Category Archives: travel

We may have vomited, but we also saw the Queen.

A family trip took us to London last week. Once I got over the horrors of packing and getting myself to the airport — the cab ride to JFK might’ve been longer than the flight itself — the trip was pretty lovely. The low point was when my youngest caught the stomach flu and spent the entire night puking into a trashcan in our Airbnb. The high point was the family event that took us to London. And this: As we arrived at Buckingham palace just as HRH was leaving. We got this picture.

There was some turbulence on the way back, and I grabbed my 12-year-old’s arm and screamed, “we’re all going to die!” But I’m trying not to think about that right now. I’m also trying not to think about the fact that four months into this project and I’m still cooking dinner like this:It’s still good to be home. It always is.

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Why I am a Bad Traveler, Reason 244.

Invariably, on the night before any trip, I announce to anyone who will listen that maybe it’s best if we don’t go. Would it not be better to stay at home and wear pajamas and fight about whose turn it is to sweep under the table?

Other than missing the cat, the real reason I hate to leave is because I hate to pack… mostly because I am an awful packer. I tend to under-pack and by under-pack I mean forget underwear. I also tend to assume I’m going to want to wear two outfits for about six days straight.

My under-packing does not extend to toiletries. Three quarters of my bag is taken up by bottles which will inevitably leak all over the two outfits that I have brought for six days.

I also do not believe in practical luggage. I like a pretty little bag. Sometimes I like a pretty little bag that doesn’t properly close. I also like a pretty little bag without wheels that I am not able to carry on my own.

I am currently deciding which attractive yet impractical bag to bring with me. Maybe I will bring two.

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What Pics Won’t Tell You: Traveling Sucks.

I am traveling. M is with me. I’m going to spare you details and annoying pics (because, why?), but I’ll share my current revelation: I am a terrible traveler.

While I love being somewhere else, a few things are also true:

1. I suffer from jet lag like an infant, incapable of making sense of the difference in time. Everyone around me is sleeping through the night and almost a week in, I’m wide awake, bumping into things in the dark and swearing under my breath. (It is 2.30 am where I am, and M, God bless his smart-wool socks, is snoring next to me. I am trying to think kind thoughts but it is not easy.) I manage to get on local time at the airport heading home, just in time to spend a good week wide awake on home soil. (M is convinced this is somehow connected to my refusal to change my watch to local time. None of me understands how this is related.)

2. I do not have the stomach of an intrepid food traveler. Not much of a foodie, I can still be tempted (read: shamed) into the occasional food-travel, chasing down some foreign delicacy and letting M take a pic of me eating it. (You will never see the pics — again, why?) This inevitably results in M having to Google late night pharmacies so he can buy everything that looks like Pepto-Bismol while I lie curled on a bathroom floor, sometimes staring up at a bidet.

3. It also turns out that while I like being somewhere else, unless a train is involved, I hate getting there. My kids throw up in relay form when we we get in the car (and the car is the minivan, and nobody has ever been happy in a minivan for over an hour), and as it happens, I don’t like to fly. I used to think I only got nervous at take off and landing, but apparently I’m also anxious at the in between points. (Also, I get one zit for every hour I spend on a plane, so there’s that.)

4. I am lazy and I married the least lazy human alive. Apparently lying in bed watching foreign television (or a personal favorite: old American soaps dubbed in a foreign language which makes me think I spent years studying languages just so I could watch The Bold and the Beautiful all over the world) does not hold a candle to castle tours, walking tours, church tours, you get the drift. Also, a limited attention span does not make for a good member of a group tour. I have about 45 minutes and then I’m ready for a coffee shop or book shop or shoe shop. Again, I’m sure you see where I’m going. (Note to self: Europeans have small feet and you will be shamed if you try to shoe shop. Stick to books and coffee.) I am always appreciative of his enthusiasm and initiative, I just try not go overboard in showing it.

None of this stops me from perusing local real estate, contemplating an expat life, and working out how we will tell the kids we are moving. I’m nothing if not inconsistent. Like I said, I’m more than happy to be somewhere else, as long as I don’t have to fly, eat or sleep through the night.

I should go. We are scheduled for an early morning monastery tour.

I will put up one picture, which confirms my long-held belief that clothes driers are the devil. It seems I am not alone.

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Filed under Summer, travel, Uncategorized

Limp Mode

I ran into a friend this morning. I saw she was on foot with shopping bags. 

“Need a ride?” I asked. 

“No way! I’m not getting into that car!” She replied, casting a derisive eye on the many dents of my blue minivan. 

“It wasn’t my car!” I yelled as I pulled away in shame. 

My friend was referring to my recent 200 mile trip home in a tow truck. As you can see below, the car in question was not my car. 

 
The car in question belonged to my friend, A. The car in question is also brand-spanking new, which we all know my car is most definitely NOT. Earlier this week, A, and I were driving our daughters home from camp. Camp is seven hours away and we drove there without problem. About 4 hours into the drive home, all the lights on the dashboard went on, including the light that could either have been a) the battery, or b) the engine. It’s gone on in my car several times, and I still couldn’t tell you which it is. 

