Thursday, May 14, 2015

Guest Post: Lessons Learned From Road Trip Mishaps

If you are a regular reader, you may or may not have noticed that things have been rather quiet around here over the last couple of weeks. Not to worry, however, because the reason for my sudden silence is a good one. I've been traveling. Like, really traveling, y'all. Over the last ten days I've been on the longest and best trip ever to London, Paris, and back to London once again. For proof of this adventure, please see the above picture of me looking rather dignified while sitting on a canal at the Palace of Versailles.

Anyway, because I'm still out and about galavanting across the globe, I asked a travel expert to take over my blog this week. Ashley, who writes a blog called Under The Ash Tree, is here today to talk about some lessons she's learned through America's favorite form of travel: road trips. Take it away, Ashley!

Road Trip Mishaps:
A Guest Post from Under The Ash Tree

There are few things I love more than starting a Road Trip. As a kid from a big family, road trips were our jam. Each summer, the ten of us (yes, ten!) would pile into our 12-seater van, our dogs jumping from seat to seat, our luggage crammed into any available space, an audiobook (usually Harry Potter) playing to keep us entertained, and we would drive somewhere for a week. My sister, Ally, and I always took the back, because then we’d each get two seats, we’d sit with our backs against windows, our feet stretched out alongside each other and we’d grab as many pillows as we could and create a giant, pillow-y bed, to nap or read. Eventually, one of our brothers would get jealous of our extra space and start complaining. Names would be called, tears would spill, and our mother would outlaw talking for the next hour. This would be repeated for the remainder of the week.

As an adult, road trips have remained my favorite way to travel. The smells of summer and vacation are sunscreen and gasoline, and to me nothing beats the exhilaration of putting together the perfect playlist, buying mass amounts of unhealthy road trip snackage (Corn Nuts & Beef Jerky, anyone?) and heading out on the road knowing that anything can happen.

Then again, that’s one of the main problem with road trips. Anything can happen, unlike planes and trains, in automobiles no one is in charge of your trip other than you. If your flight get cancelled, you call Delta, but if your car stops working or you run out of gas, there is no one to blame, but yourself...or your your road trip companion. Luckily, I made a list of a few road trip mistakes I’ve witness/made so now you don’t have to!

Know What Day Your Are Getting To Your Destination

In 2011, I studied abroad in Florence, Italy. It was a dream semester and I while I was there I managed to convince my parents to come visit. My parents aren’t the most adventurous humans. My mother hates being lost, so when she does travel, she has to know every second of the itinerary. Sometimes it’s helpful, usually it’s annoying, but I wanted them to come so I let her make the plans. She planned a road trip from Rome to Venice to Florence, which was pretty unlike her as driving in foreign country is not something she does. But she told Dad if he got an automatic car with a GPS she would be okay with it.

My mother is also a bit paranoid of flying (sometimes I wonder how we’re related) and—long story short—my parents don’t fly together just in case something unspeakable happens. My dad always gets in first, so I met him at the Rome airport 5 hours before my mother landed. We decided it made the most sense to go get the car so that when Mom arrived, we could go explore immediately. My father gave his name to the attendant so she could check him in.

She typed, stopped, typed again and looked up at him:

“Sir, you rented the car for yesterday,” she said in a thick Italian accent.
My father looked at her and said quite calmly, “No, I rented it for today.”
“No.” She said curtly, and motioned for the guy behind us to come up to the desk. I felt frantic, but Dad stayed calm pulling out his phone, switching on the WiFi and checking.
“Oh” was all he said.
“What?” I snapped at him.
“I booked that car for Saturday.” I stared at him and we looked back the lady who was ignoring us now.
“Excuse me, Mama” Dad said politely, “There was a misunderstanding, is the car we rented still here or if not can we make a new reservation”
“Sir, this is Easter in Rome. There are no cars.” Both us had forgotten that it was the holiest day in Italy. Now, we were both frantic. We bolted from stand to stand asking for a car, any car at any price. None of it mattered to Dad, he just wanted a car and he wanted it before mom got here and realized his mistake. Finally, we found one. It was three-times as expensive as the one Dad had pre-ordered online, it was older, it was manual and it had no GPS. But he didn’t care. He threw his credit card on table, signed the paperwork and headed out.

“Just don’t tell Mom.”

