During this entire month of November Bootsnall is inviting bloggers from around the world to participate in 30 Days of Indie Travel : a daily blogging effort to look back on our past travel experiences. Trying desperately to keep up with my fellow bloggers (failing miserably), I am reposting this piece from April 2011. My justification for the short-cut – I am being “Green” – Reduce, recycle, reuse!!!! Today’s Topic: BUDGET. Here is TRAVELING ON A BUDGET “ALLA TONI”…
One of my great fortunes in life is having two close friends who work as Flight Attendants for major international airlines. These two women both collectively and single-handedly enable me to feed my addiction to Italy (or as I sometimes like to refer to it, “my crack”). The companion fare or “buddy pass”: a way of traveling that is not for the faint of heart. It requires nerves of steel, the patience of Job, the imagination of Sherlock Holmes, and the ingenuity and resourcefulness of MacGyver. It also helps to have an innate ability to build alliances and form coalitions with the other “buddies” in line for the few choice “non-revenue” seats. It’s sort of like “Survivor”, but in an airport.
Companion fares are a fraction of the cost of a regular ticket, but as the old adage goes, “You Get What You Pay For.” Don’t misunderstand me, I am eternally grateful to my friends for sharing their privileges with me. However, if you are planning to travel this way you must go in with your eyes wide open and accept its cruel game of “standby roulette”. I have sat many a time at the gate testing the theory that I can telepathically compel myself onto the airplane by chanting over and over again “please call my name, please call my name, please call my name” like some twisted mantra, in an effort to will the gate agent, (who’s forehead I have just burned a hole through) to say those seven magic words, “passenger DeBella, please come to the podium”.
Ah, the sweet glory of nabbing a seat in business class from New York to Rome! Warm nuts, champagne, fluffy socks, a blanket made of natural fiber and, the pièce de résistance, a seat that reclines almost flat. Once you have flown business class, it’s hard to return to coach. In the back (an airline industry term for “where the losers sit”) I feel like an immigrant crammed into steerage on the Titanic. Should things go awry, I am convinced any real lifesaving procedures will be afforded to the platinum American Express cardholders first. But I’m not thinking about that today – today I am one of them. The cabin crew addresses me as Ms. DeBella. “Ms. DeBella, what would you like as your entree?” “Ms. DeBella, would you like a warm towel?” “May I get you another pillow, Ms. DeBella?” They don’t call it business class for nothing.
But there’s a dark side to “standby, non-rev” (another airline term for “cheapskates who sponge-off their friends and family”). I’ve been stranded in Milan for 3 days (my traveling companion was a high-strung, hot-tempered, not-so-easy-going Italian – very stressful!), Rome – 3 days (I finally resorted to tears and someone took pity on me), New York – 5 days (Icelandic volcano eruption – seven million other passengers and me marooned, so I don’t really count that one). I have slept overnight on a bench in a food court at Frankfurt airport, aligned with 8 other rebuffed “buddies” (we filled an entire B&B in Fumicino, Italy) and naively accepted an offer from Domenico, a complete stranger I sat next to on a flight from Hahn to Campino, to drive me to Orvieto on his way to Viterbo. He could have been an ax-murderer, but as it turned out, he was a really lovely guy.
The bottom line is I will take the opportunity to travel anyway I can get it. I love airports – they are happy places for me. When I am in one I’m either going somewhere far away or returning from a wonderful and unique adventure. It’s certainly challenging to fly around the world without a structure or a guarantee. Honestly I sort of enjoy the game – it feels like a test of my character and determination. Over the years I have managed to overcome a lot of obstacles, so perhaps the hardships make arriving at my destination all the more satisfying. So, like the title of this blog implies, I will beg, borrow and steal to get where I am going. Buon Viaggio!