Heading somewhere far off means running smack into a spectrum of new sights, new sounds, new tastes. But along with these comes the inevitable oven-fresh batch of eye-rolling, mind-blowing, completely incomprehensible Mysteries of Travel.
For years, I've racked my brain trying to unravel puzzles like the ones just below. I've even considered hiring a private detective (one who specializes in travel). Then it hit me. Why not ask readers? If you're reading this column, chances are you get around quite a bit. You may be just as cranky, or just as mystified as I am.
But maybe you can do better than my wife and I have in explaining travel's most challenging quandaries. By posting a comment to this blog, tell us your solutions. Or let us know about Travel Mysteries that have been driving you nuts. (The best submissions will be featured in a future column.)
Mysteries of Travel
* Sorry, hotel chains, but who was the genius who decreed that, once and for all, guests would have to spend a minimum of half an hour trying to figure out how the various lights and lamps in their hotel rooms can be turned ON and OFF.
* Was there something wrong with a simple switch near the bulb to do that?
* While I'm on the subject, is it completely impossible to invent some way to discourage hotel bathtub drains from clogging within 30 seconds of the start of a shower and filling the thing up to your ankles?
* Here's one for aircraft designers and their pals at the airlines. Crackerjack decision to place that bloated seat pocket crammed with magazines and barf bags exactly at knee level. Good thinking there. Who's responsible?
* TSA, on to you. I get that "liquids and gels" aren't allowed on a plane these days. But just asking. Can we narrow down the concept of what a "gel" is just a tiny bit? I mean, is Jello with sliced bananas allowed on airliners? What about Silly Putty? That okay?
* While I'm at it, how come there are literally no security checks at all if you travel by Amtrak or by Greyhound bus?
* We travelers are the cause of mysteries, too. When did we decide that even a mild activity, like mailing a letter, requires a backpack with plastic bottle of water to "stay hydrated"?
* For that matter, are we voyagers such raw suckers that we've completely bought into the notion that we need to purchase special all-weather, breathable, wicking, quick-dry clothing to travel to the next town?
* Would plain old, I dunno, regular shirts and pants work for that?
* Is it okay, TSA, if I bring some Play Doh onto an airplane? How about pectin? Marshmallow Fluff? Cashew butter? Kraft E-Z Cheese, if I carry it in a plastic bag with Triscuits?
* Why do we travelers keep on revisiting the same old places over and over, instead of exploring new ones? Ever meet people who practically live in Disneyland or Vegas, or those who've taken the same cruise--on the same cruise line--24 times?
* What about Bengay or Brylcreem on a plane? How about unguents? Mud? Silt? Maple syrup? That allowed?
* Don't, I'm warning you, get me going on adventure travel footgear. Special soles, computer-enhanced design, indestructible plastics. Gotta have it. Why?
* Did someone say Crocs? Let's just not go there.
* What about gunk? That fair game on a plane? How about goop? Slime? Decaying organic matter? The liquids and gels inside our bodies? Not okay?
* Please understand, TSA. I'm not trying to cause any trouble. I'm just asking. What about the goo inside Lava Lamps? Any issues with that through security? What about runny stuff, like glue, that turns solid later?
* What about runny noses? Any issues with those?
* In truth, I'm not feeling so good, surrounded with so many mysteries. Why can't I calm down when I travel? Why can't you?
* I might feel better if I could figure out why people don't say 'please' or 'thank-you' when trying to speak foreign languages.
* I might feel better if I ate some Jello, took a relaxing shower and a drink of water. (Just a sip.)
* Now, if only I could find the switch for that lamp...
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Peter Mandel is an author of picture books for kids, including his read-aloud bestseller: Jackhammer Sam (Macmillan/Roaring Brook), and his newest about zoo animals passing on a very noisy sneeze: Zoo Ah-Choooo (Holiday House).