Rick Steves’ Paris 2009

Provided there’s no plague on, my husband, Frank, and I take a Big Trip each year. It’s unlikely to be the only journey we undertake from January through December, but the annual Big Trip does occupy the central position in our travel calendar. 

The Big Trip tradition began in 2009, when we went to Paris for my 30th birthday. Since then, we have taken turns selecting each year’s destination. The chooser is supposed to purchase a guidebook about the chosen location and then present the book to the other member of the dyad on New Year’s Day.

Frank tends to pick bucket-list locations such as Istanbul (2012) and India (2016). I am more likely to opt for old-ladyish places involving quaint small towns and pleasant nature walks. 

Choosing Canada’s Maritime provinces (2011) was very in character for me. Each day, we’d drive from one Nova Scotia fishing village to another, finish seeing the harborfront by like 2pm, eat the obligatory seafood dinner, and then retire to some deathly quiet B&B to work on plowing through the Anne of Green Gables books before we reached Prince Edward Island. 

“This is so relaxing,” Frank kept saying, which I’m pretty sure meant, “I’ve taken sedatives with more pep than this chowder-stuffed snooze fest.”

Nevertheless, we travel well together, presumably because we each have a curiosity about the world and because Frank handles all the logistics. 

It probably also helps that we both like to stick to a plan but are willing to make revisions on the fly. I don’t enjoy traveling with bossy-pants types who email you a detailed schedule several weeks before the trip and then adhere to that schedule like fundamentalists defending holy scripture. At some point you have to be like, Listen, I can’t follow every law in Leviticus and I’m not going to sunrise yoga.

On the other hand, some travelers don’t want to do jack squat on vacation and I don’t really jell with them either. I will never understand, for instance, what is so satisfying about sitting on a beach for hours in the blazing sun. Give me an underfunded maritime museum in a frigid New Brunswick port town any day.

Frank would probably tell you that I exhibited fundamentalist tendencies during the earliest Big Trips, especially when it came to following guidebook walking tours. 

To take one of his favorite examples from that 2009 Paris vacation: One day we were seeing the Musée Carnavalet under the cheerful, dadlike guidance of our Rick Steves book when we came to a part of the museum that was closed for renovations. But I was so in thrall to Rick—at least in Frank’s telling of the tale—that I wanted to continue with the tour even if it meant disregarding barricaded entrances.

Basically, Frank makes it sound like he had to tackle me to the ground as I was picking the lock on the museum’s carefully preserved display of Proust’s cork-lined bedroom.

In later years, though, I lightened up. Having taken many more trips—Big and otherwise—and even having penned a few walking tours of my own as an editor for Frommer’s (one of Rick’s competitors), I’ve learned that disruptions to the agenda are impossible to avoid, so you might as well embrace the unexpected. 

After all, attractions close for repairs sometimes, wrong turns may leave you hopelessly lost, travel writers make mistakes, and maritime museums can sink.

But hey, maybe there’s a gelato stand nearby. What say we all get over ourselves and have some ice cream?

If you must follow a piece of scripture, follow this one: Men should be rigid in their pants, not in their travel plans.

I think that’s in the Song of Solomon somewhere. 

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