I recently returned from a journey to the southeastern corner of the U.S. where the 13 year-old and I traveled together to visit with two of my long-time friends and to experience the awesomeness that is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios. It was a journey of several thousands of miles taken by both plane and car. A trip of that length affords the traveler a great deal of time to sort through a lot of detritus in one’s mind. It also lends itself nicely to the composition of a blog post.
As they say, you can take the writer out of her writing cave, but you can’t make the writer stop writing things just because she’s out somewhere feeding alligators or flying on a broomstick alongside Harry Potter.
So, one of the things that tumbled around in my funny little brain during the 14-hour trip back to the west coast was a list of things I learned while on this adventure. Luckily for you, intrepid readers, I will now share these bits of hard-earned wisdom so you, too, can be on the lookout for such knowledge on your next vacation.
Lesson Number One: Blame Arkansas
There is a massive aging time warp somewhere in the middle of the country that ages you exponentially the further east you go. I figure it’s somewhere in Arkansas. Why Arkansas? Well, for starters, it is in the middle of the country. Secondly, that state hasn’t been in the news much as of late so I thought I’d try to boost its tourism industry by blatantly accusing it of some kind of X-Files-ish, paranormal activity. You’re welcome, Arkansas.
What is my evidence for such a claim? I noticed that the further east I went, the more I was referred to as “ma’am”. Sure, it’s a way to show good manners and respect, a social norm I can certainly get behind. But it made me feel about a hundred years older. I’m aging at what feels like a pretty quick clip already. I really don’t need any further help in this area. A friendly “Miss” would have sufficed. (Actually, I was referred to as “Miss Tami” by my friend’s kids and I found it very endearing.)
Lesson Number Two: Hold the Fries, Please
I used to think it was challenging to take a road trip as a vegetarian in this great meat-lovin’ country of ours, but that was nothing compared to being a gluten-free vegetarian spending the day in a theme park. French fries were about the only thing not covered in meat or couched in bread. I think I’ve now adequately satisfied my craving for french fries for the next decade or two.
Lesson Numero Tres: ¿Habla Teenager-ese?
The 13 year-old is WAY more extroverted than I even imagined. Case in point: on our flight from Phoenix to Atlanta, there was a Latino gentleman seated next to her. We didn’t realize he didn’t speak or understand very much English until he asked the 13 year-old in the few English words he had if the flight attendants were going to serve any food. Unfortunately, they had already gone through the cabin serving drinks and snacks and he hadn’t realized that he missed his chance to get something.
The 13 year-old, having a year of 7th grade Spanish under her sombrero, was both eager and nervous to try out her linguistic skills with her seat mate. Through a series of mangled Spanish words and hand gestures, she discovered he was quite hungry. Knowing that the food cart had already gone by, she systematically pulled out every snack in her backpack and gave them to him.
He was appreciative of the Chex Mix, goldfish crackers, and the yogurt covered pretzels as well as the copies of Girls Life and J-14 teen pop star magazine she gave him so, you know, he’d have something to look at while snacking. For the rest of the flight, I tried to hide my giggles at seeing a middle-aged man in a suit who didn’t speak much English flipping through teen magazines and listening to a 13 year-old discuss the merits of Selena Gomez, One Direction, astrological readings, and friendship quizzes.
Lesson Number Four: Taking a Shower at Thor’s House
Summer thunderstorms are so incredibly awesome to watch from a porch or through a window from the safe confines of one’s home. They are decidedly less awesome to drive through in a rental car on a highway in the middle of Florida. I’m from the Pacific Northwest, and as such, I know rain. I’ve driven in the rain roughly 6,459,237 times. Rain in the NW is on its worst day a soggy mess of never-ending droplets. It is not, however, a RUSHING TORRENT OF WATER SIPHONED OFF THE ATLANTIC OCEAN AND POURED DIRECTLY OVER YOUR CAR LIKE IT’S COMING FROM THE PERSONAL SHOWER HEAD OF THOR. To their credit, thunderstorms in the southeast end as quickly as they begin, as though Thor himself stomped into the bathroom and turned off the faucet to save money on his water bill.
Lesson Number Five: Step Away From the Suitcase, Miss
I have finally – FINALLY! – achieved packing perfection. It’s been a long time in the making, astute readers. Many adventures have been taken with far too many things crammed into every nook and cranny, not to mention the suitcases. But this time, I badgered and harassed myself into leaving behind the extra, unnecessary clothes (as well as my beloved Italian coffee pot) and wore every item in my suitcase at least once. THIS IS HUGE, PEOPLE. I am a chronic over-packer, a what-if-I-need-this-snorkeling-gear-or-these-snowshoes-or-that-Sasquatch-disguise kind of packer. But not this time. I got it just right. And it only took me fifteen years to achieve it.
