I pride myself on being a good traveller. I’ve got just-a-carryon packing down to a science and the dance of airport security is muscle memory. I usually travel alone and I know what works for me- how I like to prioritize my spending, what I’m listening to, how many pairs of shoes I need, how much to plan in advance vs. play it by ear. Then I didn’t leave my house for a year and a half.
My recent weekend in Charlottetown was my foray back into travel. I took my first masked plane ride, I waited in my first Covid testing line (yes, I’d managed to make it 18 months in a pandemic without needing a single test), and I quickly learned that travelling is not like riding a bike. I was rusty and I made a bunch of boneheaded mistakes, which I’ll detail here so you can do a better job than I did when you go back out into the world.
This was the single biggest problem I caused with my post-pandemic travel ineptitude. It’s not even travel-specific, really, it’s just a staying-in-my-house-for-too-long-then-leaving problem. I got used to being able to use as much internet as I wanted at any time, because I was always on my at-home wifi. I hadn’t used more than 10% of my available data in nearly two years. I started to think that data grows on trees. It really really does not. I pay approximately $50/month for my call/text/data plan that comes with enough data for a decently responsible person to get by. Pre-pandemic, I never really fussed about Virgin’s massively expensive pay-per-use rates for monthly overages because I managed my usage smartly- never streaming on data, opening article tabs and downloading podcasts before I leave the house, connecting to wifi whenever it’s available.
Then I promptly forgot all of these skills and just used my phone willy nilly on my trip to PEI (I think the major culprit was downloading podcasts on the go). I returned to a $200+ phone bill racked up in only three days. The worst part is that I knew it was happening. Virgin sends texts to make sure you know you’re approaching/at/over your limit and incurring extra charges. They also turn off your data after $50 extra. I literally had to log into their website to turn the data back on! I absolutely refuse to travel without internet access, especially when I’m on my own, so even though I knew I was going to regret it, I just kept on keeping on with my bad phone habits (to be very clear, using the internet to navigate/call cars/contact loved ones is good usage, I just really didn’t need every episode of the One Tree Hill podcast and I wasn’t used to not being able to have whatever content I wanted whenever I wanted it).
Needless to say I upgraded my phone plan when I got home, just in case this total lack of data self control is not an adjustment I can make in reverse.
Correct footwear selection is the single most important packing skill. Shoes are heavy and take up a lot of room but not having the right ones can come pretty close to ruining a trip. I’ve always played this on the riskier side, rarely packing more than one pair in addition to what I’m wearing on the plane/train/almost never an automobile. If I’m going somewhere warm, I wear flats and pack sandals. If I’m going somewhere cold, I pack flats and wear boots. I only choose things I can walk in comfortably in a city tour context and I’m not really the hiking type (if I can’t do it in unfussy boots with moderate tread, I’m not doing it). This has backfired only once, when I accidentally grabbed two left feet when packing a pair of black flats for a cruise to Asia (I bought multiple pairs of the same shoe when Payless was going out of business, otherwise this should not have been possible). But I had my boots so I just wore those everywhere and shuffled around in two left feet the one time I had to wear a non-boot-friendly outfit.
For most of Covid, I wore the same pair of very comfortable cheap little Ardenes slip-ons because I was only going out to walk the dog around my neighbourhood. By the time it came to select shoes for Charlottetown, I’d worn a hole in the bottom of said slip-ons. I was only going for a weekend and planned to just bring one small bag that wouldn’t be a hassle to carry around so I was only going to wear the shoes I brought on my actual feet. I needed something sturdy enough to stand up to two different walking tours but cute enough to work with a mostly sundress-based wardrobe (it was PEI in August, I wanted to be cute and also sundresses take up the least space). Cleaning out the front closet having been on my to-do list for the entirety of Covid and never having actually done it, the morning of my flight came and I found myself pulling out shoes and flinging them around the room as I discovered that absolutely every pair was either too old (what if they fall apart?) or too new (what if they give me blisters?). I was going to have to gamble either way so I went with the former and and chose an old pair that had stood the test of time for years.
