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Guilt trip: How many vacation rules have you broken?

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OK, fess up.

I know you’ve been a dedicated traveler. Determined, you have moved from country to country, seeing the best there is: the baroque beauties of Munich, China’s stone warriors, the Alhambra of Granada. You have tasted fried flies in Southeast Asia and fallen asleep from too much of that heavy borscht in Russia. You’ve scrupulously followed the advice of all the travel guides; you’ve done all the “must do’s,” seen all the “must sees,” and eaten all the “must eats.” 

As far as traveling goes, you’ve followed all the rules.

But what about [whisper] … the time you ate the cheeseburger in Copenhagen instead of sampling the latest gourmet capital’s broiled bees, or essence of oak, whatever that is? Or when you spent a weekend in Paris not examining Notre Dame’s stained glass but on the back of that handsome young Parisian’s motorbike? Or take my pal, who went to Rio with a girlfriend. Instead of seeing the sights, they spent a week holed up in a great hotel ordering caipirinhas, the fabulous Brazilian cocktails, from room service and listening to bossa nova and … well, I’ll have to draw the curtain here. But they are married now and he makes a fabulous caipirinha.

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When planning a vacation, it becomes tempting to follow all the guidebooks and your friends’ recommendations, which often start with “While in [blank], you’ve just got to [blank].” Did you know there are even travel psychologists who cater to people obsessed with getting their trip “right”?

Well, enough with the travel therapy, I say; just go. Go without reservations. Go without a firm itinerary. Add to the vacation thrill by experiencing a feeling of freedom, the chance to break away from the routine. And more importantly, break some rules. Do the wrong thing on vacation.

My friend J (I’m disguising the guilty parties in this article to protect them from the Travel Police) defiantly eschewed the “must-sees” during her visit to Cambodia. “I skipped the afternoon excursions to probably the best ruins and went swimming and shopping [instead],” she confesses. She doesn’t regret her choice. “If you’ve seen one monument with three zillion Chinese tourists’ cameras poking you in the rear, you’ve seen them all,” she says. For J, retail usually takes precedence over culture.

My friend B was once in Europe with a travel partner, working on a story for a major TV network. “I was using my expense account at the best hotels and best restaurants,” she admits. “Then I made up some story that went, ‘Oh, well, those interviews really didn’t pan out.’” She adds: “Business trip equaled guilt trip. Except I somehow didn’t feel that guilty at the time.”

Another guilt-ridden traveler confesses that she missed the amazing bell-ringing celebration on her first equator crossing because she was “bunked in with the ship’s first mate.” 

And there’s my ex-roommate who, years ago, spent several months in London without locating and calling, as promised, her aging father’s long-lost cousins, who bore the name of “Khan.” “The superficial problem,” she says, “was there were thousands of ‘Khans’ in the phone book.” But she confesses that if she hadn’t been living it up in London’s clubs, she might have noticed a crucial detail. She says, “[Many of] the listed ‘Khans’ had first names such as ‘Abdul’ or ‘Mohammed’” — probably not the relatives her Jewish father was seeking.

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Even on a business trip, you can sneak away. Trust me, anyone with a little guts has done it. 

“I was in Seville for a Ford Foundation meeting,” says my dear friend S. “As fortune would have it, it was also bullfighting season in Andalusia, and I was eager to attend one where a famous young matador was going to fight three bulls.” So the morning of the corrida de toros, oddly enough, S came down with a “terrible migraine” and went to the bullfight. He had a splendid day, but as he was “slinking back to the hotel,” he recounts, “coming out from the bullring were two of my colleagues.” S learned they’d also been “suffering from headaches.”

Shall I recount my own failure to spend more than a minute looking at the Grand Canyon because it was foggy and confess that I spent the whole time thinking: “So, it’s a hole in the ground, and I can’t see it anyway. Can we get back to Las Vegas in time for a show?” Or that I’ve been to Washington D.C. a dozen times and have never seen the Smithsonian? Or that I once went into the British Museum, got lost, went to the cafeteria, had coffee, and left, never to return?

Watch this space for “Trips of Shame,” where I will actually take to the road to see some of the above. Unless, of course, that French guy on the motorcycle reappears.

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