Back in front of the microphone after a two-week trip to the UK, getting back home just before the new Omicron travel restrictions hit. We talk about getting to London, surfing the waves of changing travel requirements, a new way to renew Global Entry, moan a bit more about the inexorable advance of the cashless society, and finish up talking with Josh Glenn about his new book The Adventurer’s Glossary. All this and more – click here to download the podcast file, go up to the Subscribe section in the top menu bar to subscribe on your favorite site, or listen right here by clicking on the arrow on the player.
Here is the transcript of TravelCommons podcast #182:
Since The Last Episode
- Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
- Coming to you from the TravelCommons studio in Chicago, Illinois a couple of weeks since getting back from two weeks in the UK — a week in London and a week of hiking in Southern Wales. Had really great weather for the back half of November — brisk temperatures, but more sun than we expected; certainly a bit windy when walking the cliffs above the Atlantic, but nothing that we couldn’t layer up for; and only one day of real rain. It was a lot better than the weather forecasts had led us to expect.
- The trip over and back was pretty uneventful. I’d hit American on a mileage sale back in March for direct flights between ORD and LHR. We flew coach on a Triple 7 that was pretty empty on the way over. People were popping up the armrests in the 4-seat center section and laying down to sleep. One guy even built a little tent out of blankets to cover his head. I’m not sure if he was trying to block the cabin lights or maybe he was concerned people walking down the aisles would breathe on him while he slept (though mask discipline was very solid) or maybe he wanted to drop his mask while he slept and didn’t want to get called out by the flight attendants. Whatever his deal was, it looked a little weird.
- I ate dinner on that flight even though I’d eaten a cubano sandwich at Tortas Frontera, my favorite ORD restaurant, right before boarding. I took the meal not because I was hungry but because it gave me an excuse to drop my mask for a little bit on that 8-hr flight. Rather than the “replace your mask between bites and sips” rules that I heard on domestic flights this year, on my international flights over the past couple of months, most everyone takes off their mask for the duration of the meal. I don’t know if this difference comes from emptier planes, longer flights, or that international fliers are less likely to try to get around mask rules (and, purely my own experience, I haven’t seen any passenger pushback on masks on any of my international flights, whereas I was seeing/hearing a lot of it on domestic flights earlier this year), but I appreciate the flexibility/pragmatism (?) on these long flights.
- While the plane wasn’t full, I was worried about passport control when we got to Heathrow. There’s always a bit of suspense anyways as you make the long walk from the plane to passport control. Did a whole bunch of Triple 7’s disgorge at the same time, let alone some massive A-380’s? Did the immigration force botch their workforce scheduling up? Will we flow smoothly into the immigration hall or will our march suddenly stop short? Worse, will we smack into one of those Heathrow e-gate failures that has caused 2-4 hour queues over the past couple of months?
- We kept moving, but then came to a sudden stop as we made the final turn toward the hall. Looking around the line, I could see the room wasn’t jammed — good sign. It looked like they’d paused us for a minute while they rejiggered their cowpen zig-zag line. After a minute or two, we started moving again, and at a pretty good clip with almost everyone getting pointed to the automated e-gates. I walked up, put my passport on the reader, a camera box popped up, mechanically adjusted to my height, and then after what I assume was some facial recognition analysis, opened the gate and let me go to baggage claim. No “how long are you going to be in the country” quiz, which I didn’t miss, but also no stamp in my passport. How am I going to remember this trip for my next Global Entry renewal. Guess I’ll have to drink a beer or two while I’m here so it shows up on my Untappd history.
