Rudy's Rules for Travel: Life Lessons from Around the Globe

Rudy's Rules for Travel: Life Lessons from Around the Globe

by Mary K. Jensen
Rudy's Rules for Travel: Life Lessons from Around the Globe

Rudy's Rules for Travel: Life Lessons from Around the Globe

by Mary K. Jensen


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Most honeymoons, Mary knows, do not start this way. Lying outside on the sloping attic roof in Edinburgh, listening to the soft snores of her groom, she realizes that Rudy’s number one rule, “adapt," once again reigns.
Rudy’s Rules for Travel takes you across the twentieth-century globe with intrepid, frugal Rudy and his spouse Mary, a catastrophic thinker seeking comfort. Whether stalled in a Spanish car tunnel, stranded atop a runaway elephant, or held at rifle-point at a Soviet border, Rudy has a rule for every occasion—for example, “Relax, some kind stranger will appear.” Mary, meanwhile, has her deep breathing and her own commandment: “Expect the worst.”
The two are a picture of contrast. As Mary was being born, Rudy was a new American citizen flying US Air Force missions over his homeland, Germany. His father was a seaman, hers an accountant. And when this marriage of opposites goes traveling, their stories combine laugh-out-loud humor with poignant lessons from the odyssey of a World War II veteran. So start packing—you’ll want to join these two.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781631523229
Publisher: She Writes Press
Publication date: 04/10/2018
Pages: 232
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 16.80(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Mary K. Jensen, PhD is a recovering grants writer. After retiring as Professor Emerita from California State University, Chico, she ventured into her attic and pulled out boxes of trip diaries—raw material for her memoir. Jensen earned her master’s degree at Loyola Marymount Universityand her doctorate at the Universityof Oregon, where she was an analyst and author for the federal research clearinghouse ERIC. With experience in teaching, school psychology, administration, and teacher preparation, she has been a popular writer and conference speaker, skilled in translating research findings to school practice. She is a survivor—of cancer twice, and of decades of travel with her irrepressible spouse. She lives in northern California where she relishes her writing group, book clubs, poetry group, walks and friendships. Visit her at

Read an Excerpt



Rudy's Rules for Travel


I tell myself there are good reasons why I have crawled out the attic window at midnight and am now lying outside on the sloping roof in Edinburgh dressed in a light cotton nightgown, somewhat secured by a bed sheet strung round my waist and tied to a handy balustrade. It is, after all, a record-smashing heat wave in the Scottish capital. Hotels and air conditioning are not in our budget, and all non-attic bed and breakfast rooms were reserved weeks ago. By others.

I know all that, but I also know that the real reason I am on the roof, clutching my pillow and my groom, is because of one of Rudy's Rules for Travel, perhaps the most significant one of all. Rule One: Adapt.

* * *

Before that scorching summer of 1980, Rudy and I had traveled together several times. (Notice I say "traveled" and not "vacationed." There is a reason for that.) I had learned that he had many rules, and that some were easier to follow than others. Following the rule about choosing lightweight luggage was, for example, easier than following the rule about adapting.

* * *

Rudy knew a lot about rule making: he had been raised in a German home and was a school principal nine months of the year. Each school holiday, in a transformation not unlike that of Clark Kent to Superman, he exchanged suit and tie for battered jeans, faded navy captain's hat, plaid shirt, and backpack, leaving razor and dress shoes scattered behind. Even his eyes changed: in the school year, the deep blue eyes could be narrow and fixed unwaveringly, sternly, on sixth-grade boys who would destroy classroom peace. But when ready for travel, the blue eyes danced.

My fearless half was made for adventure travel — not the climb-Everest kind of adventure, but the can-you-make-your-own-way adventure. In fact, in the late twentieth century, when we traveled, you did not need to dive, climb, or kayak to feel a surge of explorer's adrenalin. When a traveler descended the steps from the airplane and walked onto a foreign tarmac, it was without online reservations, GPS, Google maps, ATM cards, translation apps, Uber, Skype, or Trip Advisor. There was no CNN, nor were there online state department bulletins to warn of global hotspots.

