Twice in the last month I’ve found myself in untenable situations on the road. Both times, I had to change my plans on the fly. It’s tough and expensive to do that. But sometimes it’s necessary, no matter what your ability or pain level.
In short: Sometimes the best way to improve a bad travel experience is to pack up and go home.
It’ll be up to you to decide when your personal pain/chaos/trouble-meter has pegged in the red zone.
To stop a trip in the middle, or make a major unforeseen change (like changing flights or hotels) usually costs money. Right now, I make good money at my day job. That means I can afford to indulge my pain and panic attacks in a way that I couldn’t back when I was a full-time freelance writer. When I was skating the poverty line, it took a lot more to make me change paid-for travel plans. Nowadays, I’ll suck up lost money to make myself more comfortable.
It’s up to you. It’s always up to you to figure out what’s worth it to deal with, and what’s just not worth it.
Here’s what drove me to make a major change in one case, and to bail in another case.
The Spider-and-Mosquito Motel
Last month I accidentally found what may be the worst motel in the Napa Valley: the Napa Discovery Inn. In a region that’s got about a thousand wonderful motels, inns, B&Bs, spa resorts, etc etc ad infinitum, there’s no reason at all to stay in a place this crappy. Just a few miles north, the Chablis Inn is a clean, comfortable, safe motel that actually costs less than this freakin’ travesty.
My instincts started ringing bells and popping red flags the instant I pulled into the Napa Discovery Inn’s parking lot. I stared into the dark, exposed parking lot, lit primarily by my truck’s headlights, and thought “my truck’s going to get broken into.”
I went in to the tiny office, not comforted by the “safety window” that lets clerks deal with customers without letting them in to the office. Hint: those are common in Oakland. NOT in Napa.
Though the clerk was friendly, an overwhelming smell of curry (which I’m kind of allergic to) and loud talking from the next room made the check-in experience unpleasant. And the clerk charged my card for my two-night stay then and there. Another no-no.
Room key in hand, I parked my truck in the too-small space in front of the exposed ground-floor room in an attempt to block the window a bit.
The room was small, badly designed, and not overly clean. But what finally did me in/started me into a full-fledged racing-heart panic attack was the bugs. The distinctive whine of mosquitos came from the ceiling. And as I stared, a big red-and-yellow spider sauntered across the night stand next to the bed.
That did it. Standing there alone, feeling unsafe and creeped out, I freaked.
What I did about it
I grabbed my bags, threw them back into the truck, and strode shaking to the office with the keys. A different clerk, male this time, appeared. I told him my room had bugs and I was leaving.
He wanted to give me a different room. I said no. He yelled at me, angry that I wouldn’t “give him a chance.”
Oddly enough, being verbally abused didn’t help my panic attack. I dropped the keys on the desk and fled.
On the way to the Napa Discovery Inn, I’d seen a couple of chain motels. I picked a Hawthorne Inn & Suites that was only a mile or two away. It was after 10pm, I was pale and shaking and felt like crap. I didn’t want to drive around anymore.
Sure enough, the Hawthorne had rooms available. The lobby was clean and nice (and didn’t have a security window). I went on up to my not-on-the-ground floor room after parking my truck in the well-lit lot. Then, and only then, did my heart rate start to diminish.
I’m never going to see that $300 prepay to the Discovery Inn again. Fine. I’ll repay them by panning them on every review site on the Internet. I can afford to suck up the cash loss.
Mini Burning Man
A couple of weekends ago, I went camping with a big group in a horse pasture in California’s arid Central Valley. I do that occasionally–I belong to a re-enactment group* that does camping events on a large scale. It’s tough to find shady campgrounds that can take 500 people, so we cope with the heat. The whole state experienced an epic windstorm that weekend. Ever been camping in 35 mph winds? Yarg.
Friday night was charming. I hung out with friends, had a couple of cocktails, and enjoyed the atmosphere. What with one party and another, I didn’t make it to bed until about 2 a.m.
At about 5 a.m., I woke up when my tent hit me in the face. At 6 a.m., I woke up to children screaming. At 8 a.m. the sun had turned my tent into a steam cooker, and I gave the hell up on sleep.
The temperature rose to 90F-plus by 10 a.m. But what killed us was the wind. Also by 10 a.m. it blew constantly, gusting high. People’s tents and sunshades started blowing over, disrupting the day’s activities. Many folks had expensive tents badly damaged. (One friend had her 20-inch-long wrought-iron tent stakes bend.) We were all breathing dust and powdered horse crap.
I found myself enduring three of the main conditions that comprise the reason I don’t go to Burning Man: heat, wind, and dust.
What I did about it
By 2 p.m. my friends and I had had it. (I camped with couple who brought two children under 5 years old to this event.) We packed up and left a full day early. One of my friends drove my truck home, because I was on the verge of collapse. We got home, and I spent the evening huddled on my couch watching TV and basking in the lack of dust-filled air pummeling my skin.
The good news for this incident was that we didn’t lose money on the deal. The fee to attend the event was flat. No hotel or transportation reservations got canceled. And the gas cost the same on Saturday afternoon as it would have on Sunday afternoon. All we lost was a day of camping with friends.
* I’m in the SCA, if you care.