Lesson Number Six: Serendipity Shows Up When You Least Expect It
Whenever something went wrong or plans didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, I had to remind myself that if I spent too much time worrying about that stuff I would miss seeing the serendipity in the things that happened instead. Like watching fireworks from the rooftop of my friend’s apartment building. Or seeing fireflies lighting up the dark corners of the night. Or witnessing a surprise engagement being staged on a bridge by a fun-loving group of friends and a terribly romantic, soon-to-be groom. Or seeing your own kid laughing with the kids of your childhood friends much the way you did all those years ago.
Lesson Number Seven: Good people are everywhere
It’s true. Everywhere we went we found truly nice people. It’s like they’re breeding or something. It was heartening to see and experience that given all the tragedies occurring around the world on a daily basis.
Lesson Number Eight: Just Add Water
I won’t lie, it was really hot and humid in Orlando. The day we went to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was no exception. It was already 77 degrees when we arrived at the park gate at 8am. By noon, we were wilting. So, what’s the perfect cure for such a sweltering day at a theme park? A water ride. And on such a hot day, you don’t pick the ride where you might get a little splash. No, you pick the one where the people coming off the ride are walking away leaving a trail of wet footprints and looking like they were in a hurricane. THAT’S the ride you go on when it’s 95 degrees and 100,000,000% humidity.
Now, you might be thinking the lesson learned here is that even in spite of the hour-long wait in line, a water ride is a refreshing way to cool off on a hot day at a theme park. Or, even though it’s not your personal preference to go to a theme park in your bikini, it sure would have felt a lot better to have worn yours instead of waddling around trying to unstick your water-logged undergarments from your body after the ride. Those are fine lessons, but not the ones that really stood out for me.
The more important take away lesson was this: As I whirled around in a the faux raft with eight other strangers, I realized that even though we were on the ride with the sole purpose of getting a bit wet, and even though we all knew we were going to face the same soggy fate as the passengers before us, every one of us still cringed and ducked and otherwise tried to avoid getting wet as we floated down the fake river. And when a big splash came over the side of the raft and soaked a fellow rafter, we all laughed not at each other, but rather with each other because you knew that your turn to get it in the face was just around the bend.
Then, as we all climbed out of the raft, we gave each other knowing nods and smiles as we each waddled away trying to discreetly remove our wedgies and adjust our soaked undergarments. We were a diverse tribe of sopping wet people who survived the ride. Water rides like that build an insta-community, a bond formed over a shared soaking in a fake river. Our government would be
more effective if members of Congress simply spent a few minutes each day going on a water ride with their fellow constituents. I daresay it could change the world.
Lesson Number Nine: I’m Not Sixteen Anymore
A bit of an obvious one, I know, but a hard one to swallow nonetheless. You see, I used to love riding roller coasters. My family and I would go to Six Flags Great America every summer and I would wait in the long lines just to have my turn on rides like The Demon and The Eagle (my fave), often sitting in the front waving my hands in the air like I just didn’t care. Corkscrew turns? No problem. Loop-the-loops? Bring it. Vertical drops from ten stories up? Been there, done that.
But now? I’m sad to say my inner equilibrium can’t handle the corkscrews and the loop-the-loops anymore. And the vertical drops? Not happenin’. And just for the record, it’s not because I’m scared of heights or anything like that. I AM, however, very scared of throwing up all over myself and my fellow passengers because my stubbornly fragile stomach can’t hack it on the ride. There were several rides I would have loved to have gone on at Universal Studios, but I knew I simply couldn’t handle it like I used to. It’s like a part of my childhood has died and I’m a bit bummed about this.
Lesson Number Ten: It’s Always Worth Going the Extra Mile
When I’m scheming and plotting my adventures from the comfort of my own home, I tend to get a bit grandiose with my plans.
Sure, we can make it from Maine to the Grand Canyon in a day. I’ll just rent a super fast car and drive straight through. No problem.
Then, somewhere around the fifth or sixth version of the plans I’ll pull back and give myself a reality check.
I might be slightly overestimating our sightseeing abilities. Three museums, four tours, a wine tasting, a hike, and a play all in one day should give us a sense of the city, right?
By the time the trip rolls around, I’m quite often really happy I added that last-minute camel trek into the Sahara based on a suggestion on Trip Advisor. For this trip, I was glad I expanded what started out as a few days visiting one friend in Chattanooga, into an adventure that included a road trip to Savannah, and a final stop to see Hogwarts Castle. In all the travels I’ve taken, I’m usually pretty happy I’ve squeezed in one more adventure and went the extra mile. I figure I can always rest when I get home.
Be sure to check back in the coming weeks when I’ll be sharing more about our trip and the many things we did while wandering about the Southeast.
How about you, adventurous readers? What lessons have you learned on your travels? Do you find you learn different ones each time you travel? Sit, sip, and share. I always love to hear from you.