- Bridge Music — dazed by Jeris (c) copyright 2012 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/VJ_Memes/39456 Ft: airtone
- Speaking of Global Entry, back in episode #180 at the end of October, I was still waiting for my renewal approval and compare my month-and-a-half and counting wait with listener Jerry Sarfati’s 2-day wait. Then, the day before we left for the UK, I got an email with the subject line “TTP (Trusted Traveler Program) Application Status Change” telling me to check the website for more information. Logging in, I saw that I’d been given conditional approval, so about 2 months from submitting my renewal application. I still had to do an interview, but if I was reading everything correctly, I had 12 months to get that done. I looked to see if ORD had an appointment available the day we were flying back from London, but no dice. The earliest appointment was mid-December. OK, I’ll think about it later. No rush; I have 12 months. But the next day, I got another email from dhs.gov telling me about a new program, Enrollment-On-Arrival, where I could knock out my interview while in the customs/immigration area coming back from an international trip, no appointment necessary. Perfect!
- So that Monday afternoon after a quick pass-through the Global Entry kiosk, I went looking for Booth 58 which is where, according to the Enrollment-On-Arrival website, was where the ORD interviews would be. But it looked like getting to Booth 58 would mean standing in a long and growing line of non-US passengers. Ah, forget it. Again, I have 12 months to get this done. But the luggage carousel for our flight hadn’t even started turning yet, so I went up to one of the customs officers and asked her. She immediately pointed me to a guy in a booth completely separate from the rest of the immigration traffic, and in the complete opposite direction of Booth 58. There was one guy in front of me getting his interview, but by the time I stepped up to the officer, there was a family of 4 and two other people behind me. The interview took about 5 minutes. I walked out and our luggage carousel still wasn’t moving. By the end of the day, the TTP website showed my Global Entry was good for another 5 years. Full credit to DHS for coming up with ways to make Global Entry easier. I just wish they’d keep their website locator up-to-date.
- In the last episode, we talked about how last year’s flurry of vaccination passport app announcements has pretty much turned out to be, in the words of Macbeth, “a tale, Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing” But American Airlines’ partnership with Verifly did actually have a little something to it. I downloaded the app and, after wrestling through what is not the most intuitive interface, was able to see a list of the UK travel requirements and then validate that I met them, by uploading pictures of Irene’s and my vaccination cards and our passenger locator form QR codes. That’s nice, but what was better was when we checked in for our flight, all we had to do was show the agent the green “All good” screens for Irene and me and we were done. None of the fishing out the right forms and holding them up to the lucite screen. Two swipes on the phone and we were done. Nothing earth-shattering, but it does relieve the friction out of one part of the journey
- A recurring topic on the TravelCommons podcast is the move to a cashless society. And certainly the pandemic accelerated this with the push toward contactless transactions; nobody wanted to handle your possibly-infectious cash. On our first day in London, on our walk to pick up our COVID tests, I stopped at the first ATM I saw to pull out £100, just to have some cash in my wallet. I’m a bit old-school in that way. And I’m glad I did it because once we left London and were staying in small towns in South Wales, it was really tough to find an ATM. Now, this shouldn’t be that big a deal with everyone taking cards and contactless, be it a card or on the phone with Google or Apple Pay, doing away (mostly) with the need for a PIN or to sign anything. But in Wales, the parking lots at the base of our hikes, the pay-&-display machines, weren’t taking my cards, either contactless or physical. And by the time we were in our last town, Hay-on-Wye, I’d run out of coins and needed to find an ATM. Google Maps was no help; it kept pointing me to phantom machines in little grocery stores. Irene had better luck in the tourist information center. The woman there gave us directions to what she said was the one remaining ATM in town — which surprised me because Hay-on-Wye has a good bit of tourist traffic with their book festivals. But anyhow, we found it and it worked; it had cash. Of course, then we had to find something like a coffee shop that would take cash so we could break a bill and get coins for the machine, which knocked out any of the usual chains. Walking down the street, I found a place that looked indy enough — the sign said “coffee shop” but it looked more like a thrift store. Sure enough, the guy was happy to take cash, though he had to pull out his wallet to make change.
