YOU COULD LOOK at it two ways. It was only a blouse (the hotel's view) or only an $80 blouse (my view). A small distinction, perhaps, but a key one when the article in question is returned loking as if it's been pressed under wax paper.
Of course, they were sorry. And of course, the fine print on the cleaning collection sheet did read "all articles are sent at guest's risk."
What I should have done was hand-wash the thing and iron it myself. On my next trip I did -- even though, as usual, I hadn't stuffed either iron or ironing board into my suitcase.
The hotel provided them -- that hotel and the one after and a high percentage of all the ones in this country I've stayed in since. To be certain, I've learned to ask ahead. But as labor costs skyrocket and do-it-yourself travelers increase in number, American hotels and some foreign hotels are more and more given to joining rather than fighting guests who take up light laundry work. For the most part, they'll hand over pressing equipment free of charge and smile while they do it. And that's just one of the "secrets of the well-trained traveler."
For example, I don't think it took me more than three or four trips around the world to figure out that airlines flying in and out of Third World cities in particular are only fooling when they say, "Check-in two hours before flight time." If you fail to dig out exactly how early the check-in desk opens and get there at least 20 minutes in advance, you can be sure of one thing: You're dead.
Invariably the prime minister's second cousin and his family of 20 have decided to travel on the same flight. Therefore all but the first dozen people in line can bet money on being bumped, since no doubt the plane was vastly oversold anyhow.
At many older hotels and resorts (and even some new ones), the lone traveler sooner or later makes another discovery. "Single" rooms tend to be bottom of the barrel. Those not directly adjoining the service elevators must have once served as storage closets. Eventually it becomes clear that it doesn't hurt to ask, "What's the single rate on a double room?"
This should bring about a pause in conversation and possibly the divulgence of useful information -- like how big a single room is or isn't as well as how double rooms differ.
You don't even have to be particularly well-trained to get on the trail of another travel "secret." The first time you spot an error on your hotel bill but are in too big a rush to get a correction, it will probably come to you that settling your account the night before has a lot to recommend it. This also gives you plenty of time for pholosophical discussions in case you come across creative types who believe in adding taxes on top of service charges or, alternatively, a service charge on the tax.
When you find for the 81st time that you're departing from foreign parts with some of the country's currency as an unwanted souvenir, you're close to learning another secret: Hotel bills can be paid with a combination of cash and credit cards. (It should be obvious. For some reason, though, some of us aren't as quick as we think we are.)
Certain cynics believe if anything can go wrong, it will. Well, it's possible. Even so, a key secret of the well-trained traveler is that panic will not help; cool is the only way to go. Instead of thundering, "What do you mean you don't have the room I reserved?" it may be smarter, for instance, to look stricken and say, "But my wife's (husband's) doctor is going to be calling here to tell me about the operation."
For those who venture far afield and try to save by eating in less-than-deluxe restaurants where not a soul speaks English, there's the trial-and-error method of ordering. However, in the end it's easier and safer to learn the names of dishes or ingredients you can't abide.
For price-watchers, a reasonable way to get the lay of the land in living costs is to sample a local beer in the bar of the best hotel around. When the check is presented, you pretty much know if it's good-news or bad-news territory and can plot your way of life to suit. Of course, if you're staying at a hotel with room service, a look at that menu is an equally good tipoff on the kinds of eating and drinking adjustments you may want to make.
While it is true that all airlines currently love and cherish you, it is equally true that they're hip-high in economy moves. What this means is that if you're making a fairly complicated trip with several plane changes, try to stick with one airline. You might save a little time by switching carriers, but you could also lose a little leverage in the event of a disastrous delay. When they're not sharing you, carriers are sometimes inclined to be more helpful, and you might even pick up a fringe benefit like a free transfer if you have to change airports.
There are a sizable number of publications that can help people with special interests to make sure that, when they go places, they don't miss things. Others can point you in directions you might like to go but didn't know existed.
The traveling fan of musical events can find a friend in the "International Guide to Music Festivals" (Quick Fox, $6.95 in bookstores), which bulges with vital information on who has what and approximately, if not precisely, when. That's in Europe, Asia, North and South America. The roundup covers all the big folk, bluegrass, classical and jazz doings with addresses for inquiries plus lodging and ticket information.
Since there is life beyond festivals, though, the rock and jazz crowd can collect another set of directions from "Honky Tonkin'" by Richard Wooten (East Moods Press, $6.95). It's the author's choice in the way of blue ribbon nightspots and jazz joints' all over the country. There's a further fill-in on best places to shop for records.
Those who would pack their Cusinarts and head for a cooking school are in a better position to find and assess these with Judith Bell's "Guide to U.S. Cooking Schools" ($7.95 including postage from Dorn Communications Inc., 7101 York Ave. S., Minneapolis, Mn. 55435), which lays out information on some 75 possibilities.
Alternatively, you could send a self-addressed stamped envelope to the Association of Cooking Schools, 1001 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20036, and get a list of member schools in the geographic area that interests you. The 2-year-old association has more than 400 members and is working towards setting national standards. Evaluations aren't available and "membership doesn't mean they're necessarily great but that they're willing to expose themselves to their peers," says a spokeswoman.
Those who like food may also like wine. If so, for 25 cents they can get the 32-page Wine Tour Guide. It's put out by the Association of American Vintners, Box 84G, Watkins Glen, N.Y. 14891, and has maps for 21 growing areas east of the Rocky Mountains, along with names, addresses and phone numbers of 230 wineries. It tells of special events and touring rules, too.
The Department of Interior has put together a free guide to sources for authentic Indian crafts. They're trading spots with a twist in that they're all owned and operated by Indians. This book is actually a booklet so it's small enough to take with you and especially useful if you're traveling in Alaska or any of the Western states. For a copy write for "Sources Directory," Indian Arts and Crafts Board, Room 4004, Dept. of the Interior, Washington, D.C. 20240.
At the same time, if you're seriously following Indian trails, you certainly should spend a few dollars to get the "Indian Country USA Travel Planner" ($4.45 postpaid from the American Indian Travel Commission, P.O. Box 26268, Lakewood, Colo. 80226). It's the most complete guide around to special events, campgrounds, resorts and other lodgings, museums and attractions either affiliated with or owned by American Indians.
If it's beginning to get through to you that a more energy efficient (read "cheaper") means of travel may be required in your future, maybe it's time for you to contact the League of American Wheelmen, Inc., P.O. Box 988, Baltimore, Md. 21203.
The wheels referred to are two in number rather than four; the League pushes bicycle touring, and $15 gets you a year's membership and a monthly magazine that features the most comprehensive calendar of cycling events there is. You receive a directory that lists local clubs (whose outings you might join), touring information directors who'll help plan a route -- and "hospitality homes" where fellow members put you up overnight for free, possibly on the floor but at least indoors.
If you've seen the movies ("Amateur archeologist on volunteer assignment in exotic locale digs through dirt and finds lost treasure of the Oxo Boxos") and it's whetted your appetite for the real thing, what to do then?
Well, the first step surely must be to send $3.50 for the Archeological Institute of America's Fieldwork Opportunities Bulletin. The 1981 edition telling of digs that accept extra hands will be out in January. According to the editors, the bulk of upcoming opportunities will be here in this country, in about 20 states including Hawaii, but others will be as far afield as Africa and Asia. It will all be revealed if you write to 53 Park Place, Room 802, New York, N.Y. 10007.
These days those who seek can find nearly everything, including some unique travelers aids.