The Pain of Choosing a Trip

By this time tomorrow I will be waking up on the Tunisian island of Djerba for a week of vacation. One of the things I take great pleasure in when taking a trip like this is the near total disconnect I have from the rest of the connected digital world. My phone is not smart, and the computer and iPad get left behind. Living in this spoiled, modern age, however, compels me to never travel far without some portable music in tow.

This is the second year in a row my girl and I have decided to holiday in Tunisia. Last June, we were based in the coastal town of Sousse, and eventually I’ll get around to dedicating some time and space on this site to writing about that enchanting place. I confess it wasn’t our first choice. After having a pretty hectic year so far, we came to the conclusion that this summer we just wanted the traditional vacation experience, consisting of what I’ll now dub the Three B’s: beach, books, and bronze (or burn, if you have my type of skin). Djerba immediately fit within our criteria, but we searched for other locales, ostensibly for something more exotic and unique. An island in the Mediterranean seemed exotic and unique enough for my cornfed Midwestern ass, but here in France, Tunisia and Morocco are typical destinations due to their relative proximity and the fact that they were both former French colonies. And unlike Algeria, another former colony, they still have a pretty solid relationship with France.

Plus, although I’m the one with the travel blog, my girl is much more well-traveled than I am. I would have been glad to visit just about anywhere in the Mediterranean, but my girl has already been to most of the places you could think of: Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Malta, Madeira, etc. Staying in France – even the renowned French Riviera – was out of the question. So what then? We searched far and wide, scoping out spots in the Caribbean, and identifying possibilities further south in Africa. Browsing various French websites for deals led us to reasonably priced cruises along the Nile in Egypt captured our attention, but we were wary to commit to a place in the midst of a revolution.

While waiting for the slim possibility of some places prices to drop at the last minute, our eye turned further east. Croatia became a strong candidate based on its lovely beaches along the coast of the Adriatic Sea. And Bulgaria has resort towns like Burgas along the Black Sea. Briefly, we flirted with the idea of spending ten days in Odessa, Ukraine, which is located on the northern shores of the Black Sea. As one of the largest cities from the former Imperial Russia, it has a rich blend of culture and architecture that had us eyeing hotels. Varying factors made us reconsider, including reviews from people on TripAdvisor, who suggested the hotel we were considering to be a dirty, noisy, and old-fashioned work zone for local prostitutes. But the main reason, I think, is that we were getting away from our initial criteria of the Three B’s. Had we chosen Odessa, we would have been compelled to trek through the whole city, leaving no stone unturned. And that doesn’t leave a lot of time for relaxing and reading. Still, I hold out hope that one day we will climb up the Potemkin Stairs.

We went back to the drawing board. Along the way, we began crafting one of those so-called “bucket lists,” even though neither of us is (at present, anyway) nearing imminent death. Our bucket list is twofold: places we want to visit and certain things we want to see and do in certain places. Her list, apparently, is already completed. Mine is still in its nascent stages, but I know, for example, that I’d like to visit the numerous buildings designed by Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona, I’d like to attend an Oktoberfest in Munich, and see other places like Amsterdam, Ireland, Japan (especially the gardens of Kyoto), Argentina, and so on and so forth. Topping my girl’s list is an African safari in some place like Kenya.

The Dominican beaches of Punta Cana kept calling our name, like the faint ocean of noise you hear when you put a conch shell up to your ear. Neither of the usual sites we check (Groupon, voyage-prive, a French site) had reasonably priced trips there including airfare. We decided to spread our search to other websites (like lastminute.com) offering last minute deals. Now these last minute deals are a whole new ballgame. The prices fluctuate wilder than the market on Wall Street. Deals appear and are gone in the blink of the day. Think of Sean Connery in The Rock: You must never hesitate. We caught Cape Verde for a good price, but were discouraged after reading about lots of reported crime, including muggings in broad daylight. Punta Cana dropped for a moment and then shot back up, eluding our grasp.

Websites like these are deliberately misleading. They catch your attention with a jaw-droppingly low price, but that’s the price the trips are starting from, usually in like the middle of November rather than during peak holiday season. It helps to have some flexibility with dates since these last minute deals get snatched up in a hurry and you take the risk of having your dream vacation or whatever snapped up by someone else. In general, I found the whole last minute bargain search quest to be exhausting and stressful. We hesitated, often. As the days passed and our designated time off from work approached, we were still empty-handed. These last minute websites can smell desperation on weary would be travelers.

That’s when Djerba jumped back into the picture. The French travel sites were littered with deals there, along with Marrakech, Morocco, which was even cheaper, but is situated far away from any large body of water. I don’t mind wandering along medinas, souks, and mosques all afternoon, but I like to cool off in the ocean afterwards! Some Djerban hotels were ridiculously cheap, as low as 299 euros per person. And almost all of them were “all inclusive,” meaning meals and drinks (including local alcohol beverages) were included in the price. That can save a fortune in additional costs. One of the turn offs for Croatia was that almost all the hotels were offering either only a continental breakfast and dinner or just breakfast – no drinks included. And one of hotels had no AC! This is the stuff you think about when you tow the line between traveler and tourist.

Several of the Djerba deals we saw became sold out while we debated the merits and drawbacks to there, Croatia, the Egyptian cruise, and Marrakech. Senegal snuck in as a last minute contender, but the supreme hassle of securing a visa for there quickly shut the door on that option. After it seemed like all hope was lost, a random click on a link led me to Djerba. I glanced at the price. So far so good. All inclusive? Yes. The pictures of the hotel looked solid. 200 meters from the beach? More than reasonable. I showed it to my girl, whose stress valve was instantly released in a pure squee of joy.

Now, our flight is a little more than twelve hours away. Djerba beckons. Some tidbits of information you may be interested to know: it’s considered to be the inspiration for the island of Lotus Eaters in Homer’s epic tale of the Odyssey; more recently, it served as the location for Mos Eisley in the original Star Wars. As for the rest, well, I’ll have to let you know after!

Djerba
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