- We’ve talked about Hertz’s downward service spiral, which I forecasted in episode #164 after their bankruptcy filing. But since I haven’t held back in slamming them for empty lots in Phoenix and San Diego, and for incorrect fuel charges, I need to give kudos to the Hertz location in Cardiff in Wales for what had to be, hands down, the easiest and therefore best Hertz transaction I’ve had in Europe. Leaving London for the Welsh hiking part of our trip, we decided to skip the fun and excitement of driving in London and instead took a train to Cardiff and then drove to the coast from there. The Hertz place was about a 10-min cab ride from the train station in a bit of an auto dealer row. I walked in, showed the woman my Illinois drivers license, she asked me if I’d be OK driving an automatic (how fast can I say “Yes!”), gave me a key, and pointed me to a grey Skoda in the back lot. Done; no hard upsell on enhanced insurance or refueling options, just “Here’s the key; have a good trip”. And then returning the car, I pulled in after gassing it up; the guy took a quick walk around it; had me sign his screen, and we were done. And nothing wonky when I looked at the emailed receipt. It’s sorta damning with faint praise that I’m so impressed when a transaction goes smoothly. It should always be this easy, but it rarely is.
- And if you have any travel stories, questions, comments, tips, rants – the voice of the traveler, send ’em along to email@example.com — you can send a Twitter message to @mpeacock, post your thoughts on the TravelCommons’ Facebook page or the Instagram account at travelcommons — or you can post comments on the web site at TravelCommons.com.
- Bridge Music — A Thousand And None by Speck (c) copyright 2018 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/speck/57256 Ft: Mr_Yesterday
Yet More COVID Changes
- I mentioned in the last episode that I was a little concerned about the logistics of getting COVID testing done by our second day in London. But it turned out fine. With a bit of Googling, I found Randox, a big UK test firm, offering “click & collect” rapid antigen tests for $25 a piece. It gave us a good reason, a destination for a post-arrival walk. It’s always good to spend a lot of time in the sunlight on that first day in Europe; I find it’s key to resetting my body clock. We did them in our hotel room the next morning. Yet more suspense — waiting those 15 minutes, hoping that second pink line wouldn’t materialize, and then taking a picture of it in Randox’s app to get the “all clear” email back.
- Of course, this was all pre-Omicron. That bombshell dropped the weekend before we flew home which had me back doing the rounds on Google, trying to figure out what travel requirements were changing. The UK quickly added pre-departure tests and shifted their Day 2 testing back to the more sensitive — but 3 times more expensive — PCR tests. But we were already in the UK. What mattered to us getting back to Chicago. The communications out of the US were less clear; mostly rumors; nothing official. The rumors were: tightening the window on pre-departure tests — from 72 hours to 24 hours before departure, which could’ve been a problem for us; we’d already done the Abbott rapid antigen tests we’d brought from home Saturday afternoon before Monday morning departure. And adding a post-arrival test, similar to the UK’s. But the worst rumor was requiring a 7-day quarantine even with a negative test. Lucky for us, none of these US rumors came true — at least by the Monday morning of our flight.
- It wasn’t until later in the week the new rules were announced and it seems that folks had come to their senses a bit. The only rumor that came true was tightening the testing window down to 1 day. Well, that and extending the airplane mask requirement to March 2022, but as I said back in September in episode #179, I don’t think that was a surprise to anyone. Going to a 1-day window just reinforces the case for bringing a rapid antigen test with you. The only caveat is that the test has to be done in concert with a telehealth call to validate it’s actually you doing the test and the results are really negative. Coming home from Italy and the UK, Irene and I used Abbott BinaxNow tests with telehealth sessions from eMed. Depending on how many you buy (2, 3 or 6-pack), the cost per test ranges from $25 to $35, which is pretty competitive with the prices I saw for airport same-day testing services and it’s a helluva lot more convenient. Though as I recommended in this year’s travelers gift guide, some sort of smartphone tripod comes in handy when the eMed guy wants to watch you swirl the cotton swab in your nose and then insert it into the test kit. Not sure how you’d do all that one-handed.
