band-aids in addition to an intrepid sense of discovery. And, oh yeah, you can never wash your hands too many times.