December 30, 2020
As I look back on the year about to end, I’m happy and a little surprised that my 2020 wanderings were mostly fun and enjoyable, the pandemic notwithstanding. Here’s what sticks in my mind.
KRUGER 2020. My February-March trip back to the Kruger National Park in South Africa was one of the best ever in 29 years of visits, as I wrote about in detail. And I got home just in the nick of time on March 12. The country and most of the world shut down a few days later.
KRUGER 2021. I like trip planning and had plenty of that to keep me out of trouble, even if things kept changing. Organizing a 2021 trip to the Kruger had to be moved due to the plague from February to May, and it still may not happen at all. Time will tell if the right elements come together: vaccinations; acceptable negative Covid test “passport” documentation; tourist travel allowed to SA in May (at time of writing, South Africa is seeing a surge of the more easily catchable virus strain); and whether South Africa National Parks, three airlines, a Johannesburg airport hotel, and Avis at tiny Skukuza Airport will be offering services in May where and when needed to make the trip work.
DELTA SWEET & SOUR. Sweet because the airline has twice granted me changes to the complicated business class itinerary RDU/ATL/JNB/CDG/RDU at no charge and in the same sharp end cabins. Sour because the carrier has moved the goal posts on e-credit validity dates and has devised hurdles to use them.
TRIP CANCELLATIONS. The pandemic forced me to cancel trips to New Orleans, Tampa, Morocco, and twice to the Twin Cities. Necessary but frustrating, none personally sadder than the meticulously planned two weeks to see Morocco in celebration of our 25th wedding anniversary.
TWO AIRLINE BAILOUTS. Outrageous!
ON THE BEACH. Renting oceanfront houses on North Carolina’s Topsail Island during the summer assuaged the disappointment of not going to Morocco. Still, the sands of the Sahara will be there next year after we’re all vaccinated. My Shemagh is ready to be packed for desert wear.
MODEST BUT GOOD HOTELS. Speaking of which road trips, I had good experiences in a scruffy Best Western adjacent to the Interstate in Galesburg, IL and in three Hampton Inns (two in Indy and one in Lexington, KY). Minimal interactions with hotel staff everywhere to mitigate Covid risks, but especially at two of the Hamptons where I opted for online room selection, digital check-in, digital check-out, and digital keys (using my phone as the door key). Certainly not a Four Seasons among them; none pretended to be more than a simple, safe, and secure place to sleep, but all did their duty in those respects, and the Hamptons boasted sanitary cleaning stickers on every door.
Even better, the Hamptons in South Indy and in Lexington had upgraded their breakfast bags to boxes that contained boiled eggs, orange juice, and yogurt to supplement the usual bottle of water plus bagel and cream cheese (or similar bready things). Apples, bananas, and pears were also available in the lobby.
Only discordant note was that the cheap and ugly wall hanger system hidden behind a curtain at the Hampton Inn Lexington that, to me, smacked of seedy, dilapidated hotel rooms seen in postwar film noir movies. Joe Brancatelli has been writing about cheapening and shrinking hotel rooms for years; however, reading about it is abstract. This was my first real-life experience; it was hideous. I was glad not to be staying more than one night.
PLAGUE FLYING. Flying once during Covid (to Billings and back) was enough for me until it’s over. Lots of empty seats and sitting in First Class on all four legs were not enough to make me feel comfortable.
AVIS SWEET & SOUR. Avis provided a complimentary upgrade (thanks to my Avis Presidents Club membership) to a GMC Terrain AWD SUV on the second road trip to Iowa. I racked up nearly 2500 miles altogether on that vehicle at an unlimited mileage weekly rate of $339, total with taxes and fees. But Avis metaphorically poked me in the eye by charging for a gallon of gas on the return (calculated based on now-possible electronic inquiry to the gas tank level). I was dumbfounded because I had just filled up the car and brimmed it and still suffered the charge. Made more aggravating because Avis charged $9.99 for a gallon of gas when local stations were charging $2.39.
Good riddance to god-awful 2020, absolutely, yet travel adventures were still possible and enjoyed. Even with the occasional irritant. After all, if Avis and Delta didn’t annoy me once in a while, gosh, then what would I have to complain of?