Saturday, December 27, 2014

The End of a Travel Tradition?

These green covered 5 x 8 inch notebooks, issued by the US Government, have been the backbone of my travel plans for 30 years.  The era of green notebooks might now be coming to an end.

When I began my odyssey of travel in June 1984 I was overwhelmed with all the information involved with travel and especially to a foreign location.  There were flight numbers and reservation confirmation numbers to remember.  

I have flown on 2,909 flight segments since 1984 and the information about each one of those flights has been recorded in a green notebook. Like this information for two flight segments between Orlando - Sanford airport and Little Rock, Arkansas between April 10 and 13, 2014

Then there were hotel reservations (or in the case of every time I’ve traveled to Mexico – there were hotel reservations that I had but for which the hotel never once has had a record! Once!) and there were rental car reservations.  This was all before computers and palm pilots and other data storage machines were available to fit on your lap or in your palm.  To keep it all straight I just wrote everything on pieces of paper and then hoped that I would not lose any of those pieces of paper.  Invariably I lost the pieces of paper and had to begin all over again.

Every year I keep a record of the state and provincial license plates I see, the first time I see them in a year and where they were seen and I keep all that information in a green notebook

There was also a need to keep notes on things that I saw, people I met, appointments that were made and birds that I saw.  This was on top of my obsessive-compulsive passion since high school of trying to see the license plate of each of the 50 states and the various Canadian provinces in a calendar year.  All of these important parts of travel could have been managed on individual pieces of paper.  However the ability to lock them all up in one convenient place was going to make life for a fanatic lister so much easier.

Exploring my new office on the University of Georgia campus just after my move from the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center in Jamestown, North Dakota in April 1984, I found a stash of green-covered notebooks that the US government had issued.  Each notebook had about 100 sheets of two-sided paper, each page was lined with wide lines making information entry easy and reading the information later even easier, and there was ample room on the front and back covers to record phone numbers for rental car companies, hotel chains and other vital parts of travelling extensively.  I grabbed a handful of those green notebooks in 1984 and used one on my first trip to the Bahamas a month later.  I have not stopped using them since. 

Ever since my first flight on a commercial airline (Ozark Airlines from Minneapolis to St. Louis on October 31, 1977) I have kept track of each flight segment I have flown, which airline I was on, the routing for each segment, the aircraft flown and the number of statute miles flown on each segment.  I soon found my green notebook to be indispensable for keeping track of my flights.  Later when frequent flier programs became even more popular those same records were essential for making sure that the airline didn’t forget to credit me for a segment (or segments) that I flew.

Still later I discovered that the green notebooks were perfect for recording which country I had visited (one year I was in 32 different countries in a calendar year) and which states I had visited and the dates they were visited.  As I became more serious about visiting each of the 3,076 counties or parishes in the United States it became imperative to have a place to store that information and the green notebooks rose to the occasion.

With the exception of the 1985 booklet I have kept every one of them I have used for the last 30 years.  The 1985 booklet found a resting place in the Gulf Stream off of Marathon Florida after a Coast Guardsman on the Coast Guard cutter I was hitching a ride on became extremely sea sick and barfed all over my green notebook. That seemed appropriate because the face of the Coastie and the cover of the notebook were about same color when he lost that morning’s breakfast all over my hands and my book.  I simply tossed the book overboard and resigned myself to trying again next year.

My first travel book, Somewhere South of Miami, is 70 percent factual and 30 percent fictional. Much of the information for the factual part of the book was obtained from notes kept in a green notebook.  The fictional stuff I just made up as I went along

As time has passed I’ve found the notebooks to be an invaluable resource.  Many of the cryptic notes I wrote from my early travels were used in writing my first travel book Somewhere South of Miami.  Other times I’ve been asked where I was on a certain day or in a certain period (and not by the police!) and would simply refer to my green notebooks for the answer.  Still other times in periods of melancholy I’d pick up a notebook, strum through it looking at all the flights I took, and relive part of some of those journeys as a way to rid myself of the melancholy. 

As time and technology have moved forward I continued to use the green notebooks but recently I’ve discovered fewer and fewer reasons to rely on it.  That began 10 years ago when my sister purchased a Palm Pilot for me as a Christmas present.  I had every intention of using it for my travel information until one night someone (turned out to be a temporary employee) in our office in Washington DC stole the Palm Pilot and pawned it before I could get it back.  Luckily I had my green notebook as a backup so all of that important information was not lost.

