The Accidental Travelers

The opportunity to travel can come when you least expect it (and sometimes under less than ideal circumstances).

For Memorial Day we decided to make a quick trip to Key West, our first after having lived in Florida for nearly two years. We booked a great little place in Miami and on Sunday morning we set off on the 3 hour drive to America’s southernmost point. I’d love to say that the drive was uneventful but an accident shut down the Overseas Highway for several hours, leaving us to make new friends and watch tarpons swim by as we waited for it to reopen. When we finally arrived, we had missed our chance to visit Ernest Hemingway’s house, one of the only things I was really looking forward to. (Baby’s Coffee was the other and fortunately we were able to make it there before closing). Though Key West will never be my destination of choice, I’m really glad we went.

While we were exploring the Keys, my mother was on a vacation of her own in North Carolina. She had driven the more than 600 miles there by herself and was just days away from coming home when she had a medical emergency that landed her in the ER. By the time she called me, she was beyond upset and scared by the thought of driving home. It took me all of about 3 seconds to tell her that we were on the way.

I’d love to say that a lot more thought went into figuring out how we would get there, get her and her car back to TN, and then ourselves back home but it didn’t. I spent the next hour arranging a pet sitter and booking the cheapest flights I could find from Tampa to Fayetteville, NC. The rest I decided to “wing it” as we went along. Angie spent that same time making peanut butter sandwiches.

We arrived at the tiny Fayetteville airport the next afternoon, where we thought we’d try our hand at hitchhiking. Ok, so it wasn’t so much hitchhiking as it was just asking fellow travelers if they were going our direction. But that didn’t pan out so we took a cab to the hotel where my mom was staying.

As a side note, I want to say a special thanks to the staff at the Red Roof Inn in Fayetteville. When they realized my mom wasn’t well, they went out of their way to take extra special care of her. The housekeepers brought her favorite Diet Cokes (even though there was no Diet Coke in the vending machine) and the maintenance man drove her to breakfast in his golf cart. Needless to say, my belief in Southern Hospitality has been restored.

Road trip
Road Trip!

The Red Roof Inn had a great breakfast and we were able to get a few snacks for the 10-hour road trip from Fayetteville to Gallatin. That drive was largely uneventful, with the minor exception of taking the wrong road twice, so by the time we pulled into her driveway my mom was feeling much like her old self again. We were happy to have her home but that left us with the dilemma of how to get ourselves home.

I believe we may have downloaded every travel app known to man in our search for cheap transportation. When we were priced out of airfare, we looked at rental cars; but with the expensive drop charges for traveling one-way, that wasn’t an option either. It was finally settled that we would take the bus.

I’ve read about people traveling by bus and I guess in my mind, I had more romantic notions about bus travel. I laugh now at how truly unromantic an overnight trip on a Greyhound really is. If you think airlines never arrive on time, try the bus! We were an hour late leaving Nashville and 2 hours late leaving Atlanta.  For 16 hours, we rolled down the road, stopping periodically to change buses or let the driver take a restroom break and just like an airline pilot, somehow our driver miraculously managed to make it to Tampa on time. But alas, buses arrive at bus stations and our car was 8 miles away at the airport. I love my home state of Florida but there’s just no way I’d ever ask a stranger for a ride at a bus station in Tampa! So once again we took a cab.

In four days, we traveled 2,302 miles by car, plane, bus, and cab and spent approximately $600 (on transportation and meals for two)…a small price to pay to spend a few unplanned days on a road trip with my mom.

My mom in Hawaii (2005)
My mom in Hawaii (2005)

Being able to drop everything and go to my mom’s rescue reaffirmed for me that moving to Florida was a good decision, as was adopting a minimalist lifestyle. It also helped me sort out a few thoughts I’d been having about travel in general. There’s never going to be a good time to go on an adventure or even just a vacation. Something will always get into your head to make you think you should stay home – be it work, pets, social commitments, or money. For some months now we’ve been telling ourselves that Hawaii is such a big, expensive trip that we need to forego any other trips that we might want to take – particularly another cruise. Sitting on my mom’s couch looking at travel sites made me realize that we love to go places and when we aren’t going places, we feel frustrated, stressed, and all manner of out of sorts. The few days away from all of our perceived obligations put this into perspective for me. I could die tomorrow with a “vacation fund” sitting in the bank or we could use that fund for what it was intended. Money is just paper. It comes and goes in life and if you wait until you have “enough” for everything you want to do, you’ll find that you’ve spent years not doing anything.

That very afternoon we booked a cruise.

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