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By Julie Blume
Rafting on the Arkansas River. Photo courtesy Julie Blume.
As a touring dancer, your passion is your work and the world is your office. You don’t get to choose your destinations, but you are always in charge of how much joy you take in. Whether you are sunning on a beach in Bermuda, wasting hours in a remote mid-American Walmart, or sampling bear meat in Russia, travel forces you to acknowledge that your definition of normal is unique to you. And it reminds you that no matter where you are in the world, and no matter what language is spoken, laughter is the voice of time well spent.
Here are a few tips to keep your travels adventurous and trouble-free:
1. Mind the weight limit. As long as your suitcase is under the limit—typically 44 or 50 pounds depending on the airline—don’t worry about over-packing. When you are on the road as often as you are home, I suggest you bring your sources of comfort with you. Elizabeth Koeppen, associate artistic director of Parsons Dance and road warrior for nearly 20 years, carries all the supplies for a personal spa with her on each trip. Your body will thank you when you follow her lead. Pack Epsom salts and whatever else you need to keep calm and contented through a rigorous tour. Just remember to weigh your bag before departing—overweight fees can be exorbitant. Also leave some space in your suitcase for the trip home if you plan to shop on tour.
2. Predict the delay. I hate to be a pessimist here, but the perfect travel day is a rarity. A deck of cards and a good game of Spades can be a sanity saver during that two-hour turned 10-hour layover. And go ahead and subscribe already! Those magazines that cost $4.99 each at Hudson News are considerably less for an annual subscription. If you have a lot of travel in your future, commit to a subscription and consider getting an e-reader. With an iPad or Kindle your subscriptions are delivered directly to you, depending on your location. If you do not travel overseas regularly, use your time at the airport to call your credit card company and share your travel plans with them to assure access to your money while abroad.
3. Remember your bread crumbs. Once you arrive at your destination, be sure to grab the hotel’s business card and keep it in your wallet. If you stay at seven different hotels within a week, it’s easy to forget whether you’re currently at a Hampton Inn or a Marriott, and there are often multiple similarly named hotels in big cities. When abroad, tracking your whereabouts is all the more advisable. Once, on a tour to Suzhou, China, a group of us spent an afternoon in Shanghai where we learned that our pronunciation of “Suzhou” was incorrect to the point of being unrecognizable. Who knows where we would have ended up had we not had the hotel business card to show our taxi driver on our trip home.
4. Not a fan of “crispy pigeon”? Pack some granola bars, trail mix, or another filling snack. Though I love to sample the local cuisine, more than once I’ve woken up six time zones from home with a growling stomach only to notice that the continental breakfast doesn’t open for another three hours. A Clif Bar can be a lifesaver.
5. Get familiar with Skype. One of the hardest things about being on the road is leaving your loved ones behind. Be creative about how you stay in touch. Though technology has made the world seem small on the one hand, seeing your significant other on your laptop screen is still best described as a big old tease! Be sure to warn your friends that regular communication may be difficult. Don’t count on steady Internet access or even cell phone service in remote areas. Most hotels still come furnished with stationery, so if you find yourself out of touch, use it! They’ll even sell you stamps at the front desk.
6. Turn off your cell phone. I have heard enough horror stories about overseas cell phone charges that I have resolved to never turn mine on when traveling internationally. Maybe this is an antiquated notion, but just be sure to do your research before you cross the border. Even if you “ignore” an incoming call, cell phone companies can still charge you for the right to see who’s calling. For those of you who are tied to your phones, try restricting yourselves to texting or messaging, and double-check that none of your apps are open and running when not in use. If you plan to forgo your phone, remember to pack a watch and a travel alarm clock. Also, purchase travel adapters and a converter before you depart. (Brookstone sells an adapter kit for $30 that covers most of the globe.) But, be wary of these converters! Some electronics, such as cell phones, computers, and iPods, have converters built into the chargers already. However, products such as hair dryers, electric razors and hair straighteners rarely do. In my experience, converters are not reliable and using them often results in fried electronics and cursory power outages. After breaking numerous straighteners on one Italian tour, my colleagues and I decided to jointly invest in a Euro model.
7. Get a guidebook and read it. When you’re a road warrior, there’s often a lot more time spent roading than warrioring. On many tours, if you’re not mindful, you won’t see much more than airports, hotels, restaurants, theaters, and the backs of your eyelids. Reading a guidebook (my favorite are Insight Guides) allows you to learn about the cultures you’re jetting through, and helps you plan how to take advantage of your few and fleeting free moments on the road. I realize getting up early on tour is a form of dancer sacrilege. However, it’s often worth it. With a little extra effort, I’ve been rafting down the Arkansas River, hang gliding in Rio, and touring the streets of Mexico City via Segway. Always put your body’s needs first, and be on time and fully rested for your shows. But—if you can handle the responsibility—get out and explore.
8. Ask for a tub. Buses, planes, and cramped spaces in general are not the way to pamper your instrument. Be responsive to your body’s needs. If the itinerary looks arduous, be willing to dedicate some per diem for a mid-tour massage. If your hotel has a hot tub or sauna (or is partnered with a gym), use it. If you get assigned a room without a bathtub, it’s worth asking if another room is available. Pack a foam roller and a travel yoga mat and you’ll have your physical therapy to go.
9. A few good words. There’s no need to invest in Rosetta Stone every time you go abroad, but there are a few phrases you’ll need: “Yes,” “No,” “I am sorry, I don’t speak _____,” “Do you speak English?” and “Thank you.” If you have dietary restrictions, make sure to learn how to express them as well. iTunes has free downloads for simple phrases such as these, as will the index in your guidebook. Also try to avoid using confusing phrases that are only common in the U.S. I have received many bewildered looks from restaurant servers when they asked me a yes or no question such as, “Would you like more water?” and I responded, “I’m OK.”
10. Go local! Ask the folks you meet where the best eateries are and where to go for your morning coffee. Most likely it won’t be the Starbucks on the corner. Check out www.walkscore.com to find all the restaurants, bars, movie theaters, and grocery stores within walking distance of your hotel. Take a risk and pass up those familiar chain restaurants to support the local businesses and try some good regional cuisine. If it turns out to be a disastrous meal, at least you have a story that doesn’t start with Applebee’s. If chains are your only option, I recommend Ruby Tuesday—it has a heck of a salad bar.
Julie Blume was a member of Parsons Dance from 2005 to 2010 and performed in Orfeo ed Euridice at the Metropolitan Opera last spring.
• passport, ID
• iPod, headphones
• chargers (phone, camera, iPod, laptop)
• international converter, adapters
• ATM card, credit card, PINs, “if stolen” phone numbers
• guidebook, journal
• deck of cards
• Epsom salts, candles, your favored bath products
• prescription medications, pain relievers
• bathing suit and/or non-dance workout clothes
• makeup, hair supplies
• warm theater clothes
• good walking shoes
The author at a fountain in Rome. Photo courtesy Blume.