Several years ago, Tom and I went to New York. My normal travel style is to over-plan. Tom’s style is to plan very little. On this trip, we were going to Tom’s old stomping grounds, so we booked a hotel for our destination (outside the City, so we could save money), and did the rest by the seat of our pants.
Everything went wrong. And this wasn’t Tom’s fault, by any stretch of the imagination. We ended up spending six hours in a traffic jam on I-80, the last two desperately needing to get off to find a bathroom and some food. We finally got off the parking lot near Williamsport, Pennsylvania to find that the nearest hotel was completely booked (we did find a bathroom, however). We drove some 10 miles in the foggy dark to pay about 30% more than we typically would for a moderate hotel.
We got into New Jersey (I did say we booked a hotel outside the city, right?) to find that we didn’t like the location as much as we thought we might. Tom’s memories of New York were some 20 years old by this time, and my bargain-hunting was a little too aggressive. We made plans to see a “friend” perform in a club in SOHO, but he never showed, and the band that performed that night was not our “friend’s” band. Oh, and the other friend we planned to meet in town was stuck in Washington DC.
I did, however, discover how Tom developed his unique driving style which was ideally suited to New York City driving. His parking style, however, was too renegade even for New York, a fact which was demonstrated by the parking tickets proudly displayed on our car.
By the third day of hanging around New York, I wasn’t precisely sad to take our friend up on the offer to host us in Maryland…. Although the drive down to Maryland in a rain storm that seemed to follow us all the way down the coast was pretty scary. Once there, we discovered that our friend lived a lifestyle that was incompatible with hosting. He had a huge fight with his girlfriend in front of us, and then left us to mind dinner while he took a nap, not realizing that Tom would leave the potatoes in the oven after they were done.
A day or so later, we headed home, where we discovered this amazing steak house in Western Maryland (probably long closed), and I was awed by the way the scenery appeared from the road. It gave me time to think about the good things that happened during the vacation.
1) I had my first egg cream.
2) I learned how to understand the geography that is New York.
3) I saw many of the places that Tom lived and experienced in his youth.
4) I had a great beef stroganoff in the East Village.
5) We toured the Brooklyn Museum.
6) I stood on the remains of the World Trade Center and contemplated how much the world had changed.
Tom and I had a great adventure, even if it was not the vacation I would have planned for us. Today’s Star Tribune has another story of a vacation that didn’t quite go as planned. The New York Times’ Frugal Traveler has an epic story of a Puerto Rican adventure gone bad.
I think the takeaway is that no trip goes entirely as planned, unless you have very few aspirations. Every vacation that I’ve gone on has been waylaid by mysterious illness, sore feet, and the desire to skip whatever plans I might have. Other causes of disturbance are poor planning, bad weather, and just plain bad luck (I’ve had restaurants that I’ve been dying to try close due to a fire the night before my reservations).
The key seems to be to plan well, be flexible, and if you are planning on visiting friends, limit your dependence upon your friends for transportation and entertainment. You may want to establish some plans with your friends before you arrive, and then figure out some stuff that you can do without them. Oh, and you probably will want a little extra money in your budget for unplanned emergencies.
More than once, Tom and I have had to spend an extra night on the road due to weather. Two or three times, I’ve had flights cancelled and been forced to spend an extra night at an airport hotel. Even when the hotel was paid for by the airline, the extra meal wasn’t.
Above all, try to find adventure in your misadventure.