Fellow Traveler: Money, Honey

Dear Fellow Traveler:

If one is traveling with a partner or small group, how do you divide the costs? This seems pretty easy if it’s someone you’re, say, married to—if you’ve already got shared money, it seems straightforward. But if you’re going on a trip with, just for example, a non-cohabiting boyfriend who makes about the same amount of money as you, so you want to pretty much split things evenly, how do you do it? Go dutch on each restaurant check as it comes? Square up when you get home? Figure, I’ll get this and you’ll get that and it’ll turn out close? I should note, in the specific situation I’m asking about, neither of us is crazy and both of us are decently employed, but I’d welcome your thoughts on what to do when a person is crazy or someone makes a lot more than someone else.

Signed,

Budgeting in Bensenville

Dear Budgeting,

I’m just going to give the married readers (and the divorced ones, too) a moment to finish laughing at the assumption that it is easy to share travel costs if one is married.

Now to your premise:

I would give my brother a kidney, cheerfully and without hesitation. I will not, however, play Monopoly with him. We both understand that doing that would only be fun for one of us (at best). Some friendships need that line around travel. However well you may get along at home, even close friends can be travel-incompatible, and there’s nothing wrong or weird about that. Being unable to mesh on a hobby doesn’t expose a fatal flaw in your friendship. Everyone doesn’t travel well with everyone.

That in mind, there are some strategies that can smooth the path.

When Traveling With One Other Person:

You asked, specifically, about a non-cohabiting person of pelvic interest who is, happily, a financial equal and not crazy. This is an easy one: straight cash, homey.

Let us say you and the BF are going away for five days. You two need to figure out your total walkin’-around money* in the budget for those five days. Let’s say it is $1500. Each of you needs to contribute $750 in cash to an envelope marked “Vacation” before you leave. Now you have, between you, $300 a day. How you divide that—$150 each every morning, $100 each plus $100 for dinner**, he carries the roll, you carry the roll, let’s just figure out how we’re gonna spend it all in advance, snoogums—is a ground-level decision between you two. What’s critical to this strategy is that you both agree that nobody is whipping out a credit card until you’re back at home. If you both contribute the same amount, and you basically do the same shit, the pool of money will divide itself evenly. This method also works with a platonic co-traveler or a cohabiting romantic partner who brings the same amount to the table that you do.

When there’s an imbalance in income, suck it up and talk about it. It’s different for a love interest than for a friend, obvs, but in either case you can figure out a solution that works for everybody well in advance. What’s key is that you work it out at home rather than in the field. It’s much easier to refuse the “helicopter skiing, my treat” offer when you aren’t looking at the mountain. (And do refuse. Acceptance of that offer is very likely to come up during a Grade Five Plate-Thrower somewhere down the road.)

And if the person is crazy, dearheart, don’t travel with that person. Shed them. If the sex is that good, stay in.

When Traveling With A Group:

This is more about setting expectations and managing potential conflict. It’s still pretty easy to do if y’all cooperate. First, set some policies:

1)      Everyone doesn’t have to do everything. If four of you want to take in the $48 Monday Night Dragstravaganza Stage Spectacular, and for whatever reason two of you don’t, no problem. The last two don’t have to. There is no need to make it about money—maybe the two sitting out just can’t stand Cher.

2)      All meal checks (including a 20 percent tip) will be divided evenly by the number of people at the table. The efficiency of this is a breathtaking upgrade over everyone trying to work out what they owe from a three-foot-long check, and it’ll all work out evenly over time. (Splitting checks among two or three people/couples is fine, too, and sometimes works better for splurgy dinners. Do be decent enough to tell the server before you order.)

3)      Everyone is responsible for booking and buying their own hotel and airfare. When roadtripping, this is tougher, but be sure to take turns buying gas.

4)      Maintain a blacklist. Travel should be pleasant; having to worry about someone with a history of not pulling their own weight doing so again will spoil the trip for you even if they get it right this time. Be ruthless. It’s your vacation.

In closing, here’s my best rule of thumb for knowing if you are managing companion travel correctly: Everyone should feel, at all times, like it’s probably their turn to pay.

* “Walkin’ around money” is the trip budget excluding airfare, hotel, and anything else you pay for pre-trip (theater tickets, ski rentals, etc.), which you can divide evenly ahead of time.

** The Yours-Mine-Dinner strategy works especially well in Vegas if one of you is a gambler and the other is a shopper and each of you finds the other’s hobby a little unseemly. Hi honey!

[Do you have a travel conundrum for Go Go Go’s Fellow Traveler? Email us at submissions@go-go-go.org and we’ll ask him real nice to tell you what to do.]