Too many years, apparently. By day two the tops of my flats were separating from the soles but hubris told me that I didn’t need to stop at the flip flop store near Peake’s Wharf ($50 for flip flops? Absolutely not). I’d throw out the shoes when I got home, surely they’d hold up one more day. But Sunday was a heavy walking day and by the time I got back to the centre of town after a wander through a local park, I was shuffling along with 100% of my focus going to keeping my shoes from falling off my feet. Of course the flip flop store was closed at this point. I asked in every single open store whether anyone sold shoes of any kind and briefly considered strapping flip-flop-shaped wooden welcome signs to my feet. All the clerks just kept directing me towards the closed flip flop store. Finally I bought some duct tape and just sucked it up. I looked like an absolute maniac and, yes, passerby all noticed, but that’s kind of the beauty of travelling solo- I don’t know anyone here, who cares if they think I’m a maniac with tape shoes. I flew home, threw out my shoes immediately, and set about making sure every single pair in the closet is properly broken in so I’ll have lots of viable choices next time. Additional Lesson: no one is too good for the flip flop store.
I usually have a pretty foolproof itinerary planned for solo travel. I do a ton of research, make reservations for tours, restaurants, and shows to anchor the trip, give myself plenty of other options to fill out free time or replace abandoned plans, and pre-scout all my routes so I never find myself staring at a map or looking lost on a subway (I hate looking lost perhaps even more than being lost). This more than any other faux pas from my Charlottetown trip was the mistake I credit to just plain being out of practice. I haven’t made an itinerary in a really long time, I lost my mojo.
I made assumptions I shouldn’t have made about the wanderability of the town and there being a place to swim (you have to drive 30min out of town for ocean access I learned far too late). I assumed certain landmarks and history tours would be of substantial interest, which anyone who’s ever taken a Canadian history class should know wouldn’t be true. I made room in my schedule for a bunch of local events that ended up not being events at all (a “Music Man” performance turned out to just be a guy with an accordion, I didn’t need a 90min afternoon slot for that). I focused too much on city tours instead of looking into water activities and held out hope for far too long that I could find my way to Cavendish somehow without a car to visit Green Gables (there is usually a bus but it wasn’t running because of Covid). I didn’t do nearly enough research about alternate routes to and from my AirBnB so I didn’t discover a pretty walking path until my final day. I booked all of my restaurant reservations for the wrong time and ended up calling three different places to move them up by an hour. Most egregiously, I noted the wrong running time for one of my tours and ended up having to leave early because I was double booked, a mistake I never would have made if I was thinking straight.
It was the single worst itinerary I’ve ever made and hopefully a decent reminder of how to/how important it is to properly plan.
Adjust to Your Surroundings
The final thing I did really wrong? I didn’t wear red lipstick until the final day of my trip. I know that sounds stupid but it really was an important lesson. Being an island in the Atlantic bubble, PEI’s Covid experience was incredibly different than Toronto’s. We were coming off the longest lockdown in the entire world (literally, look it up) and they weren’t wearing masks indoors. Apart from my test at the airport and the unfortunate lack of bus to Cavendish, Covid barely played a role at all in my PEI trip. But it took me a long time to adjust to that. I carried my mask on my wrist for two days before I got it in my head that I really didn’t need it. Hence, the red lipstick. It’s one of the unimportant things I miss most in my mask-mandated world- the ability to wear a bold lip and a) have it be seen, b) not have to worry about it rubbing off on the inside of my mask. It used to be my signature look and I’ve had to trade it in for a smokey eye going on two years now. If I’d adjusted to the fact that PEI isn’t Toronto a bit earlier, I could have enjoyed my vacation from masking a bit more instead of constantly worrying that I was breaking a rule by doing as the locals did. The lipstick is a metaphor, y’all; learn from my mistakes.