Tips for a weary traveler finding his way home

March 24, 2007|By ROB KASPER

Every spring, the urge to travel appears. My tendency is to squash it like a cockroach. I don't mind leaving; it is the returning that is painful.

Recently, for instance, my wife and I ventured to Arizona, the land of the Saguaro cactus, the javelina and bright sunshine. Then we tried to fly home on a Friday when a snow storm shut down large sections of the East Coast. The experience reminded me of the character in Anne Tyler's novel The Accidental Tourist who believes leaving Baltimore is a risky business. Having survived last weekend's chaos, I put together some tips for the reluctant traveler, ways to make getting out of your rut tolerable, if not enjoyable.

Tip No. 1: Take advantage of the opportunity to make new friends. In Arizona, I made the acquaintance of a couple of javelinas. These are dark squatty animals related to wild pigs and hippopotamuses. They smell bad, they grunt, they tend to show up at suppertime.

Cute they are not, but they are part of the Wild West. That is what I told myself as I stood in the yard of my in-laws' Phoenix-area home and watched the javelinas mosey in from behind the cactuses. They don't seem to do much other than eat, but they will eat anything. In other words, they behave pretty much like visiting relatives.

When one of the javelina snacked on some flowers that my sister-in-law had just coaxed into bloom, it was time to send him on his way. The best way to dispatch the javelinas is to clink two beer bottles together. The bottles must be empty. Prince that I am, I assumed the responsibility of draining the beer bottles and herding the javelinas.

Tip No. 2: Keep your luggage and yourself in the same ZIP code. When your flight is canceled, as happened to many who tried to fly into Baltimore that Friday, you should not abandon your luggage and jump on an open flight to Peoria, Ill. Your baggage and your personality are burdens that travel with you.

One glance at the photos in The Sun early this week showing the welter of orphaned bags at BWI Marshall Aiport, remnants of the storm, reminded me of the consequences of trying to get ahead of your checked luggage.

Attempts to carry your luggage on the plane are not realistic for families, anyone with three pairs of shoes or anyone in need of liquids or gels. While standing in the security line at the Phoenix airport, for instance, I panicked when I realized I was carrying petroleum jelly, which I needed to prevent the Arizona sun from turning my skin into a Dorito. Worried about possessing a banned substance, I ditched the tube. I also had to chug the bottle of water I was toting. And I was scolded for not having my boarding pass out of my envelope. I tried to remain cheerful.

Tip No. 3: Think of the poor suckers who are in worse shape than you are. When our flight back to Baltimore was canceled, my wife and I, unlike many of our fellow travelers, did not have to fork over money for a hotel. Instead, we showed up back at the in-laws, at suppertime, just like the javelinas.

The next day, when we arrived at the zoo that was the BWI baggage claim, we did not, unlike many of our fellow travelers, have to cope with packs of exhausted, screaming kids. Moreover, unlike the beleaguered fellow I bumped into at the baggage carousel, my bag showed up. He said he had been searching for his for the past 24 hours.

Like a bank robber fleeing the scene of a crime, I grabbed my bag and scurried for an exit. To avoid the traffic jam on the arrivals level of the airport, I lugged the heavy bag up a flight of steps (the escalator was broken) and tossed it into the van that my son and his girlfriend had maneuvered into position at the departures level. We headed home.

Tip No. 4: Don't forget, your house will make you pay for leaving it. When I was sitting in the stands of the baseball stadium in Surprise, Ariz., wearing shorts and watching the Kansas City Royals and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim play a spring training game, I was carefree.

But as soon as I got home, domestic duties called. I had to grab a snow shovel and chip the ice off the backyard patio to get in the house. Then I had to fire up the furnace. The house groaned, and somewhere in the distance I heard the unwelcome sound of a pipe leaking.

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