- I hate the term “the new normal”, but perhaps, at least for the near term, we have to think about changes in COVID restrictions the same way we think about storms, terrorism, and strikes — work to avoid them, but be flexible, agile enough to deal with it if you get caught. Now no analogy is perfect. Back in episode #150, I told the story of how a bomb threat on the train line into Paris caused us to our flight home. It’s a lot easier to accept a couple of bonus days in Paris than an unplanned quarantine week in an airport Holiday Inn.
- Bridge Music — Foolish Game by copperhead (c) 2014 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. http://ccmixter.org/files/copperhead/46390 Ft: Snowflake,Sackjo22
Words We Use for Adventure
- We know that words impact the ways we think, feel, experience things — including travel. Josh Glenn, a Boston-based author and semiotician (semiotics, the study of signs, symbols, and language, and how they create meaning) has just published a book The Adventurer’s Glossary, with some 500 words associated with adventure. And since going on an adventure often involves travel, I wanted to talk to Josh about his book and how the words that we use to describe adventure could affect how we think about travel.
- Mark: Josh, how do you read The Adventurer’s Glossary? It’s an alphabetical list of words, terms, and their not-quite-Oxford-Dictionary definitions. They’re really more stories than definitions. Should I start at the top (0-Dark-Hundred is the first entry) and work my way through? Or just randomly riff through the pages, open it, put my finger down and read something?
- Josh: It’s sort of a capricious decision to alphabetize all these terms because that just completely put them out of order. So all of the travel terms are not together, and all of the military terms are not together, and the stuff I got from hip hop or gaming culture or adventure literature, none of them are grouped together. It could just be something you pick up and randomly browse through. It’s absolutely okay. However, as much as possible, I did try to edit it in such a way that if you were reading it from beginning to end it would kind of make sense in that direction as well. So if there’s a little bit of beginning to end stuff in it, but really it’s read randomly.
- Mark: How did you choose which words to include? It’s a pretty wide-ranging list. You’ve got bottle, hair, stoic, as well as the stuff that I would normally associate with adventure like bug-out bag, roam, and voyageur.
- Josh: This is the third glossary that I’ve done. I did one back in 2008 called The Idler’s Glossary which was all about basically how much I hate having a regular job and enjoy doing things that look like you’re doing nothing from the outside but actually, it might be very rich and deep what you’re doing. And then I did another book called The Wage Slave’s Glossary, which was about how much I hate my job. And I was working at the Boston Globe at the time. Actually, a job I kind of liked, but I just don’t like having bosses and it was all about the horrible jargon of the workplace. Basically, these are topics I’ve been interested in for many, many years and I just started gathering words as I also read a lot of adventure novels and watch a lot of adventure movies. So sort of gathering words that occurred to me over time. But then I also do really nerdy things like literally sit down and read through a slang dictionary or pick up a thesaurus and go look up the definitions and the etymology of every synonym for a certain word. So the list balloons; I think there’s something like 500 words in this book.
- Mark: So Josh, we think about adventure. Adventure often involves travel. Do you think that the language or the words that we use to describe adventure impact our expectations of how we travel?
- Josh: The language of our culture helps shape and guide the way we are able to perceive and think about anything including adventure and travel. We can’t think outside of this kind of structure of language that we have. I mean an adventure is, and that word comes from the Latin meaning to arrive unexpectedly. That’s actually really an important philosophical piece for me as I was going through this, the idea that you can have a trip is not an adventure if nothing unexpected happens and if you don’t take enough risks to allow things unexpected to happen. So when I think back to the amazing road trips I took when I was in college with my friends around the country, it’s all kind of a blur. I don’t really remember a lot of specific details except when something went wrong — when we broke down in the middle of the highway on a mountain in Colorado and we had to go to a small town and have people that help us get parts and explore that town and meet the locals and almost get beat up etcetera, etcetera. That’s an adventure. Something unexpected happened and it’s very, very memorable. Those are the memories that you cherish later.
- Mark: I think that’s probably where travel stories come from are more of the things that you didn’t expect, more of the hiccups. God only knows on this podcast, most of the stories that I’ll tell have come from things that went sideways, not things that went well.
