Our family of 5 recently returned from a trip to Western Maryland to visit family. Any parent with littles who have to travel via plane knows the feeling of dread and uncertainty of making it there and back alive. While our family is blessed with 4 out of 5 great travelers, I am not one of them. Allow me to reflect on some our highlights and lowlights from our trip.
Since this cross country excursion was about a reunion with my husband’s side, he was the one tasked with making travel arrangements. Always searching to save a buck, he took a chance on booking us an overnight flight from San Francisco to Dulles Airport, neglecting to note the time change and that we would have 3 kids (5 and under), 1 car seat, 2 booster seats, 2 carry-ons, 1 large suitcase, 5 travel neck pillows, a diaper bag, a laptop and a half empty can of $9 airport Pringles to lug around the airport when we landed at 6am ET (or 3am our time). But you guys, we saved $52 by booking an overnight flight! (-$9 for the airport Pringles, -$25 for checking our second carry-on because we ran out of hands = $18 savings! #winningbigly)-
We had a plan of action that was no fail: We would all sleep the entire duration of the flight, wake up refreshed and excited to be in a new state, quickly and swiftly pick up our prepaid rental car and drive 2 hours to our destination and live happily ever after. WRONG!
We didn’t take into account:
- The lady in front of us who kept her 1900 mega-watt Costco sized reading light on the entire flight.
- The gentleman next to me who noshed on the world’s noisiest bag of macadamia nuts for several hours.
- Announcements from the captain.
- Someone else’s screaming infant.
- A grown man kicking the back of my seat.
- The overwhelming smell of hairspray as “Glamour Shots Gal” a few rows ahead of us teased her hair to a cruising altitude of 4ft.
While our kids slept a decent portion of the flight and woke up upon landing with adorable excitement and awe of the humidity, my husband and I had not slept a wink and became anxious for the long day stretched out before us once we landed. At least it would be 5:00 sooner in this time zone!
While exiting the aircraft I’m made aware that the plane cleaners have a big job ahead of them to remove the sticky residue of Suave Naturals Hairspray on the seatbacks of rows 13 and 14 from Glamour Shots Gal. We make our way to baggage claim, my kids dragging their blankets across 16,000 square feet of Terminal 2 where zillions of germs have traveled, when things start to look up: I see a Starbucks!
We strategically load a cart with our belongings and I bribe my oldest to deal with a roller bag so I can use one hand to sip my precious coffee while pushing a stroller my daughter refuses to sit in that is now brimming with neck pillows. 4 minutes into our walk to the rental car operation, my coffee begins to “work” and I’m suddenly clenching my butt cheeks while my tired eyes search frantically for a restroom where I can relieve the pressure. “There! Up ahead! I need to stop!!” My husband turns to look at me annoyed that he lost his stride then sees my flushed cheeks and my awkward gait and nods. OMG there is a line. NO!!!!!!! My tummy gurgles and churns as I inch my way closer to the stainless steel stall of safety. Finally, I’m able to mask the release of pressure on my bowels with the sound of flushing and timely hand dryers that roar at 9 decibels inches away from the infant changing station. I step out of the restroom, a brand new woman, and lead the way to the car rental 3lbs lighter and unstoppable even with a fragment of 1ply toilet paper stuck between my cheeks! STOP! I left my cellphone on top of the toilet paper dispenser in the bathroom and we have to go back…fast forward ahead 17 minutes and we are riding a shuttle bus with screws and bolts that vibrate and spin as we venture to “Dollar car rental” where we are certain to get nothing but the best! My husband is saving us dozens of dollars so far on this trip and it’s quite attractive. We load up our troops and luggage and set out to the open road in our sexy Dodge Caravan with no Bluetooth capability and only Contemporary Christian music stations programmed. Life is good!
It’s now 6:18am local time and our first stop is for more caffeine so we can safely drive the 300 miles to Grandma’s house. A few hours and 3 separate bathroom stops later, we are in the rolling hills of Western Maryland and pull into what will turn out to be the best surprise of my husband’s vacation planning: a 2 star Ramada Inn. “This town looks so different from when I was here as a kid.” my husband says as we coast into our parking spot surrounded by elderly chainsmokers. My middle kid walks through their cloud of smoke shouting, “Put out those fire stick, will ya?!”. Doesn’t get much better than this, folks! OR DOES IT?? At this point we are moments away from discovering this hotel’s pool is closed for maintenance, the hotel is 30 ft from a busy freight train that runs all hours of the day and night, an elevator is out of order and a sign will be posted stating the water will be shut off for approximately 8 hours on the last day of our stay – what’s not to like about this place? Nothing but the best for our family! Only 4 more nights of these restful accommodations…
While our trip was not ideal, we did manage to make some great memories with family we rarely get to see outside of Facebook. I also achieved an award for traveling to 4 different states in 5 days in search of Starbucks. Life in the Appalachians is starkly different than Bay Area California but the important part about our adventure is that we got there and back together. Our kids got to watch cannons being fired at Antietam and we saw some incredible thunderstorms that simply don’t happen in our neck of the woods. I learned my kids are way more flexible and receptive to change than I am and perhaps most importantly, we were fortunate enough to afford this time away even with all the lumps and bumps we endured along the way. Whether your family enjoys a staycation, goes overseas or travels under less fortunate circumstances, please remember that life zooms by and to make the most of it. Maybe what screws things up the most is the picture we have in our heads of how things are supposed to be. Maybe the good and the bad parts of our journey work together to prepare us for what’s to come. All I know is, if you have a choice to stay in a hotel that is not a Ramada Inn, you should take it.