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Fellow Traveler: How to Be (Moderately) Healthy on the Road

Dear Fellow Traveler,

I’m entering into the conference season at my job, which is very exciting. It’s really great to connect with industry peers. It provides plenty of time to network, which is important.  However, “networking” usually translates to “late nights at a hotel bar.” Sometimes, being at these conferences can make you feel like you’re back in college–lots of late nights networking followed by early morning plenary sessions, a full day of conferences, working lunches, afternoon planning sessions, company dinners, and then back to “networking.” All of these things are important; they’re the reason I go to the conference!

That said, I try to live pretty healthily day-to-day. I like to go to the gym, but I find the hotel gyms to be a bit depressing. I have to manage my weight, and being at a conference means that I have a lot less choice over what I have to eat. (I generally can’t even order for myself!) It’s not like this is just for a couple days, either: in October, I will be spending twenty days among two conferences. That’s twenty days of hotel gyms, banquet hall food, lots of alcohol, and not cooking my own meals. How do you manage a diet/exercise routine when you travel?

Wondering in Walla-Walla

Dear Wondering,

You can try all the usual tricks—drinking vodka-sodas over beer or wine while “networking;” asking for the vegetarian option at meals (which at most banquet facilities means “Triple up on the cheese order for next week, Chef”); resisting the afternoon snack tray and morning pastry platter (good fucking luck doing that with a “networking” hangover)—but the thing is, you don’t “manage a diet/exercise routine” at away games. Not really. You can’t, and the idea that you can is flawed right from the outset.

Your schedule, and much of your intake, is going to be out of your hands for those twenty days. Conference schedulers are interested in their priorities, not yours, so the time you spend in the Wichita Convention Center is going to focus around what the organizers want, which is for you to spend every possible waking second discussing the nuances of, advances in, and strategies for maximizing revenue from the packaging and marketing of gluten-free organic dog food. (Or whatever it is you do.) You aren’t going to be able to touch all the career-bases expected of you and still manage to eat healthily three times a day plus find a couple hours to squeeze in some meaningful exercise. You’re just not. If you think you can, you’re just setting yourself up to be pissed at yourself for failing.

What you can do is prepare for those twenty days in October in advance.

During the conferences, treat the events like the non-fun vacation they kinda are. Don’t go berserk on the treats. Try to be good. Do what you can. But cut yourself a little slack. The odds are stacked against you.

The good news is that you will have some room to fail, because you will have spent the previous month getting ready.

First, figure out what you will miss if you get no exercise for those twenty days beyond dithering over whether or not to leave your wedding ring in the room safe for the duration of the conference. Then, up your exercise load for September accordingly. Take one extra spin class a week and add a mile to each of your triweekly three-mile runs, or hit the elliptical for an hour on the days you’d normally take off. If that seems burdensome, remember, you are not upping your routine forever; you are getting the exercise you will miss out on in Wichita before you go. Lose five pounds, too, knowing they will come back when you give in to the doughnut tray during the morning sessions on advances in determining canine flavor preference. You need to see your goal in a larger context than those twenty days: You aren’t out to hit a peak of fitness on Day Nineteen. You just want to look the same in your Slutty Chris Christie Halloween costume as you would have if Halloween parties had been held on September 1.

Career success, like physical fitness, requires sacrifice. Sacrifice September for October. Then when you get back, make up anything you missed. Because the holidays are coming, and the same strategy applies to those.

Fellow Traveler: Our New Advice Column

GoGoGoAdvice1

Dear Fellow Traveler,

I am taking my first flight in a couple years and, since I’m only going to be gone for a couple days, I’m not planning on paying $50 to check my bag. (Highway robbery, if you ask me!) I used to fly a lot, but that was pre-9/11 when you could get on a plane with just about anything. I once even made it through security with a pocket knife on my key ring! Anyway, I looked at the TSA website, and the rules seem very strict. I’ve had people tell me that I can bring water through, as long as it’s closed, but it doesn’t say that on the site. I also had someone tell me that you can bring your own lunch through, even if it’s not packaged food. Also, I heard that you don’t have to take off your shoes any longer, but then I heard that wasn’t true either. Frankly, I just can’t keep up. To top it off, I’m one of those people who always gets stopped. It’s not just the airport. I’m the guy who holds up the grocery line, who buys the shirt with the tag still attached at TJ Maxx, and if there’s a cop within five miles, you can bet he’s pulling me over. Wait times are long, and I just want to get on the plane.

What’s the best way to get through security? I don’t want to get hassled on my vacation!

Signed,

Perplexed in Peoria

Dear Perplexed,

The way to avoid getting hassled by the TSA is simpler than you’d think. First, put everything you want to take with you on vacation in your suitcase. Then, put a toothbrush, a deodorant stick, your laptop, and some books in your carry-on bag. Then, take your suitcase and your carry-on, put them snugly in the trunk of your car, and drive to your vacation destination. Have a wonderful time.

