When Your Travel Companion is a Bitch

St. Louis Courthouse and Gateway Arch

St. Louis Courthouse and Gateway Arch

I am a bitch to travel with.

I refuse to sleep. I’m picky about what I eat. And I want to see it all.

While I may apologize for how my travel-ness sometimes presents itself, I won’t change the way I traverse my trips. I will come home exhausted and disheveled, but enlightened and so learned that I will start planning my next trip before I’ve even unpacked.

Travel isn’t vacation. Travel is experience.

Leisure is for Sunday mornings back at home when you sleep until noon, move to the couch about 12:13, and spend the day watching censored movies on TBS.

When I travel, I tend to follow the simple rule: if it can be done at home, there’s no point in doing it while you travel. While exceptions are inevitable, I’ve found that the greatest experiences come when I stay closest to that rule. Especially in these three areas:

1. Sleeping

Accommodations are not for luxury and decadence. Their purpose is to provide a place for the three to four hours of sleep required each night to ensure function the following day. Hours can also be banked. Skip a nights sleep and splurge on six the following. As long as my room has a lock on the door and lacks insecta or other pests, it fulfills its necessary duty.

2. Eating

If you eat at McDonald’s when you travel, there’s a special level of hell for you and your laziness. The only time this could come, even slightly. close to acceptable is at 3am, when your judgment is already impaired. So much of experiencing a new place is eating local. Defining dishes need to be eaten in their neighborhoods, elbow to elbow with their creators.

3. Doing

Always go to the major (and minor) tourist traps in a city. Experience the postcards, but then experience life as it’s actually lived in your destination. Go to sporting events, festivals, art shows, plays. The things that a culture celebrates and how they do so will give you a deeper insight to who they truly are.

Sense of Adventure Scale from One to We’re All Going to Die!

Ngorongoro Crater (picture by Jonathan Dunn)

Ngorongoro Crater (picture by Jonathan Dunn)

I’ve never been comfortable rating one’s sense of adventure. It seems that where a cross-state road trip ranks somewhere near a crocheting injury on the risk scale, swimming with baited sharks is…well…swimming with baited sharks.

While listening to the travel stories of friends and reading blogs of the ever-departing, one begins to invisibly chart that sense. The scale differs. Miles from home, unexpected dining experiences, exotic animal encounters, it all factors into the weight you give their adventuresome ambition.

But why?

Isn’t any adventure simply to stave off complacency?

I realize that it’s inherent to human nature to feel the need to compete. To good, better, best your neighbors and friends. I may not ever be able to rail a successful argument against that need, but as travellists (it’s a word, look it up), our competition should instead be with that complacency.

In my circle there is palpable wanderlust. Each day, my Facebook feed is the equivalent of a “what-I-did-this-summer” photo essay. It makes me jealous. I have gone further than 100 miles from home once  in the last 6 months and that was as an airport chauffeur for someone else’s trip.

This may be one of the reasons why my upcoming trip to St. Louis feels like a bucket list accomplishment. But more than the notion that it is an overdue vacation with my sister, leaving my daily life heightens my sense of adventure.

Wisconsin Polar Plunge

Wisconsin Polar Plunge

I’m a difficult person to travel with if you value things like sleep. I find little point in spending time in a new place doing something that can be done at home. I’ve filled my week in STL with experiences that can happen in no other place.

We are going to eat our way through The Godfather at Tenacious Eats. Sunday will find us at the International Horseradish Festival in Collinsville, IL for a 5k and celebratory Bloody Mary contest afterward. A baseball and, subsequently stadium food, aficionado we will be taking in an evening game at Busch Stadium and I’ve talked my sister into a picnic dinner while watching the Twelfth Night at the Shakespeare Festival.

Oh, and the arch, the Anheuser-Busch brewery tour, Ulysses S. Grant Historic Site, the City Museum, the zoo, the St. Louis Art Museum, the Scott Joplin House, the Cahokia Mounds, Molly’s in Soulard, Calvary Cemetery, Bogart’s Smokehouse, Left Bank Books..like I said, no sleep.

Flying planes off the Astoria Column.

Flying planes off the Astoria Column.

I know very little of St. Louis. I’m imagining Midwest sensibility layered with that certain Southern charm and inland Eastern grittiness topped with a dash of Left Coast hipster. It’s easy to say that you keep an open mind when travelling to a new place, but media, blogs, friends, and research have forced me to cull certain opinions.

I’ve heard STL is “scary” and “rough.” I’ve been told to avoid certain neighborhoods or, in fact, the entire Eastern part of the city. I know there’s a musically rich history of ragtime and jazz, two genres absent from any of my playlists. Growing up in Olympia and now living in New Glarus, I understand brewery towns on a small-scale, but the way beer tycoons can shape a city.

It’s these preconceptions and questions that are the fuel for adventure. I won’t climb the world’s tallest anything or collect passport stamps , but by getting in my car and driving 300 miles, I’ve topped out on that imaginary sense of adventure scale.

I’ll be blogging about my trip starting next week, so check back for updates on our adventure.