I love a good road trip. Always have. I used to love piling into my parents station wagon as a kid with all my siblings and driving down (from CT) to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, or up to the Cape, or VT for skiing. Just staring out the windows and taking in the movement of the changing scenery, and the little things that count like pit stops for strawberry milkshakes from McDonald’s, or napping in a sleeping bag in the back of the car. I remember those trips so vividly. Then there were all the road trips in college – driving back and forth to my alma mater in the mid-west, the cross-country trips with friends, blasting Neil Young or the Rolling Stones all the way like we were invincible. There’s a sense of carefreeness one gets from a road trip like nowhere else. It can be the best of times. But when a road trip goes south, or comes along unplanned, it can be your worst nightmare. Especially with kids in the mix.
Such was the case with my family (my husband and two girls) a couple of years ago in Florida in early January when we suddenly happened upon an “unplanned” road trip. I briefly referred to it in my post When Travel Goes Awry, and said I’d circle back round to it at some point. Having just recently been to Florida at the same time of year, I found myself thinking about it. It was a Sunday and we were supposed to catch a morning Jet Blue flight from Ft. Myers, FL back to NYC. Vaca was over. There were a series of storms – where, I can’t remember – that set everything back. So far back that flights started being cancelled left and right, and when all was said and done we couldn’t get a flight out of FL – from anywhere, not even Tampa – until four days later. The airport was complete chaos. People were freaking out, stranded for days, some even up to a week. We had never seen anything like it. People literally could not get out of the state of Florida. Facebook posts started popping up by the numbers saying “guess we’ll be playing hooky and enjoying the sunshine for another week!” Sounds amazing, right? That was not our fate.
My husband had important client meetings he couldn’t miss, and turned to me and said, you can stay if you want, but I’m driving. To New York? Yes. I almost stayed. But then I said I’d go. He had done the math and if we rented a car in the next hour we could get back in time for him to go into the office early Tuesday morning. We turned to the girls and said “road trip!”. They just stared and blinked at us. I think I was blinking too. We’re seriously driving the 34 hour trip from Southern Florida to New York by Monday night? With kids? There would be no time for a South of the Border stop, very quick bathroom and snack stops, dinner would be Subway. We would find a motel and sleep for 7 hours, but no longer. If we were going to do this, it had to be done right, and fast. Not in a dangerous let’s speed kind of way. But in a this means business kind of way. So we rented a car and set off.
Honestly, the trip wasn’t terrible. It wasn’t great, but I guess it could have been worse. The girls somehow behaved beyond our expectations. Thank god for I pads is all us parents say now in regards to travel, and it’s true. We would have been screwed without ours. It was more the situation that was the hellish part – dealing with the airport chaos, trying to desperately book a flight from our phones, dealing with the car rental lines. And most of all dealing with the realization that we weren’t flying out of FL anytime soon, and suddenly having an unexpected road trip upon us… with kids in tow. And the motel where we stayed at too. Gross! I don’t know, but about 3 days after we got back we all came down with the worst flu/cold ever. We blamed it on the motel. The road trip part was pretty uneventful, the worst part just being that it was really boring since we weren’t making any stops, and because of that, the occasional desperate, panicked search for a bathroom And also the trip was exhausting. Driving and driving and driving with no diversion can be taxing. That was actually probably the worst part. So maybe I shouldn’t have entitled this post Road Trip From Hell. But it certainly wasn’t from heaven.
We did have a final last mishap when we pulled into our town and were returning the car – completely delirious – and suddenly they said they couldn’t find us in their computer system. That’s when I almost blew through the roof. We were so close to being home and in bed, and had to wait what seemed like an eternity. But when we finally did arrive back home and were getting out of the car my younger daughter, who was 4 at the time, said “When’s the next road trip?”. She was not undone. Perhaps at this tender young age she felt a hint of carefreeness too.
(Note: Jetblue handled the situation as well as we could have expected. With just a few email exchanges, we received a reimbursement check for everything – flight, car rental, gas, motel, etc.)