Travel Lightly: Something to Remember During the Busy Holiday Season and Always

CME:  My Ticket to Ride

CME: My Ticket to Ride

“Travel lightly,” said my dear friend Jane over the phone.

“Oh, I will,” I quickly replied. “I’m not packing much for New York.”

“I’m not talking about traveling lightly in that sense,” she insisted. “I mean be light, as in light of spirit.”

“Oh, of course,” I answered as I pondered the full meaning of her words. “Yes, I will––-I must. Yes, I have to remember to take that approach,” I emphasized as we ended our conversation.

I can’t tell you how much I’ve thought about those two simple words these past ten days. Travel lightly. Travel lightly. This has become my mantra of late. I know that everything begins with intention and how you ease into (or respond to) a situation dictates its outcome. But it’s nice to be reminded of this sort of thing.

Jane first mentioned travel lightly to me when I was at my parents’ house in upstate New York. I had parked myself there for a few days after having spent a short week in Denver with my 84-year-old dad which had followed one night in Aspen after having left Telluride. The nights away were already racking up. From upstate New York, I was taking a four-day jaunt to New York City and Philadelphia (actually outside of Phillie) for both business and pleasure. That little side trip involved countless trains (Amtrak and regional transit), buses, taxis and the New York subway along with drop offs and pick ups at commuter rail stations by Jane (for NYC) and a cousin (for Phillie). Most of the scheduling and ticketing was carried out online but still, a lot was left to chance. As I galloped down to subterranean platforms and stood in long lines serviced by far too few ticket sellers, I took a deep breath and quietly whispered travel lightly to myself.

With these two mighty words, it seemed as though there was no situation too stressful to handle. When I found out there was no baggage storage at the major New York rail stations (something I suspected but didn’t find the time to confirm), I wheeled my overnight bag and jostled my laptop case and heavily-loaded pocket book into a Starbucks to regroup once at Penn Station. I carefully unwrapped one of my mother’s chocolate cupcakes to accompany my coffee.  Already in a stupor from having been too much on the go, a good shot of caffeine and sugar was not only craved but required. My glorious homemade treat promptly plopped to the floor––-frosting side down–just as my fingers reached for it. Although that’s the sort of thing that can easily put you over the edge (silly as that sounds), this time I only shrugged my shoulders with a hint of regret. Instead I whipped out my laptop in search of a luggage storage facility nearby. Traveling lightly now more than ever.

I found the luggage storage at Schwartz Travel, a company with two locations, one close to Penn Station, one near Grand Central. I opted for the latter since that was closer to where I would be taking my last train of the day. The taxi dropped me off at a rather obscure address sandwiched in between a flourish of Brazilian restaurants on W 46th Street. I rolled my load in through a nondescript entranceway and took an old elevator up, wondering the whole way if it was going to land me safely to the designated floor. The doors practically opened into a dressmaker’s workshop named Sew Chic.

“Is this where I find the luggage storage?” I ventured to the older woman––and apparent seamstress––behind the counter.

“Yes, I handle the affairs for Schwartz Travel when they’re not here,” she replied matter of fact-ly as though it was the most normal thing in the world to create a luggage storage among black chiffon evening dresses and sequin jackets. I paid the $10./per bag/per day fee and followed her into the back room where my charge was neatly stowed next to three large suitcases. Is this for real? I thought to myself. Only in New York. Only in America where entrepreneurship seizes every possible opportunity for establishing a business, even if it’s on the sly.

If you just let go, it’s amazing how things work out when you travel, when you live life, when you go with the flow. And when they don’t work out, you have to travel even more lightly. I adopted this Zen-like state when I stood outside of the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, waiting for a bus that pulled up forty minutes late. That put my two other travel connections in jeopardy but instead of sweating it, I decided to breathe deeply and travel lightly. Everything was already out of my control and I knew that worrying about the situation would only make it worse.

I was reminded of that attitude on the back end of my east coast trip when my travel arrangements from downtown Denver to the mountains became upended. I like spending at least a night in the mile-high city to acclimatize to the Rockies before heading to higher elevations. Plus I love Denver. I had also planned to visit my brother and sister-in-law in Redstone, halfway between Denver and Telluride on my way home. It didn’t make sense for me to be encumbered with my car, so I had come up with a carefully devised plan that involved taking the Greyhound (yeah, the bus!) from downtown Denver to Glenwood Springs where my sister-in-law was to pick me up and take me to her house (where my car also awaited me) forty-five minutes away. I had taken the Greyhound on the east coast just over a year ago (read Riding the Bus) and was impressed with the sleekness of their new buses, complete with WiFi, electrical outlets and very acceptable toilets. The Greyhound also happens to be the only viable transportation option from downtown Denver to the high country. (The train takes double the time and the shuttle buses leave from the airport.) Plus I’m a travel writer, always up for new experiences.

