When Travel Diversion Did Not Require Headphones

7953202532_85954dfb46_zI inherited a travel-sized cribbage board from my parents, and it still evokes memories from the ’60s of early evenings at motels during childhood vacations. My brothers and I would cannonball into the hotel pool, as my parents “supervised” (a term used only loosely then) while engaged in a friendly game of cribbage. Usually next to the cribbage board sat the travel flask, which appeared precisely at five o’clock, and two hotel glasses with doses of Scotch over rocks. (With four kids on a road trip, who could blame them?)

Travel requires–or perhaps invites–hours of diversion, and today that diversion is mostly digital consumption. We stream movies, we play games, we shop online, we read books on tablets. It’s even packaged for us in our seat backs or we preload it on our devices before a long flight. Now, power management is an essential skill set for travelers.

At the risk of sounding ancient, I bemoan this. When we’re playing old-fashioned games, sans headphones, there’s room for conversation and shared experience. That cannot happen when we’re plugged into our own little worlds.

I’m certainly no analog saint. I binge-watch movies on international flights as often as the person in the next seat. And I have said literal prayers of thanks for digital entertainment when my kids were little and could be occupied for hours on a transcon flight with movies on a laptop. Today, the iPad has transformed the travel experience for parents, never mind their kids.

Maybe I get too much digital entertainment at home, but even for business trips these days I like to unplug. I like having the time to read an actual book. I can’t remember the last time I turned on a TV in a hotel room. And, honestly, my favorite flight activity is looking out the window. This all feels a little shameful to admit. So very unproductive.

Yet, travel is the perfect time to go analog, at least for a little while. What’s in your carry-on? There’s a simple beauty in pulling out a deck of cards. Or a pencil and paper (Hangman, anyone?). Or a magnetic chess board. When all else fails, word games can be pulled from thin air. Or daydreaming, the ultimate diversion. (If you’re stumped, check out The Simple Dollar, which has lots of suggestions for non-digital games and pleasant ways to pass time the old-fashioned way.)

My husband and I have been playing a lot of cribbage this holiday season with my kids. We play on my inherited cribbage board, with all my ghosts and memories. And it’s just perfect that our favored deck of cards sports a photo of the Dreamliner aircraft. In my mind, travel and cribbage–they’re inexorably linked.

What do you like to do without headphones to unwind when you travel?

Photo: Flickr/Bruce Guetner


Phone Charger Panic

Tip: When you forget your charger, borrow one from the hotel lost and found.

Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of interviewing Anthony Melchiorre, whose Travel Channel TV show Hotel Impossible kicks off its fourth season in January. He mentioned that one of his favorite hotel tips is this: When you’ve forgotten a device charger, ask the hotel if they have one in their lost and found. I had already been well aware of this trick, but something happened later that day to broaden its value.

I met colleagues for an after-work drink in New York’s Algonquin Hotel lobby bar (where coincidentally, Melchiorre was once general manager). One friend was in a panic because her train ticket home was on her iPhone app, yet the phone’s battery was dead. With Anthony’s tip top-of-mind, we flagged down the maitre d’. Several minutes later he delivered an iPhone charger. A happy ending: One glass of wine later, the phone was recharged, the train ticket was restored and we all went on our merry ways.

Hotels these days have a plethora of left-behind devices, cables and chargers. See if you can hook into their storehouse before you panic when you leave yours behind. And the lesson I learned from this episode is that you don’t need to be a guest of a hotel: The lost-and-found stash holds true for bars and restaurants, too, especially in hotels.