The New Year is upon us, and I’ve been thinking of the travel resolutions I should make for a better 2012.
Here’s an initial list: I will make every effort in the year ahead to be courteous and respectful to airport and airline personnel and members of the TSA; they work under unusually stressful conditions, fielding enormous pressures, and they deserve our smiles and understanding.
I will remind myself constantly of the moral obligation to leave a generous tip to the chambermaids who have made up my hotel room — theirs is an underpaid profession, and we should supplement the measly wages of the hotel chains.
I will avoid traveling on airlines that delight in public-be-damned attitudes, the companies that exult in an openly expressed disdain for the traveler, making a virtual point of their arrogant references to the passenger.
And I will give hard thought (the decision isn’t yet final) to including Spirit Airlines and Britain’s Ryanair on that list. On my very next flight, I will politely ask permission of the person sitting behind me to recline my seat.
I will stop burying my head in a newspaper or book, and converse with the airline passenger sitting beside me, if he or she has indicated a desire to talk.
I will make every effort to travel to countries whose demonstrations and protests have been for the purpose of achieving democracy, but occasionally at the cost of losing their tourism. Egypt is among the nations deserving our visits, and, for other reasons, the Asian nation of Myanmar — at last moving toward decency — deserves our tourism, too.
I will try to emulate my daughter’s policy of limiting her luggage to one small carry-on bag; I will remember that on numerous trips, I actually wore only a fraction of the items that I have carried with me in a large suitcase.
I will continue to argue for high-speed rail, wherever an opportunity presents itself — either in journalism or simply in public meetings — to make a case for a technology so urgently needed in a country that will soon have a population of 400 million people, as dense as any other on earth.
I will agitate as well for an easing of our nation’s foolish and impractical visa requirements, which have blocked millions of foreigners from making visits to our country.
I will remember to make a yearly contribution to ECPAT (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking), an organization that fights the exploitation of children in sex tourism.
I will bring sandwiches with me, prepared at home, to my next trip on an airplane. I will haughtily dismiss the thought of airline snacks that taste like sand.
In my writing about travel, I will try to rediscover the feeling of novelty and excitement of a first-time visitor to almost any new destination. I will remind myself that my own reactions after traveling for the 60th time to London or Amsterdam, are not the same as those of most of my readers.
On my next trip to Curacao, Barbados or the Bahamas, I will make a point of visiting the museums on the history of slavery found there. (On a tropical vacation, none of us should lose sight of the horrendous early circumstances of so many islands in the Caribbean and south Atlantic).
I will never leave on any trip before spending a least a few hours reading about the history and culture of the places I am about to visit; the failure to do so ruins more vacations (or at least robs them of their full potential) than any other factor.
I will supplement the recommended tipping policies of the cruise lines with additional sums meant to recognize the hard labors of the people who staff the cruise ships, and who work long hours for sums that we ourselves would never accept. It is a tragedy that we travelers benefit from the scandalously low wages of the desperate people who take cabin or dining steward positions on cruise ships, thus making cruising as cheap as it is.
I will never book a cruise that stops at the many “private islands” or “private beaches” that cruise lines are throwing up around the Caribbean, robbing passengers of the opportunity to encounter the real life of the islands, eliminating the experience of foreign travel from cruises.
I will give some thought (I’m not sure I have the courage to do so) to changing into pajamas on an overnight flight across the Atlantic. First-class passengers currently are encouraged to do so (and sometimes supplied with pajamas and robe by the airline); why shouldn’t economy passengers wear the same?
And finally, in the writing I do and the talks I deliver, I will continue to regard travel not as a mere recreation, but as a serious learning activity, a way of understanding the world, an essential element of a civilized life. Have a Happy New Year!