Thank You, No. By Stuart Watson

I love to travel. I have friends who love to travel. I love to share travel tales.

One of my dear friends will invariably punctuate our travel reveries with a suggestion. “Oh, wouldn’t it be great for you guys to join us in City X,  ….”

Time out. Did I mention how much I abhor the thought of generating travel tales with those people, or any others? We’ll send postcards and e-mails. Anything more intimate? Deserves a condom.

Traveling with friends is a sure way to end a friendship. Doubt me? Every time I have tried it, I have found myself crouched in a corner, growling at any member of our party who wants to “discuss what we should do next.”

I don’t want to discuss it. I want to step outside and explore. I can negotiate a semi-structured burst of spontaneity with my bride, but I dread the inevitable roundelay of opinions, fears, misinformation and budgetary imbalances that come with self-guided group travel. Two couples equals way more than four times the complication. Person A suggests. Spouse B weighs in. Person C offers a thought. Spouse D aims in a different direction, and Person A tries to assert her vision, and so it goes. We had a nice little fire going, until these other folks showed up with the can of gasoline.

For years, I avoided suggestion of shared travel. Rather than respond, I would “feel” an urge to visit the restroom. Eventually, I resorted to honesty. “Well, that’s sweet, but I prefer to travel only with my wife,” I said.

Our friend would purse her lips, avert her gaze, then return to the “How fun it would be” line of discourse.

My reluctance to travel with others took shape when I found myself sharing a rental car forty years ago with old college chums. Because they believed it best to take everything they owned on the trip, my wife and I found ourselves sharing the back seat of the car with a large suitcase. This was deemed convenient, given that the other couple had arranged the rental, hence meriting front-seat privileges, even though we were sharing the costs, and could as easily have occupied the front seats, without their suitcase as company.

We share some responsibility for the repeated opportunities to rebuff offers of shared travel. We often suggest brief, contained local outings, to new restaurants, or live theater. Until we do, our friends  sit at home, grouse about the weather and dream of Paris as the only possible solution to the winter blahs.

These local outings, however, come prepackaged for their convenience. The event involves no negotiation and end in a single day. What a lovely time.

Extended travel, however, is never simple. Some people, like our friends, believe that if we take care of everything for these local outings, we surely would love to bring the same effort to a month-long European tour. They think we are eager to round off the rough edges for them, make the trip more like a totally predictable evening at home. Planning, of course, is not travel. In the ideal, we would go to an airport, buy a ticket on the next plane leaving, arrive somewhere, and start poking around.

I don’t travel that way, nor do I love planning, but I do it to lessen the hiccups of absolute spontaneity. I plan out of necessity, within the guidelines agreed upon with my spouse. Message to my would-be traveling companions: I don’t want to spend even one night on the road with you. I don’t want to wake up to the horror of knowing you are down the hall, conjuring ideas for places to shop, or worrying the bone of which espresso shop we should visit, or imagining disasters that would prevent us from doing anything that isn’t patently safe and guaranteed to prolong our stultifying lives.

Our friends’ belong on a tour. Tours eliminate options. The consumer pays someone else to figure out where and when to stop and get off and get on, and where the oversize luggage will ride.

The best thing about the bus? Its passengers will never have to contend with a grump like me, out in the rain, flailing an unruly map, attempting to speak Portuguese. At least I know I’m lost, and why, and that my predicament is my own, not the product of tedious negotiation with people who belong on a bus not driven by me.

            Bon voyage, mes amis.

BIO: After 30 years as a newspaper reporter and editor, Stu Watson worked as a freelance writer, contributing travel stories for Travel Oregon, The Oregonian, BusinessWeek and Oregon Wine Press. He lives with his wife and the world’s best dog in Hood River, Ore., where he loves to windsurf, hike, write poetry and enjoy his great neighbors.

Photo: Sarah Leamy “Pacific City, Oregon”

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