Ask Someone for Directions

On the same trip to Italy, in the same five hours before we had to pick up Mom, my dad and I decided to take a mini-road trip around Rome before she got in. We were stressed from the car insanity and just wanted to get away. We decided to try and find the Colosseum. It took about an hour to get away from the airport and another 20 minutes to find a gas station with a map, but with three hours to spare, we set out on the one main highway that circles around Rome. It was beautiful: the vast Italian mountains, the small towns, all on the outskirts of the major city. There was some traffic it was Easter after all, but we kept driving looking for the exit that would get us to the center of the city. Forty-five minutes later, we stopped to get gas and take pictures. I went inside to grab a coke and, as I was paying, I asked the shopkeeper (in my limited Italian) where the Colosseum was. He looked confused, so I took the map out and pointed to the highway and pointed to the Colosseum. He shook his head and pointed to Vicovaro, a small town about 40 miles outside of Rome.

“No we’re headed to the Colosseum” I said in English.

“Yes, but you are in Vicovaro.”

I froze for a moment, paid for the coke and ran back to the car.

“WE HAVE TO TURN AROUND!” I yelled as I jumped in and Dad and I sped back towards the airport, our Colloseum dreams vanishing. We showed up an hour late to the airport between my jet lagged dad and my cranky mother, I immediately regretting having them visit. It ultimately ended up being a blast, but that first day was a disaster.

Keep Up With Car Maintenance

I learned how important oil changes are the summer of 2010. My family had just moved back to New York, and I was spending the summer in Ohio, working. My parents had four cars and had driven two of them back east, but they wanted to get the other cars back as well. So Brandon and I volunteered to drive them in trade for getting to keep one of the cars for the summer. We decided to extend our trip, road tripping up to Maine and then back to Ohio, since Brandon had never been so far east before. After we dropped the other car off in New York, we began our trip. It was pretty easy-going for the most part; we spent our days driving around from Cape Cod to Boston to Maine, we slept at janky motels and ate more lobster than was probably good for us. On the last day of trip, we decide to push through the night. We were going through in Erie, PA and only had about three hours left in the trip when we heard a loud pop and Brandon realized our tire was flat.

We pulled over on the pitch-black highway, called the cops so we’d have a little bit of light, and Brandon, the car guru, went to change the tire. It wouldn’t budge. He pulled it, kicked it, and finally got the cop to give him a sledge hammer which allowed him to yank it off. He changed it, but our dummy tire wasn’t going to cut it for nearly 200 miles, so we found a hotel and decided to go to a shop for a tire change in the morning. The next morning, though, was a Sunday and the only “mechanic” open was Walmart. On our way, our engine started making a funny click, we were a bit concerned, but figured it was something to do with the tire. At Walmart, the guy gave us a new tire and then told us our other front tire was weak and would probably go flat. He had the same troubles getting the wheel off as Brandon had had the night before, but this time he was completely unable to get it off. He told us he didn’t think it would make it back to Columbus. I called my Dad and he suggested we spend one more night in Erie. We also decided to get an opinion on that clicking sound. Everything seemed to be running fine so we hoped it was just something minor or a part that was rattling loose.

It wasn’t. The next day, at an actual mechanic, we learned the wheels were not the main problem, but that the engine noise was, in fact, the end of our engine’s life. I cried and called my dad and he promised that I wouldn’t have to move to Erie. They ended up completely replacing the engine and keeping the structure of the car, B and I ended up spending a week in Erie while they found a decent engine and fixed everything which actually turned out pretty fun. However, if we had just gotten our oil changed a few weeks earlier, we probably could have just gone home. 

Plan For Traffic

Brandon and I were road tripping up from North Carolina back to Westchester to spend the fourth of July with my family. We probably should have left earlier, but we were convinced we could do the drive in one day and make it back in time for fireworks. After all, who goes on a road trip on the 4th of July?

As it turns out, lots of people do. That night, we sat in 4 hours of traffic on the Manhattan bridge, not moving, cranky, and sullen because my family was all together and I was here in a car. The sun set, and the fireworks began. We sat in the car on the Manhattan Bridge watching the fireworks of Fourth of July, both horrified that this was how we were to spend our holiday and a bit happy because no one could get as close to these fireworks as we were in that moment.

How do you plan ahead for a successful road trip?

For more from Ashley, check out her blog, Under The Ash Tree!

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