- Josh: It’s so interesting to think more about how that’s really baked right into our language. So for example, the word chance comes from the Latin cadentia meaning falling. So just when we think about how we use the words of “let the chips fall where they may” or “something befalls you”, this idea of having our feet off the ground, falling through space, we can’t grasp anything, what do you do with that? If you’re someone who likes, in some kind of existential way, that feeling of falling, then you’re an adventurer. You’re going to get more out of your travel experiences than someone who wants everything to be exactly the same way every time and never have any hiccups.
- Mark: In a prior episode, we talked with Emily Thomas, philosophy professor at Durham University in the UK, and she wrote a book The Meaning of Travel. And one of the things that we got talking about was this idea of travel giving you a sense of otherness, so taking you out of your comfort zone and putting you in the middle of something different ,and what you experience out of that, both from where you are as well as within yourself. And I think about that a little bit, as you think about, you’re putting yourself into a potential adventure. You don’t know where you’re going, you’re just putting yourself into a situation and figuring it out.
- Josh: I like how you’re saying “put yourself into… “ Of course, another aspect of adventure is getting yourself out of the ordinary.
- Mark: Yes, getting you out of that small town without getting your ass kicked.
- Josh: Yeah, getting out of your routine, getting out of your small town, getting out of the kind of the spell that the quotidian everyday life casts on us, this kind of enchantment or bewitchment where you just want, you just expect everything to be the same all the time. Travel is one of the great ways, you know historically, traveling to other cultures and seeing the world, seeing how people live in other places. These are great ways to kind of break that spell of enchantment that every day puts on us.
- Mark: Josh, the act of travel has come under pressure of late. Pre-pandemic that was starting to see a thread of travels perhaps of frivolous luxury that was killing the planet through carbon emissions and global warming, maybe overcrowding of specific places like Machu Picchu or Angkor Wat. And now in the time of Covid, there seems another riff which is — travel is a selfish act because it hastens the spread of coronavirus around the world. How do we square this? How do we square these concepts of travel being negative with the need for adventure, that need for escape and the ability therefore to find ourselves?
- Josh: You can’t entirely square, I do think that there is some truth to those criticisms. We shouldn’t be spreading disease and we shouldn’t be destroying the planet by unnecessary travel. But then the question is “what’s necessary and how often do we do it?” Maybe if you’re somebody who travels 100 times a year, maybe that’s too much. But maybe if you travel once a year, that’s not enough. But I do think that for me anyway, during Covid, I didn’t travel really at all outside of Boston, New Hampshire and Vermont, but I traveled widely through reading adventure novels, watching movies and Google Streets where you can walk around inside the Sistine Chapel remotely. Of course these are not as good — just the same as Zoom calls are not the same as being in the same room with someone. It’s not as soul nourishing, you don’t get as much out of it. You’re not really experiencing the whole context that you get when you travel, but you can have sort of armchair adventures to some extent that helps square that circle. But yeah, there’s no right answer to that.
- Mark: Yeah, absolutely. Josh, as you think about The Adventure’s Glossary, how should people think about it, take it, enjoy it?
- Josh: I hope that word nerds will enjoy it just on its own merits. However, there is kind of a secret philosophy woven through this alphabetized list of words, which is this idea that adventure is something that we should seek. We should try to break out of the ordinary and see things in a new way and expand our horizons, whether it’s through actual literal travel or other ways, and that there are certain qualities that we need to cultivate in ourselves to be good adventurers. Whether that’s a sense of humor, whether that’s wit, whether that’s courage, grit and so forth. These are all the kinds of things that I’ve tried to express through this book, which from the outside might just look like a fun, slightly frivolous word nerd book.
- Mark: Josh Glenn, thanks very much for joining us on the TravelCommons podcast. We’ll put a link to The Adventurer’s Glossary so people can find it.
- Josh: Thank you for having me and happy travels to all your listeners.
- Closing music — Pictures of You by Evangeline
- OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #182
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