Q: What do you do if you find out someone you cannot stand is going on vacation to the same place you are?
A: For starters, you make up your mind not to let it ruin your vacation. So what if your obnoxious ex-boyfriend will be in Rome when you're there? Rome is big enough for both of you. Don't waste time worrying about running into him, because you probably won't. If you do — fine, you suffer through an awkward five-minute conversation, then go your separate ways. Not a big deal.
It gets more complicated if it's someone who knows you'll be there simultaneously and likes your company a whole lot more than you do theirs. If Clingy Claire from your Pilates class thinks it'd be awesome to hang out together 24/7, you have a bigger problem. I'd suggest arranging to meet up with her once — it won't kill you if it's short. And if you phrase it right, you can make it clear that you intend to follow your own agenda: "I'd love to meet up for coffee one morning while we're both in Rome — my itinerary's pretty packed, but I could do either the 7th or the 9th."
Q: What should you do when you're seated next to an unpleasant-smelling person on a plane? Over the holidays, I was in the middle seat beside a guy who just, for lack of better phrasing, stank. Is there anything a traveler can do to make breathing a little easier in these situations?
A: This is a tough question. If the flight's not full, you could move to a different seat, but it's not like you can light a scented candle or open a window on a plane. You wouldn't want to go to the bathroom and dowse yourself in perfume, either, because that could bother other passengers as much as Smelly Dude's B.O. bothers you. And unfortunately, even if there were a tactful way to tell someone he stinks, planes don't have showers.
So we need another option… and I think I have it. We need to bring back pomanders. You know, pomanders — those little necklaces that held a bit of perfume, or even something like an orange studded with cloves — that people used back in the Middle Ages. If it helped then — when people routinely dumped chamber pots in the street — then it should perfect for air travel.
If you're stuck next to someone who doesn't believe in deodorant, you take a whiff of your pomander. Seated next to a broken lavatory? Break out the pomander. Someone's eating clam chowder? Pomander time again. Now, an actual pomander might be rather hard to come by, but a tiny container of solid perfume would work, or even a nice-smelling lip balm. When your seatmate's stench is overwhelming, take it out and (discreetly) enjoy a bit of a respite.
Q: I miss the days of going on vacation and being completely unreachable. That's pretty rare now, except if you're on safari or something. Is it polite to say sorry, everybody, I'm on vacation, I'm not checking e-mail, and unless the office is actually burning down, don't even try calling my cell phone?
A: Sure (although I'm not really sure what they'd expect you to do from afar if the office were on fire — unless you're, like, Superman). In fact, I think it's much better to be up front about this than to pretend you're going somewhere with "spotty coverage" when you're actually taking your kids to Disney World. Just make sure you leave things in good shape when you go — and be prepared to dig out from under a mountain of e-mail when you return.
Lesley Carlin has been writing about travel and etiquette professionally for more than 10 years. As one of the Etiquette Grrls, she is the co-author of "Things You Need to Be Told" and "More Things You Need to Be Told" (Berkley). Have a travel etiquette question of your own? E-mail Lesley at firstname.lastname@example.org.