The Brancatelli File By Joe Brancatelli
Joe Tourist
February 11, 2016 -- It's Thursday and that means it's time to think deep thoughts about the major events transforming business travel. Let's say we discuss...

Ah, the hell with it.

You're cold. I'm cold. You're tired. I'm tired. We all could use a vacation. If you're not going on a winter holiday soon, you're moaning about why you won't be going.

So, just this once, let's not talk about business travel. Let me remove my official Dick Tracy trench coat and my fantasy fedora (press card insouciantly stuck into hatband). Permit me to don my Cleveland Indians cap (forward, all the better for oh-so-politically-incorrect Chief Wahoo to leer at you), grab a pair of shorts (there really ought to be a law against my legs...) and a Hawaiian shirt and reemerge as--tah, dah!--Joe Tourist.

In my secret identity as mild-mannered Joe Tourist, I've developed a jillion useful rules. I like to think they work any time, any day, any place. In fact, these rules are so good they don't even need exceptions to prove them.

Leisure travelers, even leisure travelers who spend most of their lives as savvy business travelers, seem to forget there are dry cleaners, washing machines and clothing shops everywhere in the world. You can always launder your clothes--or buy some new togs--almost anywhere you travel. But acquiring cash on the road, even in these days of credit cards, bank cards and ATMs, isn't nearly as easy. So ditch that extra sports jacket or blouse and bring a couple of extra $20 bills.

Quick remedial action is the key to getting the airline seat, cruise-ship cabin, rental car or hotel room you expected. He or she who hesitates is not only lost, but uncomfortable and unhappy, too. If you must, pay for the privilege of getting what you want, but get it on the spot. When you get home, write a letter of complaint demanding restitution for the inconvenience and/or the extra money you paid.

Everyone, especially business travelers with frequent-flyer miles to burn, eventually sees the Eiffel Tower. We all tromp to the Forbidden City. Anyone who has ever traveled has gawked at Sugarloaf in Rio and stood slack-jawed in Red Square at night. But don't be a prisoner of the guidebooks or Google Maps: Explore a twisty side street or poke your head into a little shop. Drive down a road that's not on the map. Business travel is about getting work done in the most efficient manner. Leisure travel is not, so start exploring and start relaxing. You'll be surprised how much fun travel is when you're doing it of your own free will.

Travelers attack popular tourist destinations as if they will never return. They have a checklist of "must see" sights and obsessively try to see and do "everything." They march from sight to sight as if there's a prize for visiting the most attractions. But when they get home, they remember nothing because all the sights have run together in their minds. Do it the other way: Assume you'll be back and have time to burn. Want to linger at a café in Pienza rather than drive to Pisa to see the Leaning Tower? Do it. Want to sun on the beach one more day rather than fly to another Hawaiian island? Go ahead. Leisure travel is supposed to be fun, not a sightseeing marathon.

Any decent guidebook or app will direct you to a society's natural and man-made attractions. But if you want to learn about people, then focus on the everyday routine of their lives. Visit their supermarkets, their hardware stores, their bookstores and music shops. All these mundane places house a treasure trove of social and psychological insight. My personal favorite: the local photography studio in any American town. The pictures in the front windows--the wedding shots, the images of religious events, even those formalized family portraits--tell a compelling story.

I'm a gastronomic pilgrim, so I'll try anything once. But even if you're not as daring, you need to make a concerted effort to sample the local cuisine when you travel. You can't fully understand the rhythms of Rome if you don't have a breakfast of cappuccino and cornetto standing up at a coffee bar. You won't fully grasp the changing ethnic pastiche of London if you don't wander into an Indian restaurant and order a balti. Visit Hong Kong without having dim sum and you've missed the point of the place. Even in homogenized and pasteurized America, we consume different foods in different ways. Eating what the locals eat--and eating it how they eat it--is as important as visiting a destination's most revered tourist attraction.

For better and for worse, English is quickly becoming the world's universal language. But that does not give you linguistic license to be an Ugly American. Make a serious effort to speak and understand at least a few phrases of the local tongue. I still use a series called Just Enough… because I like how it puts a language in conversational context and stresses phonetic pronunciation over grammatical perfection. You'll also be surprised how quickly you can absorb the conversational basics of almost any tongue when you're not being hectored by an obsessive high-school language teacher.

Here's an amazing truth: Everywhere in the world is worth visiting. You might prefer to see Portugal before you visit Paraguay or you may desire a holiday in Tahiti over a vacation in Tennessee, but any place where people live has something worth investigating. Years ago, when PeoplExpress launched $29 flights to Omaha, Nebraska, long lines of travelers immediately began forming. A dumbfounded New York Times reporter asked one of the passengers why they were going to Omaha. "Because I have $29 and I've never been to Omaha," the traveler responded. I guess that's not as profound and poetic as George Leigh Mallory attempting to conquer Everest "because it is there," but it pretty much covers it.

Don't let the world's cultural fascists shame you into going to a Wagner opera in Germany or the Kabuki in Japan if that's not your style. But don't deny yourself a look at the local culture. Just take it in whatever metaphorical bites you can stomach. There's a pasta museum in Rome that's at least as enlightening as The Sistine Chapel. Can't bring yourself to visit the Getty Museum in Los Angeles? Try Petersen's car museum instead. And there are two ways you can learn about the grandeur of a place like Budapest. Hit all the popular and predictable places. Or do what I did: Stumble across the humble Museum of Commerce and Hospitality. A German-speaking tour guide led me through a charming collection of three centuries of memorabilia, then summarized the entirety of Hungarian life during the Cold War by pointing to a single black-and-white photo of a boarded-up storefront and saying, "Ruskies? Kaput!"

This column is Copyright © 2016 by Joe Brancatelli. is Copyright © 2016 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.