Alaska Itinerary
July 18 – August 4 2015

July 18 – Saturday
Leave   Tampa              6:30 pm            Alaska Airlines 775
Arrive   Seattle              9:25 pm                                                
Leave   Seattle              10:15 pm          Alaska Airlines 89

July 19 - Sunday
Arrive  Anchorage        12:42 am                                                                                            

August 4 – Tuesday
Leave   Vancouver        8:15 a.m.          US Airways                  685
Arrive   Phoenix            11:17 p.m                                         
Leave   Phoenix            12:15 p.m         US Airways                  1851
Arrive   Charlotte          7:05 p.m.                                          
Leave   Charlotte           8:30 p.m.          US Airways                  5597
Arrive   Sarasota           10:15 p.m.                                            

I used to rely on my green notebooks for all of my travel information but now I simply type out the itineraries, dates, flights and seat numbers and print out the file to carry with me on a trip

In the last several years, as my volume of travel has decreased (in 1997 I was on 197 commercial airline flights; in 2014 only 15) I have begun to rely more and more on my computer and my phone for recording important travel information. Now for instance, when I make a plane reservation or rental car reservation I simply store the email confirmation on my cell phone and have it for back up if there is ever a question.  Now I type out the itineraries for trips as a Word Document and after printing out the itinerary stick it on my clipboard and carry it with me on the trip.  After finally discovering how to use Excel Spreadsheets, I now maintain my yearly license plate lists and flight lists and every other conceivable list, on spreadsheets.  Still I maintain the trusty old green notebook just to be safe.

1  RSW-FNT RSW FNT WN 737 1140 2014
2  FNT-LAS FNT LAS WN 737 1730 2014
3  LAS-MDW LAS MDW WN 737 1520 2014
MDW-RSW MDW RSW WN 737 1110 2014
5  SFB-LIT SFB LIT G4 M80 764 2014
6  LIT-SFB LIT SFB G4 M80 764 2014
7  PIE-YNG PIE YNG G4 M80 929 2014
8  YNG-PIE YNG PIE G4 M80 929 2014
9  TPA-MSY TPA MSY WN 737 487 2014
10  MSY-TPA MSY TPA WN 737 487 2014
11  SRQ-JFK SRQ JFK B6 175 1040 2014
12  JFK-KEF JFK KEF IcelandAir 757 2590 2014
13  KEF-CPH KEF CPH IcelandAir 757 1330 2014
14  CPH-WAW CPH WAW Lot Polish 175 414 2014
15  WAW-CPH WAW CPH SAS 175 414 2014

I used to summarize my yearly travel by adding up each segment, the miles flown, the number of flights on various aricraft and the routes flown and the process was laborious. Now I simply put each flight in an Excel Spreadsheet and let the computer do the compliations for me at the end of the year.

Aircraft Aircraft Name         #  Times Flown      Miles Flown        Mean
146 BAC 146 2 577 288.5
330 Airbus A330 8 29238 3654.75
707 Boeing 707 1 295 295
717 Boeing 717 11 4067 369.7272727
727 Boeing 727 356 203151 570.6488764
737 Boeing 737 630 368946 585.6285714
744 Boeing 747-200 12 68626 5718.833333
747 Boeing 747-400 9 26177 2908.555556
757 Boeing 757 143 153185 1071.223776
767 Boeing 767 33 103780 3144.848485
777 Boeing 777 11 48670 4424.545455
A32 Airbus A320 320 203511 635.971875
If I am ever curious (and I regularly am) about how many times I've flown on a 747-400 series jet, or how many miles I've flown in a 737 or the average distance flown every time I've been in an Airbus A320, the Excel Spreadsheet automatically updates the information for me. In the past this was all done by hand calculation and it took forever and a day.

I just now put away my 2014 green travel notebook and when I did I looked at my bookshelf and saw that I have two green notebooks remaining. Usually in years past I have prepared the next year’s green notebook during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.  That always proved essential because I would be out searching for license plates at 1 minute after midnight on New Year’s Day and in the days when I was obsessed about maintaining Platinum Elite flier status on Continental and Northwest Airlines I was on a flight somewhere on January 1 to start chalking up miles.  However this year I haven’t prepared my notebook.  Instead I’ll simply print out the blank forms from my spread sheets and attach them to a clipboard each time I want to record something.

Still, old traditions die hard and maybe just to be safe I will prepare another green notebook before New Year’s Eve.  I’ll use the same excuse I’ve used for the last few years and keep the green notebook with me just in case. 

If I do that I’ll be down to only one green notebook remaining in my bookcase.  Mother Nature might have other plans but my personal plan is to keep living a few more years after 2015 so I’ll have to replenish my stash of green notebooks.  Maybe I’ll make a trip up to Washington DC this summer and stop by the Department of the Interior building and tell the rent-a-cops at the front door that I want to visit my old agency’s suite of offices on the third floor.  And then when nobody is looking I’ll sneak into the storage room by one of the Assistant Director’s offices and borrow another handful of green notebooks.  Yes.  I like the sound of that plan.