Thursday, August 19, 2010

Travel Pet Peeves

Although I learned a lot from my travels, a lot of things bothered me while I was on the road.   

In this posting, I describe some of the little everyday things that irritated me. In the next several posts, I explore some of the systemic issues—specifically, the usability of airports, train stations, and metro systems.  

  • Musicians on the Metro (as opposed to those in the Metro station, who usually have to go through an audition process).  Just as I would get into a meaningful conversation with my partner, or go into a deep thought, a not so quiet-nor-comforting concert (I’d hardly call it a serenade) would start.  Something upbeat, with an accordion or something similarly loud.   
  • Panhandlers on the Metro.  They walk from car to car, cup in hand, yelling at people or parading disabled relatives, in a bid for passengers’ money.  Perhaps my irritation is cultural; in Atlanta—where I lived for a decade—the city has posted signs throughout the city advising people not to support panhandlers.  In contrast, the Parisians seem quite supportive of their panhandlers.  I felt bad for those on the train from the airport to the center of the city; most were stingy tourists like me. 
  • Panhandlers in McDonald’s and Starbucks.  Same as on the Metro, but in a more stationary location.  One tried to hit us up just as we were sitting down to eat at McDonald’s.   
  • Street signage—or lack thereof.  The older the city, the more invisible the signage, and the more challenging the task of finding a destination.  
  • Mis-directions from locals.  Although well-intentioned, they’re often inaccurate.  For example, someone told me, “The metro station is just 5 minutes from here.”  I’m sure it was 5 minutes from here, but a different “here” than where we were.  In another place, someone said, “It’s just one block to the Metro.”  Then how do they explain the other two blocks?   
  • Internet access fees in European hotels.  They’re over twice as expensive as in the few North American hotels that still charge for Internet access.  But at least the better hotels explain their fees.  One hotel failed to mention it, then tried to stick me with a 65 euro bill when we checked out.  
  • Texting everywhere.  What’s annoying is that it slows people down when they walk, and they block the walkway.  
  • People who have to yammer on their cell phones in a plane up until the minute the flight attendant announces that they must be turned off.  One time, I had to listen to some guy talking to his kid in graphic detail about her stomach ache.  
  • People who have to yammer on their cell phones on a plane the second the flight attendant says that they can be used again.  It’s especially bizarre on cross-country, red eye flights that arrive on the east coast at 5:30 or 6 am.  Who’s awake to take the call?  
  • People who yammer on their hand-held cell phones when they drive.  Even if they weren’t putting the safety of others at risk, on highways, they usually drive about 15 to 25 km slower than all of the other traffic, and selfishly cause traffic to back up.  
  • People who text and drive.  One can look at the road or look at the screen of their phone, but it’s hard to do both at once.
  • The lack of public information campaigns about talking on hand-helds, texting, and driving in states and provinces that have supposedly outlawed them.  As drivers need to be reminded about the speed limit, they also benefit from occasional reminders about the local mobile phone laws.  
My biggest pet peeve?  The way that traveling makes all of us irritable people who become so focused on our pet peeves, we forget the amazing opportunities that we’ve been given to see new places, meet new people, experience other cultures and, most significantly, stay in touch with people who would have otherwise left our lives.  

It's a situation in which the user experience is overlooked by everyone except the user, because the problems occur--as Rummler and Brache observe--in the "white space" between organizations.  Or more specifically, the black hole that's "not my fault" but isn't anyone else's either.  The next several posts explore three specific travel experiences that are ridden with black holes: airports, trains, and subways.  
Next post:  The Usability of Airports and Planes.  

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