Travel really does open your eyes. After 2,500 miles on a bus last week, Russ and I arrived home with a far deeper understanding of what really, truly matters in life.
We weren’t sure what to expect of our first guided travel adventure aboard a motorcoach. One thing we knew for sure: It couldn’t be worse than air travel. After our last journey aboard the flying cattle car that calls itself United Airlines, preceded by a self-propelled adventure with a GPS gone rogue, it couldn’t be all that bad.
We dipped our toes in the water with a weeklong expedition to Ontario and the Upper Peninsula. Our group included three dozen adventurers, many of them newbies like ourselves. After our first day on the road, we began to recognize the qualities that make the best traveling companions: A taste for coffee, a gift for laughter … and full-throated endorsement of frequent “comfort breaks.”
I can only imagine what’s on the minds of witnesses at travel plazas and fast-food emporia as they watch a bus like ours pull into the lot. As it barely pulls to a stop, dozens of intent women and men spill out with just two matters on their minds: Thirst … and urgency.
Our vacation was fueled by coffee. I’d say we averaged about 180 miles per cup.
Our expedition quickly fell into a familiar routine. We’d sip aboard the bus for an hour or two, then pull off the highway for refills. But before we could test the local brew, our buzzing swarm of moderately anxious passengers would attack the doors and make a hasty beeline for the facilities. Only after we’d waited restlessly in the queue, then flushed, were we ready to reload our traveling tankards of java and browse the menu for a tempting bite of something you’d never catch us eating back at home.
Travelers really need a “Yelp”-style review site for roadside bathrooms. I’d propose a five-star system, ranging from “life-changing” — for spacious multi-stalled facilities, regular paper refills and those hand dryers that put out a hot-air blast like a rocket booster — to the bottom rank, reserved for one-holers where you have to ask the cashier for a key.
Fidgeting in line, my female friends and I had deep discussions on what kind of builder could think it was a good idea to install women’s rooms with such a paucity of plumbing. We’re sure it was a male.
I don’t want to leave the impression that all we thought about was bathrooms. Far from it. As our comfortable bus rolled down the highway, some chatted. Some napped. Most, though, took advantage of the on-board Wi-Fi. In lieu of the landscape, we were glued to our digital devices. That meant other things occasionally crossed our minds … like plug-ins.
Our lively corps of vacationers leaned toward — how can I say this nicely? — the furthest margin of middle age. Never let it be said, though, that we disdain digital doodads. The first question volunteered as we boarded the bus for the first time was whether it had Wi-Fi. The second: Can we top off our batteries while we’re rolling?
We tired travelers were not the only ones who needed to recharge by nightfall. Each night, after Russ and I had finally managed to convince a new key card to unlock another door, we swept through our temporary quarters inventorying electrical outlets. Believe it or not, our noncyborg selves needed a total of seven to sate our electronics’ appetites, what with smartphones, Kindles, tablets, a FitBit, a laptop and a pair of hearing aids. Had Russ not forgotten his camera’s battery charger, we could have used eight.
That was fine in modern establishments, including the newest of the lot, where a pair of outlets was built right into the headboard. It was a bit more problematic at the quaint old inn on Mackinac Island; there, even the wiring had a vintage feel. To fully recharge the lot by dawn, we were forced to unplug the TV — a solution bound to solve more than one problem.
The best part of travel, they say, is learning to see the world through new eyes. The best souvenir of all is disembarking from the bus with that fresh perspective: Home is where you never stand in line to use the toilet.