Fleeing the Country

This past weekend, Christina and I went up to Victoria, British Columbia in Canada. We had a great trip and the weather was wonderful. Because we went up after Labor Day and after most of the schools had started, it was far less crowded from the summer tourists, so it turned out to be a fantastic time for our getaway.

We tried something new (at least to us) to arrange where we would stay. For this trip, we were going to drive to Port Angeles, Washington, which is four hour drive, stay overnight then take the ferry over in the morning. Typically, for a trip like that, I would have just found a motel nearby and called it good, especially since we were arriving late that night. Instead, we tried a new service called airbnb (airbnb.com). It’s been around for a while now, since 2007, but it seems to have gained some critical mass and traction over the last year or two. The basic model is that folks offer up places to stay for less money than the cost of a hotel. This might be an empty condo or it might be a spare room in someone’s house, so there’s certainly a range there. But, that information is all available in the listings, so you can choose what you’re willing to deal with.

In both Port Angeles and then Victoria, Christina found a couple of places that were attached to homes but had their own entrances, bathrooms and, in Victoria, kitchen spaces. In fact, in Victoria, it was a remodeled home where our part was basically a small apartment below the main floor of the main house.

Both places were very nicely appointed and comfortable. Because the site acts as the go-between (taking a small percentage of the costs), you don’t even have to necessarily see your hosts. That was the case in Port Angeles, again mostly because of the late arrival and our early departure.

There’s some reciprocity involved as both the host and guests are encouraged to write reviews about their stay, so a bad guest will presumably get dinged for bad behavior and if the accomodations don’t live up to expectations, that, too, would be captured in a review.

For both of our stays, though, we had a great time and it was easy to arrange and the hosts were great to work with and our stay was easy and comfortable.

Because you’re not dealing with a hotel/motel property, you also find that you may be staying in places that you wouldn’t get the chance to normally. In Port Angeles, we were about 10 minutes up out of town in the country, so awoke to a very peaceful and natural surroundings. In Victoria, we were two short blocks from the beach and only about 10 minutes from downtown. The location was in a neighborhood and felt very welcoming.

Traveling to Canada is a bit more difficult than when I was a kid. I recall my first trip was with my Dad – I think it was a short business trip. I’d never left the country before and the border was only a couple of hours away.

As I remember it, my Dad drove up to the border crossing, perhaps he shows his driver’s license, I’m not even sure of that, and we drove across. I got out of the car, excited to be in a different country then quickly realized that there was nothing around but the same trees we’d been driving through on the US side and quickly got bored, got back in the car and we went back to the US. A very short and uneventful trip, to be sure.

Canada remained the only country I visited until I was able to travel professionally, as part of my work. I was fortunate enough to get to travel to India for work for a week and I was also able to travel to Nice, France for business.

I especially loved the Nice trip because I was traveling on my own and the trip had me traveling through Paris and connecting on a flight to Nice which would mean the only time I would spend in Paris would be in airport which seemed a collosal waste, so I adjusted my trip a bit so I flew in to Paris then stayed there over the weekend before moving on to Nice late Sunday to be there for the Monday meetings I was to attend.

I had a fantastic time in Paris that weekend as a total tourist, getting on to and off the subway, going all over the city from site to site. It became odd and almost Disney-like as I would pop down in to the subway and pop up and there would be the Eiffel Tower. Then back down and back up and there would be Notre Dame, the Louvre or the Musee d’Orsay. It was amazing, exhausting and a bit overwhelming, but I wouldn’t change that experience for the world.

Later I would travel back to Paris (and London) with Christina and it was great to feel as if I knew at least a bit about the city and getting around in it.

I’m certainly still not very well traveled. I’ve been to Mexico and Belize to the south and Canada to the north. I’ve only been to France and England in Europe. I’ve been to Pune, India and through Mumbai, but only seen just a sliver of that country. I recall having the most amazing culture shock in India as I looked around one day as we walked to lunch, surrounded by hundreds of people who looked nothing at all like me and understanding nothing of what was being said around me and, for the first time, I felt what it must be like to feel like a foreigner in a country. That was an amazing and humbling feeling.

It’s so easy to feel culturally comfortable when you spend all of your time in the same area where you grew up and where you live. Everyone sounds like you, most look like you and think like you. There is no real challenge to your status quo.

It’s only when I’ve traveled that I’m really forced to acknowledge that the world is so much bigger than I can absorb, so much more complicated and that I am, in comparison, such a very, very small piece of this complicated whole. That’s a very good realization to have as much and as often as one can.

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