Berger’s Burg: Travelers dish ‘dirt’ on unsuccessful vacations

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She: “OK, I take Justin to music camp and Keri to volleyball camp on my way to work. You take Brendan to his summer job and pick him up at noon, and then you cross town to tennis camp. I’ll leave work early and pick up Brendan. You stay late and get Justin from his extended day program. Keri goes home with the Chassins and I pick her up on my way home from my meeting and we’ll all meet back here.”

He: “Oh, why can’t school be all year long!” — Editorial Cartoon.

Ah, yes, summer is here. Many people consider this time of year a blessing while others contend it to be a sheer nuisance. School is out and the kids are kept very busy socially, physically and academically, as their parents frantically juggle their daily schedules to accommodate them.

“Oh, if only school were all year long,” they moan. But, summer also is a time for fun and frolic. When else can one don the skimpiest of clothing, barbecue a hamburger and get a sun tan all at the same time?

Many moons ago, people worshipped that luminous body in the sky known as the sun. They viewed the return of summer as a time for great rejoicing. “Machiah,” or “Messiah,” they would shout, as they lit bonfires — symbols of the sun — and kvelled all night into the wee hours of the morning in celebration.

This interval was known as Midsummer Eve (June 23) and Midsummer Day (June 24). Of course, this period is not the midpoint of summer, for summer begins June 21. Then why was it called midsummer? Perhaps because it is the exact moment of the year when the sun is at its highest point in the sky, the days are the longest and it is the halfway point of the baseball season.

Since summer also marks the start of the driving and vacation seasons, the present day sun-revelers also shout, “Machiah!” as they scamper to take advantage of both. However, there always is a fly in their sunscreen ointment. Many times, unfortunately, something unforeseen may crop up to dampen their vacation enjoyment.

What away-from-home nightmare do travelers mostly fear? What horror tops their personal list as the one item that guarantees a vacation will be a disaster, you wisely ask? Travel researcher Stanley Plog (as in fog) decided to find out, and his results are surprising. His findings appear to indicate that, on the whole, vacationers do not do their homework (researching and planning) before taking their respites.

To compile the list, Plog had to track travel trends and preferences for virtually every major hotel and airline in the United States (note: this was done before Sept. 11), and he picked a random sample of the U.S. population. Plog’s staff asked travelers to list, on a scale of one to 10, the experience they felt ruined their travel the most, excluding, of course, fear of a terrorist attack.

Was it rude people? High prices? Feeling ripped off by locals? How about weather, crime, bad food or a feeling that the destination they visited was too much like many other places they have been?

No! First on the list of factors that ruin a trip was dirt. That’s right, dirt. Hoteliers and housekeepers take note: Of 13,536 travelers surveyed, 77 percent said that if a hotel were dirty or rundown, their trip would be ruined. Second on the list? Dirt again. Of those surveyed, 72 percent indicated that if things were “dirty everywhere” their trip would be annihilated.

What about the actual expense of a trip? After all, aren’t we all looking for a great deal when we travel? Surprisingly, expenses actually ranked lower on the list of trip spoilers — behind poverty. Poverty? Yes, 43 percent of the travelers indicated that if there was poverty evident at their destination, their trip was destined to be a bummer. But only 40 percent cited the actual high cost of the trip as the number one trip demolisher.

There were many surprises with these responses. And no one is more surprised than Stanley Plog himself, who has been doing specific travel research for many years. To Plog, the results of this survey were a stunner: “I thought U.S. travelers would be more sophisticated in their travel expectations and criteria,” he reports.

“But it seems as if the Disney World experience is now being applied to their travels.”

What he means is the concept that the Disney parks traditionally have provided a clean, almost antiseptic experience. Many U.S. travelers want that first, and they are willing to pay for it.

“My interpretation is that people want everything mapped out and comfortable, and they are not big risk takers when it comes to travel,” Plog says. “But what is particularly disturbing is that other things we had on the list, such as ‘too many tourist traps,’ or ‘too many fast-food outlets or souvenir shops,’ or even that the destination was ‘too much like other places visited’ did not rank high at all. People are not looking at the big picture when it comes to their travel choices,” Plog complains.

It is too bad that Plog never felt the need to ask me what my biggest traveling gripe was. I would tell him, right off the bat, that lost luggage is my nemesis, my Numero Uno, and the bane of my existence. Nothing gripes me more when I travel.

One time, on a trip to Arizona, my luggage got lost once again (so, what else is new). When I complained to the baggage pickup supervisor, she told me the good news. The luggage had been located. The bad news was that it went to a poor family in Albania who really needed it. Monte Carlo, Bali, Lake Tahoe — that luggage of mine has been to more great places I never could afford to visit myself.

“Gloria, let’s buy ourselves a two-person sized suitcase, pack ourselves into it and use it for a pot-luck vacation. We’ll send ourselves to Gallup, N.M. and who knows? We may end up in the Swiss Alps.”

Pointers to all readers planning a vacation this year — a blueprint for the best vacation you will ever have: Buy a new station wagon, put the kids in the back and take a cruise! Firstly, take a peek at your passport picture. You may look too sick to travel! If you are planning to travel to the Caribbean this summer for the sand, sea and surf, you may come back bushed, burned and busted. And finally, for heaven’s sake, let your wife handle your vacation’s expense account this year. Remember your last trip? You took care of the record keeping. It equaled your life savings.

But, don’t listen to me. Go and take your vacations, bring the kids and have a great time. You deserve it. Bon Voyage!

Reach columnist Alex Berger by e-mail at or call 229-0300, ext. 140.

Posted 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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