Most importantly, yesterday's traveler ventured without a cell phone. When you were lost, you were lost alone. This was not entirely a disadvantage: no demanding boss could find an escaping worker, and news of tragedies across the world was kept at bay, restricted to the daily English newspaper — if and only if the traveler chose to read it.

In those years, contact with home meant writing postcards that, with luck and first-class postage, arrived two weeks later. Or it meant spending hours in a local phone booth pleading with an operator who insisted, in perfect English, she did not speak English. One was simply "abroad."

* * *

RUDY and I were a picture of contrast. He was tall, thin, farsighted, confident — an artist and scholar. I was not. Not any of that. We were of different generations and mind-sets. As I was being born, Rudy was flying one of his first bombing missions over Germany. As my parents were pushing my stroller in a Victory Day parade, he was in the middle of the Atlantic, coming home in a troop ship with his wounded comrades. And as I was walking to kindergarten clutching my nap-time blanket, he was one of those GIs who had never dreamed of college yet stood smiling in cap and gown. For him, travel was a way to piece together the parts of his life. For me, travel was a way to make the storybook pictures come alive.

Most significantly, my new husband and I lived at opposite ends of the risk-taking continuum. Imagine a horizontal bar, if you will. On its far left is the ultimate risk-taker, and on the far right the ultimate worrier. I am the one clinging to the bar on the far right, while Rudy is dancing on the left edge. You get the picture.

A similar continuum shows our typical thought patterns. While I pondered my latest catastrophic awareness, Rudy could take a spontaneous leap straight off the edge. Put in neurological terms, I had an overly developed frontal lobe and he a damaged impulse-control center. Put in astrological terms, I was a Libra, he a Taurus. When we met, I was a newly hired psychologist in his school district. Before long, he was explaining to friends that we were ideally matched: I needed an administrator; he needed a psychologist.

Many of our differences can be traced to the brown chair that sat near the front door of my childhood home. Under the surveillance of our half-Irish mother, the chair governed the comings and goings of my younger brother Donnie and me. We could be racing through the house, grabbing textbooks and snacks, catapulting toward the front door, but we were captives until we had each placed our bottom in the chair and taken three deep breaths, 1 ... 2 ... 3. ... Forgetting a homework assignment or lunch pail restarted the cycle: racing back into the house, mother watching for bottom to hit chair, then chest heave three times before the race to school could resume.

"You'll see the good luck," Mom would call after us. "Stay composed."

Rudy had never sat down to gain composure. He had, instead, an ease with exploration that came naturally and at a young age. By age four, he completed two transatlantic crossings, the first in 1921 while carried in the womb of his mother from New York City to Hamburg, Germany. His papa, a Danish seaman, was an admirer of German culture who harbored two dreams: one, that he would father a German citizen and two, that he would own a saloon on Hamburg's lively Reeperbahn. Achieving the dreams meant nothing when his wife, Rudy's mother, died suddenly. Papa found foster care for the toddler and headed back to sea. Years later, he sent for Rudy to join him in America.

And so it was that the four-year-old experienced his first independent international travel. Dressed in a tiny sailor suit, blonde curls escaping a captain's hat, blue eyes gleaming, and trained to salute the ship's officers, Rudy crossed the Atlantic for the second time, but now virtually alone. He learned a lifelong travel lesson about depending upon kind strangers: two elderly ladies shared their cabin and mealtimes with him, and the captain helped him sail bright red balloons off the ship's stern. Sailing into New York Harbor, the little boy spotted his papa on the dock and was certain he called his name.

Rudy grew up on the streets of Washington, D.C. during the Great Depression. He and his schoolmates, from Italy and Greece, found ample adult role models: Chisel Chin the cop, Fast Eddie the numbers runner, Horse Face the cabbie and card room dealer. I never knew the Depression or the streets. I came home after school to a small, bungalow-style house in Southern California where a mother in a pink-flowered apron was placing a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies on the kitchen table.

Rudy's family never owned a car, but instead used every form of bus and train that plied the city. The highlight of humid summer weekends was dragging heavy crab traps onto a small steam train, heading to Chesapeake Bay, and bringing home — yes, on the train — a week's worth of feisty critters housed unhappily in burlap bags. Rudy had had, we might say, the perfect introduction to public transportation around the world.

