There's a certain element of ritual involved in preparing for a trip. I pull out my suitcase and fill the compartments the same way I've always filled them: familiar objects fitted into familiar spaces. I run through my mental checklist to ensure that nothing truly important is missing: toothbrush, underpants, Bible, phone, charger, ID, book, iPod, deodorant.
Then the trip actually starts, and all bets are off. There are, after all, only certain elements of a trip under my direct control, and the ultimate success and failure of the trip hinges on any combination of elements, some of them beyond my reach.
Although there are many factors that contribute toward what makes a good trip, I've narrowed down the top three variables that I believe make a big difference toward ultimate travel success or travel failure.
The Big Three Travel Variables:
1) The Bathroom. I spend a lot of time staying with friends, but even when I stay in hotels, this is a big issue. A confusing array of shower functions, the peculiarities of any given toilet, or whether or not I'm sharing a bathroom with five children under the age of ten really can make a big difference.
2) The Coffee. Do my hosts have a coffee pot, or do they greet me the first morning with the alarming news that they'll have to go dig an old dusty one out of the garage? Is the coffee maker a standard one that I can operate myself if I wake up early, or is it a shiny, metal Starbucks-barista-style contraption that I'm afraid to touch lest I electrocute myself and burn the house down?
3) The People. For me, travel is becoming less about seeing the sights and more about spending time with people that I love. I've been blessed over the past few years to score some amazing trips with some amazing travel partners, hosted by some truly generous and outstanding friends.
Ultimately, it's the people who truly make or break the trip. Bathroom issues, coffee, and jaw-dropping scenery aside, it's all a waste if I'm not enjoying the people I'm seeing it with. Likewise, many a lackluster locale has proven truly memorable because of friends.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to head upstairs.
I think the people who know how to operate the coffee maker are awake.