I suspected we should probably stop driving, so I urged A to pull over and call AAA. She wisely told me that we did not need to be stranded on the side of a two-lane highway in Nowhere, Pennsylvania, waiting for AAA to show up, and that we should keep driving until we could get off the highway. At some point the car informed us that things were getting far worse, as it promptly refused to drive over 40 mph, if that. We made it off the highway and pulled into a Valero gas station, where the attendant directed us to the auto shop across the street. 

AAA sent someone who told us that because it was 4.55, the car could not possibly be looked at until the next day, at the earliest. We explained what was happening in the car and he said,

“Yup. Limp Mode.” 

“Huh?” We asked, sure we’d misheard him. 

“Limp mode,” he said nodding to his sidekick, who added, “Limp Mode, alright.”

Limp mode? That sounded suggestive, dirty, and downright unpleasant, but that was all lost on these guys (and a succession of other men who chimed in over the course of the afternoon). (It is worth noting that all the men were quite helpful, even if one had a distracting swollen cheek and black stuff oozing out the corner of his mouth.)

Inside the auto shop sat possibly the least helpful human being in North America, and that includes Florida. As it was now 4.57, she told us that not only could she not help us, but that there was not a single person in town, or in any of the neighboring towns, who could help us. 

“There’s a rental car company in Bumfuck,” she said. But it closes in three minutes.” Big smile. 

I could see this was going nowhere quickly, so we called AAA back and began to do the math. We could either shell out for a hotel room, towing, and possible a rental car while we hung out in Nowhere, PA and waited for the car to be fixed. Or, we could shell out to have the car towed 200 miles home (actually 100 miles, because I got 100 miles covered in my AAA plan. Go AAA Plus!) I thought about the toothless Valero attendant across the street who looked like he wandered off the set of Deliverance. Whenever I went in to stock up on Twizzlers and BBQ potato chips, he smiled strangely and looked at me the way my husband looks at a chicken dinner. I thought it best to get out of town. 

Enter Ryan.  

 
Ryan showed up an hour later and confirmed that the car was, in fact, in Limp Mode.  A was a trooper and gamely drove the car onto the back of his tow truck, and climbed down. Before she could say anything, I called shotgun and jumped in the front seat. She and I both get carsick, but I can’t imagine she suffers anywhere near as much as I do, and besides, I’m taller. Taller people get to choose where they sit. The front seat also gave me a better view of Ryan and a better position from which I could pepper him with questions. 

Here is what I learned: 

1. Ryan had never been to New York. (New York is less than 3 hours away.)

2. Even though he spoke with a strong southern accent, Ryan was born and bred in PA. (I really don’t know how this happens, although I think it may have something to do with all the country music I was forced to listen to.) 

3. Ryan lived in West Virginia for a while and worked in a coal mine. He started to complain about all the safety regulations, but I knew EXACTLY where that was going, so I quickly asked him another question and learned that…

4. The furthest Ryan has driven is Colorado. 

Ryan drank a lot of Mountain Dew and at some point he pulled out of tin of tobacco. For a while my grandfather smoked a pipe, and I actually love the smoky sweet smell of tobacco, but I’ve never seen it chewed before. I tried not to stare. I tried not to crane my neck and gape as Ryan rolled down the window and spat. There was a little piece of me that wanted to taste it to see what all the fuss was about, but I didn’t think it would mix well with my steady diet of Twizzler and BBQ potato chips. (They are the cure-all for car sickness, as long as you eat them continually, without pause, on the journey.) 

We pulled into a rest-stop at the Delware Water Gap and peed. Ryan was giddy with excitement. New York was moments away. I realized that were were headed over the Tappan Zee and not the GW Bridge, and that poor Ryan would not get a shot of the Manhattan skyline. He’d have to settle for downtown White Plains. As it turned out, Ryan had no plans to stick around. Once we’d arrived, taken the car off the tow and paid him, he chugged a couple of Red Bulls and headed back to PA. 

It was close to midnight and we were all fried. At home, I put my eight year old to bed, got undressed, and was glad no one was there to see three potato chips and a third of a Twizzler fall out of my bra. 

Still no word on what was really wrong with the car. Limp Mode, indeed. 

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Filed under AAA, Road trip, Tow trucks, travel

Diner Coffee

Every time someone calls me a snob (something of a thrice a week phenomenon at its slowest), I mutter to myself: “diner coffee.”

That’s right. I’ve travelled. I’ve tasted. Hell, I even lived in Seattle. You can have your espresso-based drinks with foamy whatever-milk. Give me a steaming mug of American diner coffee. In fact, give me 3 mugs of it. No milk. I like it best when I don’t even know my mug is being filled and I can pretend its one loooong cup of coffee.

M and I were on the Jersey Shore this weekend with some friends when I fell upon this:I don’t know what makes diner coffee Jersey-style, but I do know this stuff is roasted in Asbury Park, which brings me one step closer to Springsteen. (Asbury Park, by the way, is definitely worth a visit, even if you don’t worship at the shrine of Bruce.)

The last time I was on the Shore, I ended up on TV. This time I found some coffee. I’m brewing a cup of it in the French press this morning.

Stay tuned. 

