Whenever I return from a trip, short or long, pleasant or unpleasant, I am thankful for the comforts of home. As much as I enjoy traveling, it necessarily involves a loss of control and some extra effort, whether dealing with an unfamiliar language, understanding local customs, or simply finding my way on planes, trains, buses, and subways.
For me, though, the biggest concern is: where am I going to sleep?
This stems no doubt from my first forays in Europe, where I was traveling by bicycle and where I wasn’t always sure where I’d wind up at the end of the day, as it depended on several factors: the weather, my stamina, and where campgrounds or B&Bs or hostels might be found. Reservations weren’t practical, if they were even accepted in those days.
This resulted in me ‘sleeping wild’ a couple of times. Some travelers are comfortable with camping out in a random, secluded spot, but I’m not one of them. I always expect someone to come along at 3 a.m. and send me packing. Or a cop arresting me for vagrancy.
The first time was on a cycling tour in Belgium. As late afternoon crept into early evening, and there seemed to be nowhere to stay, I waited until it was almost dark and set up my tent on the gravel behind a closed café near Mons. I didn’t sleep much that night, woken every time a car passed by, or worse, did a U-turn in the café’s parking lot.
The second time was in the Lago di Como district of Italy. Passing numerous campgrounds that afternoon, I was confident I’d find a place when my legs told me it was time to stop. Wrong. The winding, mount-side road I was on entered what seemed to be a never-ending residential area. There were a number of tunnels on the road, each of which had a gravel bypass. As the light began to fade, I finally decided to take one, and as there was no place to pitch my tent, simply laid out my sleeping bag on a concrete shelf and settled in. I soon discovered that, after dark, this particular passage became a lovers’ lane, with two or three cars arriving in turn, stopping for half an hour or so, then departing with their steamed-up windows. As you can appreciate, it made it hard to sleep. And did I mention it started to rain at one point?
Of course, hotel stays don’t always go well. I once agreed to escort my youngest sister on her first trip to Europe. Because she was on a very tight budget, in London I booked us into the cheapest hotel I could find. Big mistake. Climbing the stairs to our top-floor room, we had to navigate by what seemed to be several drugged-out fellow residents. The shared bathroom next to our room was unusable, and when it started raining in the night, it began raining on us through the bulging bubble in the ceiling. Another sleepless night.
At least we had a room.
Once, when Dianne and I signed up for a charity bike ride in Pennsylvania, we weren’t so lucky. After an interminable, traffic-riddled Friday drive from Montreal, we arrived about 9 p.m. at the hotel I’d booked online. It turned out the receptionist had no record of our reservation, and little sympathy for our predicament. After considerable back and forth, we managed to get a room for that night, but we had no place to stay Saturday. Did I mention the hotel was in a little town called Bethlehem?
A pending calamity had a much happier ending when, on a whim, I convinced four fellow students from a French-language school in the Loire Valley to drive to Nantes one weekend to catch a stage of the Tour de France. Arriving late Saturday afternoon, we discovered that there wasn’t a room to be had. Aside from the Tour, the city was hosting an international Jehovah’s Witnesses convention. We eventually resigned ourselves to the five of us sleeping in our Renault 5 and headed to a pizza place for dinner. There, somehow, and miraculously, one of our co-travelers turned on his significant charm and convinced our waiter that we should stay at his place. His mother served us strong coffee and fresh croissants the next morning.
As much as these episodes can make for amusing anecdotes – in retrospect — I’m always thankful to be home, and in my own bed. Even if Dianne and I have to share it sometimes with a cat who snores.