Deciding to Go

What do schoolteachers do in the summer?

If you imagine they spend the entire time studying and preparing for the next autumn’s new crop of students, you would probably be wrong. Teaching is hard work, and most teachers spend at least part of their summers recharging their batteries with some sort of cherished activity. I was a middle school teacher for twenty-three years (and worked in higher education for seven years after that), so I know whereof I speak.

We traveled.

For Minay (who is a quiltmaker and quilt pattern designer) and me (now a writer), summers were a time to get away from the Houston heat and travel somewhere else (hopefully where it was cooler). Over time we developed a system that worked well for us, a system I believe could work for anyone going on an extended trip (we’ll share some of it periodically in this blog, and possibly expand on it in a book later). By the time I was ready to retire in 2009, we had gotten pretty good at traveling, but knew we wouldn’t be able to do it as much on my now-fixed income.

Our trips (beginning in 1982) were short, four to ten days, and lengthened considerably over the years (our longest was thirty-four days); but they were all inside the United States (with a couple of brief crossovers into Canada). I had traveled to Canada for work a few times (Vancouver, Montreal, and several cities in Alberta); and had traveled to Ireland in 2001 to present at a conference (five days, with a one-night stopover in London), but Minay hadn’t been overseas yet.

We received a small inheritance from my mom in 2009, and put most of it in savings, but my mom loved to travel, and we thought it would be nice to spend part of the money on one “final” special trip. But where to go?

We had covered the eastern half of the U.S. pretty thoroughly, and had been to Colorado (on our honeymoon), and to Northern California (to visit a friend), but that’s all we had seen of the western half of the country as a couple. The Pacific Northwest and all of the western National Parks were an intriguing possibility. One day we tossed the question out for discussion, “If you could go anywhere overseas, where would you go?”

Minay’s first and only choice was England. So much of our culture and history derives from there (and our language, of course). Both she and I have ancestors who came from the UK; Scots-Irish, Irish and English. She also has some German blood and I have some French; and we both have some Native American (we’re mutts).

I have always loved Japanese culture, and almost taught English in Tokyo (for Sony) at one point, so France and Japan were in my list of choices, but so was England, for many of the same reasons Minay had.

Weighing the Potential Language Barriers: We had both studied French in college, but neither of us are fluent (and my French accent is lousy – Minay’s is much better). I speak practically no Japanese (just what I learned from Shogun and Akira Kurosawa movies). We do both speak American English fluently, and even a few regional variants (like East Texan and Bostonian), so England was clearly first choice for language. If we were going to make this a good vacation, we thought we might as well try to concentrate on where we were going and what we were doing, instead of spending much of our time trying to understand and be understood.

Weighing the Cultural Possibilities: Both of us are former actors, and voracious readers. So much of our experience growing up was related to the British Isles (Shaw, Shakespeare, Austen, Bronte, Conan Doyle, and on and on). I was also thinking of writing a modern novel based on the King Arthur stories, so we thought visiting England might provide a good opportunity to do some Arthurian research.

England won.

We had the where. Now we just had to decide when to go, how to get around, where to go once we were there, how long to stay, and how much the trip might cost (to make sure we could afford it).

The decision to go had taken a few weeks of discussion, but we didn’t want to approach the trip blindly. We still needed to do some research.

How have you planned your trips? Spur of the moment? Long, careful pondering?

The next posts will be about the research and what we did to get ready to go. You can jump right to the next one, if you like, When Should We Go?

Michael

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