Risk Management

Like many people in the U.S., I awoke on November 9 to surprise at the outcome of the presidential election. That morning I saw co-workers sitting at their desks quietly stunned, and at lunch I wandered through the grand opening of the local Whole Foods, where the mood seemed almost like a funeral.

Meanwhile that morning, the value of the Mexican peso plunged to an all-time low, dropping 11 percent to 20 pesos to a U.S. dollar. U.S. voters had elected a president who was openly hostile to Mexico throughout his campaign. Donald Trump had called Mexicans criminals and rapists, and had vowed to deport illegal immigrants and build a wall along the Mexican border to keep them from coming back.

By the end of the day, another reality hit me: In 10 days I would be traveling to Mexico. It was the first time in many years that an upcoming trip made me uneasy. This was a big risk I hadn’t accounted for.

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Plan B

November 2016

Sometimes the best laid plans fall through. Usually, that just takes some improvising when the weather goes bad or something is closed. But on occasion, the whole plan comes apart before you get started.

Even before I’d left for Norway last year, my friend Karimé and I had agreed to return to Argentina to visit Patagonia and Mendoza. For the past year, we’ve been planning the trip. It was a brilliant plan — expensive, logistically challenging, but sure to be a trip to remember.

Then the unexpected happened in September: Karimé got a new job.

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Airplane takeoff

Take Off …

There comes a moment, just after the plane has taxied to the runway, when you hear the jet engines rise to a crescendo, and the wheels push into forward motion, and the force builds momentum. The moment when you feel your guts drop. You cross your fingers, as the plane suddenly severs from the Earth and ascends — it might as well be a rocket blasting off. Your heart races, then stops for a moment — that moment. That’s when you realize there’s no turning back.

So, stupidly, you clutch your passport, your wallet with your money and credit card, as if you could do anything about it. It’s already too late.

 

Photo credit: FreeImages.com/Margan Zajdowicz

Fear of Flying

Key West, Florida
November 1988

The travel agent in town assured me it was safe, but I was beginning to doubt her. It was nine o’clock in the morning at the small airstrip just off the main airport. It was a beautiful day, the sun high in a blue sky, not a cloud in sight, just a little breeze. I was standing on the tarmac with two college boys, looking down on a wobbly seaplane sitting in the water at the end of a dock, while a burly, silver-haired man in a Hawaiian shirt went through our paperwork, collected our money, and showed us where to stow our gear. Flying is the only way to see the Dry Tortugas. About an hour away in the Caribbean there’s an island that held Confederate prisoners during the Civil War, but now has the best snorkeling in the Keys.

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Traveling Light

Leave your burdens behind you. Less is more. One bag is all you need. One bag that easily fits into the overhead bin or the narrow rack above your seat on the bus or train.

It’s about flexibility. It’s about being able to cut through a crowd quickly and easily. The people with one bag get from point A to point B with less hassle.

What does it take to travel lightly? Carry only the essentials: enough clothes for a few days, a jacket, a sweater, a toothbrush and shampoo, prescription medicines, a guidebook, a notebook, a towel. When you think about it, all you really need is your passport and an ATM card. Everything else you can buy while you are there. Laundry is cheap in much of the world; there are pharmacies and groceries in most decent-sized towns; nearly every hotel has soap and toilet paper. There’s no need to bring several heavy suitcases, two weeks of clothes, and the full contents of your medicine cabinet.

Besides, you’ll need room for the souvenirs.

Reservations

When the plane touched down in Barcelona, on our first trip to Europe, my then-girlfriend and I followed the signs to the terminal. At a bank of pay phones in the noisy hall, Kris broke out our Rick Steves guidebook and started dialing numbers. Her decent American Spanish struggled to be understood over the telephone, lots of repetition and frustration. One by one, no room at the inn. Then, finally, after a brief, confusing exchange, a possibility.

The airport express train followed an arc above industrial Barcelona, working class neighborhoods with concrete futsal courts and clothes hanging from metal lines strewn across balconies, then underground to the center, until it spilled the two of us onto the big square at the mouth of Las Ramblas. It was May Day, a holiday. It was raining a little, and lots of young people were out. We checked the map, but couldn’t find our bearings. Then we tried asking for directions, or Kris tried while I stood by useless, but each time we encountered Catalan that got lost in translation. Eventually, someone pointed us in the right direction, down the great pedestrian avenue, and a street vendor halfway down directed us into a warren of narrow alleys to where the hostal awaited.

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