Thomas Sowell

There is nothing like returning home to recover from a vacation. They say traveling is broadening and that has certainly been my experience. My waistline broadens by about an inch a week when I am traveling.

The most dangerous mode of travel is the automobile. Every long trip on a highway makes me question whether self-preservation really is the first law of nature.

The way some people drive, preserving life and limb doesn't seem to have a high priority for them. Some of the riskiest gambles for small pay-offs are taken on highways when drivers bet their lives -- and the lives of those around them -- in order to get a few yards ahead.

Highway traffic is just one of the problems of traveling. Hotels are another. Some hotels take forever to check you in, even if you made reservations months in advance and have all sorts of identification at the ready. Computers seem to have slowed things down instead of speeding them up.

My acid test for a hotel is how long it takes from the time you get out of your car until you are in your room with your luggage. Some hotels, especially in Europe, make a project out of getting your luggage delivered to your room.

That's a little much after a long and often exhausting trip.

Since most people stay in a given hotel only a few days, you might think that hotels would have things arranged so that you could readily figure out how to do basic things like turning on lights, the shower, or television, without having to look for instructions or phone the front desk.

Over the years, however, more cute and complicated ways of doing simple things seem to have become the vogue. The shower is often the biggest challenge, especially when there seems to be no setting between freezing and scalding.

Think how many years we managed to take showers with two simple knobs marked "hot" and "cold." And how are the end results any better now that we have gone fancy?

Turning on lights can be an adventure too. It is amazing how many different places they can put light switches and how many different ways they can operate.

Not only do these differ from hotel to hotel, they often differ from one lamp to another in the same room. After staying in one hotel for a week, I finally figured out how to turn on the floor lamp on my last day.

No doubt I could have figured it out sooner if I were not away from the hotel doing other things most of the time and just returned at night to hit the sack. But of course most people don't go to a hotel just to stay in the hotel but to either take care of business or enjoy vacation activities elsewhere.

Wall switches should be a simple matter but it is often no simple matter to find out where they are located and which switch does what.

The switch that turns on the light in the bathroom is sometimes located inside the bathroom and sometimes outside the bathroom door. And there are lots of possibilities in both places, so at night you can spend lots of time groping around in the dark.

It never seems to occur to some of the people who design these things that someone staying in a hotel may get up in the middle of the night and need to find the switch for the bathroom light in the dark, without having to disturb a sleeping spouse by turning on the bedroom light, in order to begin looking for the switch for the bathroom light.

Fortunately, you can have a good vacation in spite of traffic or hotels. My recent vacation was spent in four national parks -- Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton and Yellowstone. Each was inspiring in a different way.

However, for reasons unknown, the government seems to think that concessionaires who run hotels, restaurants, or other services in these parks should have a monopoly in each park. No doubt that makes life easier for Washington bureaucrats but it certainly does not give the people who visit these parks much choice or force competing hotels or restaurants to provide what the public wants.

Despite the hassles of travel, we can't stay home all the time. But it can be a darn good feeling to come back.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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