Well, it will be a while before I consider taking the Greyhound again. I should have known something was up when I couldn’t book my ride online the night before. All attempts on the Internet and phone failed. I gave up and decided to show up early at the station. What a zoo! Mothers spanking children, guys swearing, people scuffing about in what appeared to be bathrobes. At the risk of sounding like a snob, I can tell you there was no end to the amount of incivilities I witnessed as I stood in line for my westward bound (final destination:  L.A.) bus. The scene last year in D.C. was decidedly more presentable. To make matters worse, customer service is not their forte chez Greyhound. I found out that the reason I couldn’t book in advance was that the bus I wanted had been soldout. Why couldn’t they just tell me that instead of having it come off as a systems failure? The bus scheduled to depart the day before had been cancelled due to a big storm in the mountains, a situation that resulted in double the volume of travel for the day I planned to leave Denver. I stood in the wait list line an hour before being turned away.

Travel lightly, I thought to myself as I lugged my forty-six-pound suitcase and assorted bags to the nearest hotel (no taxi in sight) in search of a Super Shuttle to take me to the airport. There I made arrangements to take a Colorado Mountain Express (CME) shuttle to Glenwood Springs. My saviors! These folks were so polite and civilized that I couldn’t help flagellating myself with what-was-I-thinking thoughts about Greyhound as I stepped into their clean van. Unfortunately this SNAFU meant that I’d be arriving too late in Glenwood to expect my family to pick me up. (Even seasoned mountain folk know to avoid windy, ice-patched, mountain roads at night.) It seemed I’d have to arrive a day later than planned in Telluride. And I’d have to get a hotel in Glenwood for the quick overnight. Too bad. Go lightly. Go with the flow. I was almost home, but not quite.

Since my sister-in-law wasn’t able to show up until noon, I turned this inconvenience into an opportunity and decided to go to the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool for a soak the following morning. My neck and shoulders felt riddled with knots from having carried too much weight for too many days. I knew this therapy would further lighten my spirit as well and set me right for my four-hour drive back to T-ride. Funny how things always have a way of working out. Jane would be proud of me indeed.

Glenwood Springs Hot Springs Pool:  The Perfect Antidote for Weary Travelers

Glenwood Springs Hot Springs Pool: The Perfect Antidote for Weary Travelers

QUICK TRAVEL TIPS

Baggage Storage

Most of the nation’s major train stations and bus terminals no longer provide luggage storage. Google luggage storage and the name of the city you’re visiting to find out where you can stow your stuff. With a bit of presence and charm, you can also check your bag (s) with the bellmen at fancy hotels. If need be, stay for a cup of tea to warrant the favor.

Trains vs. Buses

Do your research. In certain markets, train travel is much more expensive than taking the bus along the same route. This is especially the case between New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. There are many fine motor coaches that operate along these well-travelled routes patronized by a smart clientele distinctly unlike Greyhound’s modern-day, hobo-looking crowd.

Be Super Weather-Savvy

I live in the Rockies. I know how a storm can shut down I70 (the highway between Denver and the mountains), crippling cars, trucks and buses caught in its winds. But damn it, I was had. The day was sunny and warm when I arrived in Denver and although I saw people staring at monitors showing live feeds from the snowy scene at Eisenhower Tunnel––the supreme weather marker of the Colorado mountains––I ignored how it might impact my travel the next day. Know that Denver weather often has little to do with what’s going on in the mountains. And as much as we know how to brave storms in Colorado, snowy weather inevitably creates cancellations and delays that can goof up many peoples’ plans.

Consider Elevation Changes

I live at nearly 10,000 feet above sea level in Telluride. But if I’m away for ten days or more, I often have to deal with altitude adjustments that can bring on headaches and insomnia. If you have these challenges, plan to spend a couple of days at a lower elevation before hitting the nosebleed heights. Denver and Glenwood Springs are both terrific options. My night in Glenwood (elevation 5763 feet) afforded me the comfort of another good sleep before hitting the higher elevations. This time I stayed at the Ramada Inn which worked out fine, especially since it was convenient and within my budget. For a more self-indulgent stay, I recommend the Hot Springs Lodge, a fresh, bright hotel that I’ll be posting a story on soon.

This just in: There’s a rumor that Colorado Mountain Express will be servicing downtown Denver in the near future.

Go to What Kind of a Traveler Am I Anyhow? Part One:  Packing to find out more about how I typically pack and travel.

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