I, on the other hand, was driven to school each morning in my father's well-used but shiny, cavernous black-and-white Cadillac. Donnie and I sat in the backseat, dodging ice chips that flew from the air conditioning vents, until Father rounded the corner in front of our school. Then we slid down between the seats, covering our heads with jackets, lest classmates who knew how to use the public bus should see us in the Cadillac.

"Please, please drop us at the next block," we pled from under the jackets.

Our father was not a seaman or world traveler; our father was an accountant. Each spring, Donnie and I counted the days to April 15th, when tax season would end and we could embark on our annual family adventure. The ritual began with stuffing the Cadillac with seashore clothes, a sand pail, and food supplies, then taking a careful look at a large map and setting off. Twenty-five minutes later we would arrive at our destination: a local beach-area motel. We would then unpack our clothes, pail, and food, and settle in for a three-day stay.

As our parents saw it, the glorious part of the holiday was that there was no long drive from home, no telephone, and no way clients could find Father. As I saw it, the annual outing was a rare opportunity to gather material for fourth grade Show and Tell. Surprisingly one day, Donnie, barely five years old, was the source of key intelligence: an older boy he met at the sandcastle pointed with concern to an island, a distant landmass barely visible across the bay. As children of the Cold War, we knew how to duck and cover under classroom desks. Still, it never occurred to me before that day that there might be a wider, threatening world out there, just beyond San Diego. I was learning the lesson that you can never be too cautious. Donnie and I were certain Russia lurked on the island.

* * *

Now, on this steamy night in Edinburgh so many years later, Rudy, my groom, arms draped about me, snores softly on the sloping roof. I stay awake, for I have rules of my own: "Remain Alert. Expect the worst." Scotland may not be known for earthquakes or monsoons, but one can never be too careful.

Rudy's Rules FOR Travel



Avoid groups. Schedule your own tour. Shower at night, keep drapes open, rise with first light. Be first at breakfast. At the museum, start at the last exhibit and move forward.


Accept that Americans are not always popular. Study natives' clothing, haircuts, shoes; outfit yourself at a second-hand store. Speak any language but English if you can; at the least, lower voices when dining and on public transit.


Use one small, child-sized case or backpack. Prepare to run unimpeded through airports and stations, up stairs, over cobblestones.

Which is closely related to this rule:


Position the day's dirty clothes under your feet, add soap, stomp, as in crushing grapes.


A low-cost way to meet the people and their livestock: ride their buses, vans, ferries, colectivos, tuk-tuks.


You don't get what you pay for if you miss bargains.

Exception: elephant rides (see Thailand chapter).


They will be crowded, pricey, and the food likely mediocre. Choose cafés off the main square, with no tour bus or English menus in sight. Better yet, bring deli food to your room.


Never visit the same place twice; there are too many places. Returning risks spoiling first memories.


Recommended: earrings, miniature Christmas ornaments.



Don't count on tomorrow. You will likely never be healthier than you are today. You certainly will never be younger. Move physically challenging destinations to the top of your bucket list. (Think: climbing pyramids, squatting over toilets, mounting steep stairs without handrails.) Consider moving politically tenuous places higher: there may be no better days ahead. Cruises can wait.


That is what all those hours on the return plane are for.



It is long before online research and Expedia when Rudy and I plan our first trip together. I have an early sign that the journey to Mexico City might not be the luxurious vacation of my dreams, when Rudy appears at my apartment door with a tiny case, a gift for me.

"I remembered your luggage was huge. This one will go anywhere."

"But that's a child's suitcase."


"But at most it holds one set of clothes."


Reaching an impasse on luggage, we turn instead to sharing results of our research for the trip. Each of us has promised to gather information. I have gone to a travel agency; Rudy has gone to the library. I come to the table with five slick tour brochures carefully annotated for their positive features, likely omissions, and daily cost. He presents a map and three thick books, one that promises the reader will be bilingual in Spanish in thirty days, one detailing Mexican history, and one that introduces techniques for archeological digs.

I venture to summarize what I see. "So, we don't take a tour? We're our own guides?"

"Well, yes. We call the airlines and get the cheapest flight."

"And book a hotel?"

"Well, if you want one for the first night."

"For the first night? And after that?"

