Most people learn to accommodate their spouse’s idiosyncrasies at home, even those of us with husbands who load the dishwasher wrong. But traveling together introduces additional stress. Packing, reserving hotels, navigating new terrain—not to mention being trapped in a moving vehicle—it adds up.
A recent excursion to Niagara Falls, following an evening meeting in Buffalo, was our first vacation alone together in a while. During travel preparation, some of my husband’s endearing little quirks morphed into full-blown Calgon take-me-away moments, minus the bathtub and bubbles. I feared they might escalate into what the police call “motive.”
The night before the trip we attended a big comedy show. None too fond of crowds, the hubby devoted his entire afternoon to checking online reviews of parking structures near the venue. This, in an area where we’ve lived and worked our entire lives. If you’ve ever wondered what retirees do all day, there’s your first clue.
An Early Start
Thankfully, the pre-vacation event (and, more importantly, the parking) was a rousing success. Still, an alarm at 5:00 a.m. for a 6:00 a.m. trip departure was at the top of my Rude Awakenings list. I am a slow riser with a very low threshold for early-morning chitchat. I used my favorite coffee mug emblazoned with It’s Too Early for You to Say Things, but it was no match for my chatty half who was wide awake, oblivious, and pumped.
All I wanted to do was sleep in the car, and he knew this. So in the driveway, as we pulled away, he announced, as he always does, “I need you to stay alert and watch for our exit.” He wasn’t kidding, even though we entered the expressway at Mile Marker 1 en route to Exit 220 over three hours away. Actually four to five hours away because everyone in the car had an aging bladder and a prescription for diuretics.
Once we switched onto the interstate that would take us into Buffalo, there was a renewed call for vigilance because this several-hour stretch was a toll road. Who could sleep through the thrill of making exact change?
The Travel Binder
In preparation for this (and every other car trip), Husband prepared what he calls the Travel Binder. This is a sacred enclosure for a treasure trove of maps, directions, hotel confirmations, and tour documents. Each sheet is secured in its own page protector. Is there a prize for people who die with the most mint-condition maps and hotel confirmations? If there is, everyone else should drop out of the contest right now. I am married to the King of Protected Pages. If the man owned a laminating machine, it might be full-time ecstasy around here.
Removing pages from their plastic sheaths is forbidden. That’s why the pages are protected in the first place—no touching, no coffee stains, no misplaced documents. You never know when the Guinness World Record people might show up to check the inventory. Oh, don’t even think about removing or reordering pages, or the Travel Binder won’t be the only thing that comes unhinged.
In addition to GPS and printed directions from our good friends at Google, Husband insisted on having step-by-step maps from the auto club. Everything but the hand of God pointing the way to our destination. This is what I get for marrying a Boy Scout. “Always Prepared.”
My fussbudget packs a special snack bag for every car trip. This contains badly outdated granola bars, which no one will eat and will likely go on our next vacation several years hence. Keeping them company are three bananas that will begin the trip all nice and yellow but emerge in another state looking like they lost a fight with a box of old granola bars.
I also packed music and comedy CDs for the drive. I highly recommend the latter to prevent the kind of disruption in marital bliss that might necessitate one spouse renting a car and driving separately.
Are We There Yet?
Having survived the suspense of a dozen maps advising us to “stay on the same interstate” and the novelty of toll booths on an expressway, we turned our attention to locating our hotel. Accommodations are another area where individual preferences rise to the surface. I, for example, am past the age of enjoying anything requiring camping gear, lanterns, yurts, or bug spray. I like air-conditioned comfort and lots of pillows. The hubby, on the other hand, insists on only two things: free parking and free breakfast. Honestly, he’d sleep on a yoga mat atop a concrete slab if they’d give away raisin bran and rubbery eggs the next morning.
With Buffalo behind us, it was on to Niagara Falls. We had reservations for a half-day tour of attractions on the US and Canadian sides. For $20 more, we could have taken a longer tour including lunch, but that bus boarded on the Canadian side. This was a deal-breaker because someone wasn’t sure where to park and how much it would cost. It never occurred to me to worry that Canada had no parking or that, if they did, I’d have to sell a kidney to finance it. But then I’m not retired yet so maybe I haven’t spent enough time thinking about it.
After the tour, despite the ridiculously early hour, it was time to scout for dinner options where we’d dine alone at 4:00 p.m. to beat the crowds. Like parking, securing a restaurant table is a contest for retirees who apparently have better things to do than wait in line. Besides, after pigging out on the hotel’s breakfast bounty, they don’t need two additional meals each day. If they get hungry in the long hours remaining before bedtime, there are always granola bars.