What constitutes a good trip?
That all depends on the traveler, really. Commonly, we all want a hassle-free experience from the time we leave home to our return. How that is measured is an individual's own patience and energy. Your idea of a good trip might not necessarily match mine.
Which brings me to this point: I have my own expectations on how I would like to get there and be treated in the ground and beyond. Mostly, I travel on business, so I do expect some respect in doing so. I can be easy going, but one little moment of attitude and you might not have a happy traveler.
How do I measure what a good trip is for me? Let me go through some aspects of a trip and see what I expect…or, not expect.
THE FLIGHT: The actual airline experience starts when I check in. If it is easy for me to check in on a mobile app or online, then I should be golden. I have to remember that some airlines do not have an app – a shame these days, really.
Getting to the airport should be painless. However I get there, I always make sure to be there with more than enough time for the Transportation Security Agency checkpoint or any other pre-flight routines that are needed – including baggage check-in. Luckily, the only thing I cannot pin on the airlines is the TSA security check. Still, I look forward to a hassle-free experience going through TSA, as long as I know what is required of me to get through their check point.
We all hate delays, right? We also hate it when they announce that the flight is oversold. Neither of these are helped by recent dramas spun virally across social media. The less extreme situations of delays and overbooked flights are a part of a reality that challenge travelers and air carriers alike. I have not had an extreme situation where cancellations led to being late for anything in my life in maybe 25 years. However, these situations are not tolerated by me, when there is a critical connection involved.
Another tolerance breaker is a full flight where comfort is compromised. A two-plus hour flight where there is no wiggle room for a guy my size is a recipe for dissatisfaction. A good flight is where I can prop up my huge laptop and actually do something worthwhile in flight. Sadly those opportunities are becoming less available as airlines cram more people on board.
Simply put, all I want is a comfortable seat and plenty of legroom.
A good flight means getting good service. I'm nobody special. Yet, if you want to treat me special in flight, that's awesome. Perhaps my expectations have lowered due to the current state of the airline industry. Rather, that I have not had any First Class experiences in several years. Like I said, I'm nobody special. I'm just a member of the automotive media corps.
The arrival piece is maybe the best part of the experience. As long as I have some sort of control of my bags upon exiting the airport, I'm good.
ON THE ROAD: This one is a no brainer. When I'm driving somewhere, I know I'm in control of the vehicle, my luggage and my choice of infotainment. One needs to be cognizant of situations where safety can be compromised. That means being awake, coherent and aware when presented with on road situations of others making the drive less enjoyable for others.
I believe in keeping a pace that allows me some time to rest along the way. I'm not an endurance driver, so I would stop after an hour or two to recoup, get something to drink, use the restroom and so forth. I also try to find something different for meals. If not, I can find consistency and speed of service when it calls for it.
Driving is what I do. What I expect in the vehicle that I drive matters. But, that's a different article altogether. My main point is that a vehicle should get me there comfortably, competently and safely.
STAYING SOMEWHERE: At my destination, I know that I will be staying somewhere that is clean, safe and comfortable. That can range from a friend's couch to a five-star hotel. Let me talk about those places where I cannot impose on the kindness of friends and strangers.
I love hotels, actually. I love discovering places I have never heard of and finding out their charms. On business trips, they can either be the focal point of the trip or just a place to sleep. Either way, service is important to me. How the staff greets me, welcomes me, makes me comfortable and allows me my time for myself – service is very important. A first impression upon arrival goes a long way. It frames the rest of my time on their property.
Obviously, I also expect things to work in my room and elsewhere on the property. The Wi-Fi should be enabled for me to work. The shower should be easy to use, as is the rest of the bathroom. I also hope that things don't break while I'm there. It seems that I expect a lot, but not really. I just want a good night's sleep in the end. I want to not worry about anything that does not interfere with the reason why I am staying at that hotel or similar property.
Recently, I had great luck with hotels. The last few trips featured some outstanding properties – two of them just happen to be classic Chicago hotels – that fit all of the above criteria. Not to mention, they were great places to relax and rejuvenate.
SERVICE, AND NOTHING ELSE: Just like the hotel, I love getting good service. Service comes from good people. People with a friendly demeanor, a great outlook on life. I'm not expecting five-star, bespoke service. A smile, a question and care goes a long way. Heck, embarass me! It shows you have a great sense of humor – and I like that. Flirting might cross a boundary, though.
Maybe it's the Californian in me. We always think in terms of "vibe." If I get a good vibe from a server, shop clerk, visitor's center staffer…and so forth…that trip will have added and deepened value.
That, in a nutshell, is good service!
FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD: One thing I am welcoming in my trips are local places that offer the great combination of service and quality food. I am far from a foodie, but I love delicious food that agrees with me.
I'm not picky about the place, either. Whether it is a food truck, a burger stand, or a five-star dining experience, I'm fine with that. Two things do come into play: service and food quality.
One great example came on my last trip with Chevrolet. We had breakfast at Biscuit Head in Asheville, North Carolina. The place had a funky, but friendly atmopshere. However, it also had great service and exceptional food. Let's just say I had one of the best breakfasts ever at this place. That's a high standard to match!
EXPLORING AND ADDING VALUE TO THE TRIP: I like to travel to places that I am curious about. Perhaps there is something that piques my interest. Or, at least some of the standing interests and pursuits that I already enjoy.
In my case, I love to visit automobile museums or private collections, enjoy sporting events – namely baseball, hockey and football – and browse shops of interest. Bonus points go for stores featuring automobile memorabilia, a wide variety of sports team clothing and a good selection of hand drums. It's all about feeding those geek points in me.
One thing I love about visiting new places is to see the complete transportation picture. This is not just for my own curiosity or geekery, but to get a real feel for the place. This includes finding fun roads to drive on, checking out the local public transportation or just finding a nice walkway along some wonderful architecture or body of water.
A good trip means getting more of an intrinsic value out of a locale. But, wait, there's more…
PEOPLE MAKE THE PLACE: There are a lot of moments where I just want to be by myself. I need some capacity to think, imagine and contemplate. However, if I encounter friendly, open-minded and conversational people in my travels, that experience will go a long way.
Though I will admit to not being comfortable around complete strangers. Yet, if one of them happen to be cool, conversational and have mutual interests – that could form into a great experience on that trip.
There is a thing to be said about friends. With established friendships, there should be a sense of freshness and renewal when we meet again. However, it is the "new" friendships that I would like to bridge in my travels. The one thing social media offers is a form of "friendship" that appears to be artificial and disconnected. To me, a friendship consists of real time communication and experience.
One thing I will try to do on the road is to reach out to those who live in a certain area to see if they can hang out. It may depend on whether time is available for me to bring people together. On OEM/media trips, that might not be possible due to time constraints. However, I do hope to open that up on self-planned trips for business or…maybe someday…a vacation.
IT IS THE COMPANY YOU KEEP: On most of my trips, I am with my colleagues and industry people that are there for the same purpose. These are "my" people – professional, but friendly. In fact, a good number of these folks became friends in real life.
We know that on trips we take for business, time is a premium. However, it is those moments that we can meet up are indeed fond and cherished moments. There are plenty of times when meeting up with my colleagues help highlight a good business trip – even if we're too busy doing what we do best.
A good trip does not have to be perfect. It certainly has to be enjoyable and memorable, especially when I get home. Perhaps that's the big "win" for a good trip – how much can I fondly recall the best parts of the trip and how long will it stay in my memory afterwards.
All photos by Randy Stern