"We look around. We don't travel to have comfort ... we can have comfort at home. And we don't travel to meet Americans. We can meet Americans at home. Besides, hotel prices are cheaper on-site."

That was putting it mildly. Arriving at the Mexico City airport, we spot a crowd of travelers huddling around a newspaper stand. The English-language newspaper has a full banner headline: "Peso Drastically Devalued." A fellow tourist explains that our dollar has just skyrocketed in Mexico; any hotel of our dreams is within reach.

Clearly the hostel-like lodging we reserved can be replaced, but there are other ways to save a peso. Rudy recalls reading about the colectivo taxis. Consulting his portable Spanish dictionary, and with some linguistic help from two porters and one policeman, he selects a weathered colectivo already packed with three other tourists ("Think of how cheap this will be"), jams our cases into the trunk ("See why we pack small?"), and asks the driver to take us to a "muy bueno" hotel.

"A very muy bueno hotel."

This is the fastest taxi ride I have ever experienced and surely with the most sincere of tour guides. While I am in the backseat, trying to ascertain which passenger lap I should land on, Rudy sits in front with the driver, rolls down his window, and all along the route points out key monuments and their historic significance. The driver, enthused by Rudy's interest, gestures proudly to highlights of his own, barely bothering to hold the steering wheel or note the traffic swirling around us. Our fellow passengers are mute. As we pull up to the luxurious hotel beside the entrance to Chapultepec Park, I say a short prayer of thanks and Rudy turns to me, grinning. "Isn't it lucky I'm bilingual?"

That night we take a long walk through the elegant neighborhood of our muy bueno hotel. Massive strands of Christmas lights are strung across each intersection, like multiple jeweled necklaces. Either a life-size nativity scene or a live Santa Claus sits on every corner, backdrops for annual pictures of children dressed in lacy holiday finery.

Shortly, I become distracted from the holiday traditions. "Look, look at those store windows — Cartier and Gucci are slashing prices."

Rudy is uninterested. Looking in all directions, he says, "There ought to be street stands around here somewhere. You cannot believe the bargains I've gotten in Tijuana and Juarez."

I persist: "And over there, there's Burberry and Bulgari. The big designers are all here. With the peso devalued, those prices are a third of what we'd pay in the States."

He also persists: "You have to get off the main shopping drag to find the real Mexican clothes."

Luxury stores don't attract Rudy. He has eyes only for street merchants and their wares, hungry for the bargain. After one very long, dramatic exchange in which Rudy uses his best Spanish to negotiate a serape for me and huaraches for himself, I hear the merchant ask his companion, in English, "What language was that man speaking, anyway?"

The next morning, after checking to be certain that breakfast is included in our room rate, Rudy invites me to eat in the opulent dining room. I have never before had breakfast served on fine china and under chandeliers, with tuxedoed waiters hovering and my fellow diners looking as if they had not passed up the luxury stores last night.


Excerpted from "Rudy's Rules for Travel"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Mary K. Jensen.
Excerpted by permission of She Writes Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Edinburgh, Scotland, 1980 1

Rudy's Rules For Travel 9

Chapter 2 Mexico City, Mexico, 1976 11

Chapter 3 Oaxaca, Mexico, 1979 17

Chapter 4 Puerto Escondido, Mexico, 1979 21

Chapter 5 West Germany, 1980 28

Chapter 6 Italy, 1981 40

Chapter 7 Yugoslavia, 1981 48

Chapter 8 Spain And Portugal, 1982 53

Chapter 9 Czechoslovakia, 1983 59

Chapter 10 Berlin, East Germany, 1983 75

Chapter 11 Hungary, 1983 80

Chapter 12 Russia, 1983 87

Chapter 13 Finland, 1983 104

Chapter 14 Egypt, 1984 111

Chapter 15 New Zealand, 1988 120

Chapter 16 Thailand, 1990 126

Chapter 17 Bali, Indonesia, 1991 140

Chapter 18 Tibenham, Norwich, England, 1992 153

Chapter 19 France, 1994 164

Chapter 20 Cruises Dipping Down Into The Bucket 166

Chapter 21 And Other Transitions 180

Chapter 22 South Dakota, 2013 192

Mary's Rules For Travel 201

Epilogue: Rudy's Rule 14 203

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