Editor’s note: John Rice is taking time off this week. Please enjoy this column from July 2005 and think of warmer places.

Before you buy bargain airline tickets, check to see how many ear-popping landings and takeoffs you’ll have to endure to reach your destination.

On our recent jaunt to San Francisco, I logged enough flight time to qualify for an airline pension.

I think the problem was the airline we flew, I don’t want to reveal its name, would only fly in one direction-southwest. And San Francisco, being the terminus of Interstate 80, is due west of Chicago. So, on our way there, we got to visit Phoenix and San Diego.

Bargain air travel mistake number one was not eating a hearty breakfast before takeoff. All they served us for the next nine hours was peanuts and Diet Coke. Our second mistake was not bringing any reading material. I read the Sharper Image catalogue and was convinced we needed a waterproof CD player for the shower. By the time we reached San Fran, I was intently reading breast enhancement exercises in “Mademoiselle.”

Beware of budget car rental companies. After we de-planed, we found ourselves waiting in an anaconda-length line for a rental car. Once again, I don’t want to identify the rental agency but their name implies that you can rent a car for a dollar. Yeah, sure.

When we finally made it to the rental counter, we asked for the mid-sized car we’d reserved. In a moment right out of “Seinfeld,” the agent told us they were out of mid-sized cars. He offered us a Ford Mustang convertible instead. Alright, shades of Steve McQueen flying over the hills of San Francisco-for $20 more a day. No, I guess we’ll take the mini-van for the mid-sized price.

Naturally, I’m giving completely the wrong impression of what was a glorious trip. San Francisco is way more beautiful than Chicago. That’s because it has hills. Hills are changes in elevation that allow you to look up and down-not just straight ahead. Everywhere you looked there were great views of the ocean and bay.

The food there was fantastic. The average restaurants seemed to have better quality than the best restaurants in Chicago. What we enjoyed most about the restaurants was what wasn’t there-smoke. Smoking is banned in all California restaurants and bars.

Now, I’m not exactly a virulent anti-smoker. But I also don’t enjoy eating smoke with my food. Some of our eating establishments in Forest Park are very smoky and they should do something about it. I know a ban on smoking sounds radical. But consider we sat in a smoke-free Irish pub in San Francisco. Can you imagine all those Irishmen sipping their Guinness and nibbling their fish and chips without a cigarette chaser? Well, it can be done and it makes for a much more pleasant experience.