I go through three stages of planning a big trip.
First, a caveat: I am keenly aware of how fortunate I am to have any of the following “problems”—first-world problems, as they say.
First I pore over maps, getting more and more excited but less and less focused. “If I go all the way to Thailand, I might as well go to Laos and Cambodia and Vietnam, right? And Burma! That’s not touristy yet. Japan wouldn’t be that far away. It’s only a few thousand miles more. Then there’s Australia; I’ve always wanted to go there, and New Zealand is so close ….”
At this point I am looking at a $20,000, three-month vacation. But it’s fun to dream.
The second stage is getting real and picking something. In the current case, my friend Lynn suggested meeting in Spain and traveling around the sunny south. I said yes. Since I have been stockpiling my vacation time, I thought I’d go early—to Rome, then Malta, then on to Spain.
I spent a couple weeks reading guidebooks and researching plane fares and hotel rooms. I had to wait for some big expenses, like a new refrigerator, to work their way through my finances like a capybara in a boa constrictor. Finally, the day came when I had the spare dosh to buy my ticket. The fares had gone up by $300. I tried all the tricks, like waiting until Tuesday at 3pm Eastern time, and burning the effigy of a 747 under the full moon, but in the end the budget boa had to swallow another very large expense.
But on to stage three: Nailing down the small flights, hotel reservations, and tickets to popular sites.
I must say, RyanAir makes Delta look like a paragon of transparency. RyanAir came up as the cheapest flight from Rome to Malta, and really it was so cheap I wondered how they can stay in business. That becomes clear when you actually book the ticket. Would you like to bring a bag? That’ll be €18 for a carry-on sized bag and €35 for an actual suitcase. You know, those things tourists take on planes?
How about a seat upgrade for more leg room? Only €15. No thanks, but there’s an unavoidable €8 charge just to choose a seat—any seat. Being an obstinate person, and since the flight is only a couple hours, I chose not to choose a seat. I will probably regret it. I will probably get a middle seat between a snorer and a crying baby.
Thank goodness I don’t have an infant of my own, because the infant fee is €20. I’m not kidding. Then there are fees for musical instruments, golf clubs, bikes, and therapeutic oxygen (€50), which you need after running the gauntlet of the RyanAir website.
Finally, I went to check out. There was a €2 fee for paying. RyanAir really puts the ire in Ireland. This charge for using a credit or debit card makes me want to fly to Ireland, march into RyanAir’s HQ, and try to pay for my ticket in cash. They would probably charge me €3 for that.
Next, I went to book my carefully-researched hotels in Rome and Malta. Yes, they were both fully booked for the times I wanted. I will therefore be staying in a convent in Rome and at a hostel in Malta. That’s okay. It’s an adventure, right?
The convent beds have those super-cheap bed spreads that appear to be made out of plastic that you see in Latin America and third-rate motels in the US. Ick. This tells me that the sheets will also be threadbare—if they are even made of thread. Maybe I can fit a nice cotton sheet into my suitcase, and leave it behind when I fly to Malta so I don’t have to pay a fee for the extra 2 ounces of weight.
Well. The convent is dirt cheap.
Next, booking tickets to the Hal Soflieni Hypogeum, the 2,500 B.C. catacombs the 2016 Malta guidebook raves about and which is kind of my Holy Grail on this trip.
Noooooo! It is “Closed for Renovation until 2017.”