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The Next Stop: Home Goods

Once you’ve packed what you think are the entire contents of your home, the second step of summer road tripping (if you survived the car ride), is the trip to Home Goods to buy the things you thought would be in your rented cottage, but aren’t: BEDDING.

Last night at 10.30 pm, when the kids were already a hot mess, we discovered that even know there was a quilt on every bed, there was nothing under the quilt. We made do with what we could find last night and huddled together for warmth, but this morning M. took the boys fishing and the girls and I headed to Home Goods. We thought about Walmart, but it was 20 miles away, and it’s Walmart.

And Walmart, while it has its uses, does not provide your children the opportunity of waiting in the mile-long checkout line and finding things like this to beg you to buy:What the hell would I even do with that?

Or this:DENIED.

Or, Dear Lord, this: Once they have declared you the meanest mother on earth, you shuffle to the checkout, pay and leave. You may not have two sets of press-on nails, but at least you’ll all be warmer tonight.

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Filed under Road trip, Summer, travel, Uncategorized

The many stages of packing. 

For my people, summer travel generally means car travel.  I like the Northeast in the summer. I love the beaches, and I particularly dislike summer air travel. Once in a while we get on a plane, but more often than not, come summer, you can find us in the minivan. Ah, the minivan. I have detailed fantasies about an asteroid taking it out, but last time I checked it’s still here, and 101,000 miles later, we are still tooling around in it. 

With any trip, after the planning (I am bad at that), comes the packing (I am even worse). Everyone knows, that if I am left to pack for all of us, at least ONE person will travel without underwear. Thankfully, on these trips, I can count on the kids to pack themselves. Hell, if they want to travel with underwear, they have no choice; even the little ones have a list. God knows what’s in their bag, but at least I don’t have to pack it. 

Packing is bad, so bad that it comes in stages, like grief. Here are the ones I can think of, so far: 

1. The denial phase: This generally involves me sitting on the floor in my bedroom overwhelmed. Many things in my life have me sitting on the floor of my bedroom overwhelmed, but none more than packing. In this phase, I tell myself that this time will be different. This time I won’t pack 14,000 little bags for myself (M hates this, he especially hates that of the 14,000 little bags I pack for myself, NOT ONE of them zips shut). But I like to put things in little bags because I believe it is easier to find things if they are in little bags. (I also love collecting little bags, and summer travel lets me use them.) I have a shoe bag, a toiletry bag, a book bag. You get the picture. In this phase though, I am completely convinced that this time I will remember my underwear and this time I’ll be more streamlined, because when you travel with 14,000 little bags, you are likely to lose one on the trip. 

2. The kitchen sink phase: This follows pretty quickly, and we are all guilty. I get asked questions like: I just made slime, can I bring it with me? (NO), and When you said three outfits, did you mean six? (NO), and IS THREE FOOTBALLS TOO MANY? (YES). In this phase, the kitchen floor looks something like this:  

 
I don’t even know that the hell is in those bags, but I’m pretty sure we need none of it. This phase also has me emptying out the Stone Age contents of the freezer into a bag to bring with us because if we have yet to eat it at home we are definitely going to eat it on the road.

3. The I hate my children phase: I know they have packed their own bags, but that’s pretty much it. I asked one of them to empty the dishwasher and was turned down, so I had to move down the line. I asked them to empty the garbage. Three times. The garbage, which is bursting forth with crap, has still not been touched. Every so often, I pass by and shove all the crap down so it looks a little less awful, but then someone washes his hands and used 200 paper towels and leaves them all on top… 

 

4. The I really fucking hate my children phase: This phase has me outside, drinking. Ok, it’s usually iced coffee or kombucha (DON’T), but I’m still sitting on the back step, shaking with anger and chugging a cold beverage. Inside, 5 children are all in front of a screen. One is crying because her iPod keeps shutting down and she isn’t sure how she’s going to make the trip. Another is playing some princess shit on MY ipad, which makes me crazy, because there is literally nothing in this house that they don’t touch. One of them asks me why we have to take car trips when other people get to go to Hawaii in the summer. Yeah, says another, how come we’re not going to Hawaii? I just spent 20 minutes wondering from room to room trying to remember what it was I came into the room for, and I am strung out. I try to explain that not only is Hawaii on the other side of the world, but that seven tickets to Hawaii… oh, whatever, they don’t even care. 

5. M’s intervention: At this point in our marriage, he knows better than to tell me I’m wrong or to calm down, so he just reminds me that this trip was my idea. Of course, that never makes things worse. He then tells me to channel friends of ours who never seem to lose their shit. He says, correctly, that these friends of ours would ditch the kids and go for coffee. We look at each other and we both know that if he and I leave the kids and go for coffee, we may never come back. We may even go to Hawaii. 

6. Retreat: At some point, I come back inside the house, and finish up the packing. At some point, the TV is turned off. At some point, our stuff gets in the car, and we follow suit. The children are even moderately helpful – at least some of them are. And at some point, we get on the road and the packing phase ends and the puking phase begins (another story, entirely). 

But nobody ever emptied that trash. 

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Filed under Minivans, Road trip, summer camp, travel, Uncategorized