If that’s not an option, I can offer only strategies to minimize your chances of officious interference.

TSA agents, like teachers and meter-maids, have nearly unlimited power to enforce rules and face very little downside for being assholes. This presents an opportunity that is difficult for most humans to resist: the opportunity to exercise complete authority over another person. I’m sure many of them are very nice off-duty—well, not meter-maids—but when you give a certain type of person this level of control over others, something bad happens to the mind. Combine that with the fact that the rules they enforce are made by people who do not themselves have to enforce those rules, and you will begin to appreciate the anguish behind many of Yakov Smirnoff’s jokes.

Planning ahead will minimize your annoyability potential.

• Nothing makes you sound more like you have just left the farm for the first time than saying to the guy behind you in line, “Since when do we have to take our shoes off?” Since Richard Reid, the man who looked like a cartoon terrorist, attempted to give himself the Ultimate Hotfoot a decade ago. So unless you’re a senior, yeah, you have to take your shoes off. (Seniors vote in large enough numbers that here, as everywhere, they get special treatment.) Don’t expect this rule to ever be lifted; just accede to reality and wear flip-flops. Not kidding. In the winter, wear Ugg boots without socks. The more easily you can get your shoes on and off, the less hassled you will feel.

• Toiletries are widely available and inexpensive on the other end of your flight. Shampoo, toothpaste, shaving cream…if you aren’t checking a bag, your life will be made nicer by buying them on the other end of the flight. (Or using the ones provided by the hotel.) If you must bring your own personal goat placenta and honey shampoo, check it in your suitcase and when they charge you $50, remember that you chose this path.

• Also, in my experience, “toiletries” means “liquids and pastes.” Things I have been leaving in my carry-on throughout the x-ray process for years: stick deodorant, toothbrush, Mach 3 razor.

• Pack your carry-on with the fact that you will have to remove your laptop, tablet, and toiletries in mind. Acting as though the demand that you feed these onto the conveyor separately is an unwelcome surprise because you put those items at the very bottom of your bag under your neatly folded clothes and the presents for your grandchildren makes you look ridiculous, not the badge enforcing rules that he did not make.

• Water-bottle-wise, you cannot carry a full bottle of water (or whatever) through security, open or closed. You can, however, carry an empty water bottle through and refill it on the other side of the gatekeepers.

• As long as you’re willing to feed your lunch through the x-ray, and it isn’t liquid or paste, you’ll be fine. I’ve brought cheeses, baguettes, charcuterie, and fruit through security without a problem.

• That said, understand that if they say “No,” there is no appeal or argument in the world that will get a government employee to break a Rule, so you want to be emotionally detached from your airplane picnic before you try to bring it past the checkpoint.

• Why on earth you would check a bag for a trip of less than a week is beyond me. Even if it were free to do so, you lose at least an hour of your trip in the baggage checking-and-claiming, plus if they send it to the wrong place you’re apt to get it back after your trip anyway. For less than the $50 you would pay to check a bag you can get a nice rolling duffel bag that fits in an overhead bin. Costco has good ones.

• On airlines charging for bags: Stop bitching. The airline has not put this price into your ticket for a reason—bringing a bag is your choice. You might as well express outrage that you have to pay for your seat. Furthermore, this is not a secret surprise fee that goes undisclosed until you get to the airport. Stop acting like they put pay toilets on 727s.

• Pro tip for the frequent flyer: If you have a regular route, pay attention to security on both ends. I know who the mingy nitpickers are at the two airports in which I spend the most time, and I avoid their lines.

Sadly, dear writer, you are of the passenger type that most contributes to the TSA problem from the passenger side—the kind who doesn’t fly much and therefore expresses outrage and/or surprise at every idiot policy. Keep it to yourself. All your harrumphing and ruffled-feathers do is irritate the people in line behind you who know how to do this. We are often told that the TSA is price of freedom. This is true, but not in the Constitutional sense. The TSA is part of the price of the freedom to travel. If you want to get on the plane, you have to pay money to the airline for the seat. If you want to check a bag, you have to pay extra money. And if you want to get on the plane, you have to obey whatever policies the TSA invents. Take a deep breath, empty your flask before you have to put it on the conveyor, and enjoy your trip.

(And be glad Richard Reid packed that C-4 into his kicks rather than into his keister.)

[Go Go Go’s Fellow Traveler is Alan Brouilette, a writer, the Miscreant-in-Chief of Chicago theater company League of Miscreants, and one of America’s best food writers, according to the people who make the books as well as anyone who’s ever read his food writing. He also knows his way around an airport and a truck stop—at least, that’s the word on the street.]