01/29/2013 08:09 am ET Updated Mar 31, 2013

Travel Arrangements -- Then and Now

Traveling used to be so easy. I remember throwing a change of underwear and a few clean shirts into a backpack and just taking off.

When I met my husband, I had no personal sanitation issues or comfort demands. We traveled without wrangling with reservations, without preprinted agendas. We stayed in hostels, B&Bs, barracks and dorms. For our honeymoon we booked a quaint pension lodge where we slept on a mattress with a body-sized hole in the center and green water coming out of the bathroom faucets. We brushed our teeth while taking turns suggesting likely sources of the murky tint: Ebola, tapeworms, black mold spores...hilarious possibilities all. We slid the mattress to the floor and stuffed the hole with extra pillows. "Quaint," my mother said later, "means: dusty drapes." But we didn't know. And we didn't care.

In our twenties and thirties, hideous accommodations were simply part of the traveling experience. We took to naming the worst of them: the Dung Room stunk to high heaven when we checked in, but it was too late to find another affordable pension. In the morning, we realized our wood-shutter window was directly above a mountain of manure. The Train Room offered a similar surprise: train tracks ran parallel to our bed, spitting distance from our one window. Train cars shook our bed throughout the night, inspiring the observation: "This is like being inside a maraca." The Dark Room had no window at all -- once the door was closed it was cheery as a tomb. The Double Room had other lodgers sleeping in it; the Bath Room had a tub right next to the bed.

We made fun of inconveniences like outhouses, toilet/shower combos, and a communal toilet-trough that was last cleaned, judging by the smell, during the reign of the Tudors.

We packed light in those days: One sweater, one rain poncho, one decent pair of shoes stuffed with socks to be saved for special occasions. Our toiletries fit in a Ziploc sandwich bag. We washed our clothes in the shower -- while showering. In Europe, we soaked them in the bidet. Simple.

Travel now requires a spiral plan book and months of preparation. We'll need a dog sitter. We'll have to cancel the Sunday "Times" and unearth the timers that turn lights on and off so it looks like someone is home. As soon as we decide to take a trip, I start making lists.

But first, I buy shoes. You can't go anywhere without a pair of sensible shoes. This is the best part of travel planning, in my opinion. Everything else is about as pleasurable as "prepping" for a colonoscopy.

I call a travel agent because I cannot compete with the advanced negotiation skills required to book an airline ticket.

I buy trip insurance because, well, at our age, anything can happen.

I make hotel reservations to save us from driving around in the dark, looking for a place to sleep.

I even make restaurant reservations. This last one separates my husband's life philosophy and my own. He believes life can be orchestrated smoothly enough without mapping the details in advance. I think that's about as smart as going to the grocery store without a list. You can do it, but you're likely to finish exhausted and hungry. In our marriage, a truce was established early on, after we'd spent one frustrating evening in the car, stopping at every restaurant in a ten-mile radius so I could "hop out" in my halter dress and high-heeled shoes, to ask each hostess if there were any open tables for two. "Who goes out on Valentine's Day?" he muttered over and over in monotonous disbelief.

After all the reservations are secured, the real list making begins:

Refill prescriptions and separate into pill containers
Mark luggage with red tape so we can find it later
Type up emergency contact numbers
Inform neighbors of our impending absence so they can watch our house
Make copies of passports and insurance cards (reason unknown)
Stock up on travel-sized carry-on supplies
Empty refrigerator of things likely to spoil in the event of a power outage
Alert credit card company of future charges from new locations
Pack change of clothes in carry on bag (if traveling by luggage-eating major airline)
De-crust dust from inflatable neck pillow
Set aside shoe insoles, orthotics, ear plugs, knee brace, lumbar support pillow and other accoutrements necessary to keep our bodies vertical and in motion throughout the trip

I'd like to think I'm keeping it simple but I'm usually exhausted before I get out the door.

Whatever. I'll take exhaustion over the communal toilet any day.

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