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


Laptop parade

This week I spent some time on an oddly positioned treadmill in a hotel fitness center. Strangely, the room was just off the lobby and the treadmill faced out to the front desk. So I spent my workout watching the comings and goings in the lobby. (Literally!) The parade was diverse: individuals, couples and families walked by the door, many stopping at the front desk to check out. There were grandparents, young couples, busy families and business types. After a while I noticed that with one exception, they all had only one thing in common: a laptop bag.

Surveys show–backed by anecdotal evidence such as my treadmill observation–that free Wi-Fi is the single most important amenity to travelers (both leisure and business), trumping free parking and breakfast. I know I would not even consider traveling without a laptop (except for one unplugged vacation last year) and usually have at least one other device for which I will use Wi-Fi. While business travelers have long behaved in this way, I suspect that it’s only within the last five years that leisure travelers have as well. No matter where we are, or why, connection to elsewhere has become essential.

Travelers have long been perplexed by the pricing contradiction: lower-tier properties tend to offer free Wi-Fi, while higher-end properties charge for use (or charge for faster speeds). A year ago, I would have said this is bound to change: Free Wi-Fi for all! But hotels have just caught on to what airlines have known for a few years: Ancillary fees can have a huge, positive impact on the bottom line. What’s your take? Do you see Wi-Fi becoming so essential to the hotel experience that it will go the way of the bed: free?