Sometimes it is really easy to save money on vacation by having absolutely no idea what you are doing. I’m feeling a bit preachy after my last post, so today, I’ll go in a different direction and poke fun at myself a bit. At the suggestion of Average Joe from a comment I left on his post about his first fancy hotel stay, I’ve decided to share some life lessons I’ve learned from my first major travel experience.
I grew up in rural Kentucky (population 3000). There were many wonderful things about living there like the sweetness of the people, KY wildcat basketball, and iced tea, but nobody ever really traveled. People from my hometown only went to Panama City, Gulf Shores, or Myrtle Beach for vacation. You never went to a city unless you had a doctor’s appointment. My parents always thought our hometown was the best place in the world. Besides the two obligatory trips to Florida, we never really went anywhere. I’ve always been adventurous. I felt for a long time like I was switched at birth, but I look just like my dad. Maybe they dropped me on my head when I was a baby. Regardless, I have always wanted to travel.
I graduated from optometry school when I was 25. My sister was 21 and just getting ready for dental school. We knew our lives were going to be taking different twists and turns, so we decided to take the mother of all trips, to Hawaii, with a 3 day stopover in Los Angeles. I realize many people have backpacked around the world twice by age 18, but this was a huge deal for us. We had been on school trips and to visit friends from college, but we’d never gone anywhere by ourselves. We didn’t even know how to make reservations.
We ended up booking the trip through a travel agent. This was 1999, when you still used people to plan trips and make reservations. I met with a lady in a mall kiosk who booked airline tickets, hotels, and rental cars for us. I had no idea about lodging or airlines. We just told her we wanted to do “touristy” stuff.
Mom dropped us off at the airport in Nashville, convinced we would crash into the ocean and never be seen again. We landed at LAX a few hours later. It’s a little bigger than Nashville. Somehow we found the shuttle to our rental agency, and picked up the smallest purple Kia you can imagine. I still believe it was powered by hamsters running in a wheel. If you got that baby over 55mph, it sounded like we were about to take flight.
Our first destination was a taping of the The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. We really wanted to go to The Price is Right. They always pick people with funny accents as contestants, but it wasn’t taping at the time. We picked up a map, which I handed to my sister. This is the conversation.
Me, “You have to read the map and tell me how to get to Burbank.”
Sis, “I don’t know how to read a map.”
Me, “Well, you have to drive, then.”
Sis, “I’ll read the map.”
Away we went. Even in the slow lane, the Kia was slow. So I apologize to all the big city drivers who got stuck behind us on the freeway. We made it to Jay Leno. The guests that evening were Lisa Kudrow (Phoebe from Friends), Sean Hayes (from Will & Grace) and musical guest, Dwight Yoakam. It is true that the TV adds pounds because in real life, I wanted to feed Phoebe and Dwight some sandwiches. Dwight had skinny jeans before there were skinny jeans.
Next we were off to our hotel, The Hollywood Roosevelt. I had no idea then, but I have since seen it as the place where stars come to get in trouble. I believe Lindsay Lohan has been arrested there. Purple Kia pulls up to the front entrance, when the gentleman in a fancy uniform opens the door and takes our car, with our luggage! After a mini freak out, I realized this was valet parking. I think I saw this on Seinfeld once. We checked in and kept waiting for our bags. The front desk politely informed us that our luggage would be brought to our room. Sure enough, when we went up to the room, a bellman waited with our luggage. He showed us around the room like in Pretty Woman. I wondered why he was hanging around, then realized he was waiting for a tip, gulp. Five dollars poorer, we came to the conclusion that we could not afford to pay the valet and bellmen every day. We’d already paid for this trip in full by making payments before we left. I had a credit card at the time but never really used it. It was more for emergencies. I didn’t even bring it. I don’t think my sister even had one. We took cash for this trip, and didn’t want to spend it on someone parking the Kia.
The next morning we were leaving for a day of sightseeing. We went out to get the Kia. We could literally see it! We asked to retrieve it ourselves, but the valet said we weren’t allowed. Another five dollars spent so the valet could drive the POS ten seconds for our convenience. For our remaining stay, if we were in the vicinity of the hotel in the day, we parked the car on the street to avoid the valet. We had to move it every two hours because that was the parking limit. We did see all the Hollywood tourist spots, and even got to park the Kia next to a red Ferrari on Rodeo Drive! I bet the hamsters felt really special about that one. When it was time to check out, we called the front desk and told them we were ready to leave. They said they’d send someone right up. Sis and I grabbed our bags and ran down the stairway and out the emergency exit (thank God, no alarm). We paid Mr. Valet one more time and headed to Hawaii.
We landed on Kauai later that day. What a beautiful place! They only have one, two lane highway around the island. That was much more our speed. We had rented the economy car again, but it was insanely cheap to upgrade to a convertible. The red Pontiac Sunbird looked sweet, but had the same horse (hamster) power as the Kia. Luckily, no freeway speeders here. One word of advice; if you aren’t used to convertibles and find yourself behind the wheel, don’t try to raise the top while driving down the highway.
We had a wonderful room that was in a complex of time shares. Having a kitchen allowed us to eat in the room most of the time. Since we spent some coin on valet, bellhops, and convertibles, we ate a lot of mac and cheese on that trip. We did eat out for some dinners, but not high end at all. The complex gave us free breakfast and a cocktail at night. What more do college students need?
We found out that if you got snickered into signed up for a time share presentation, you would receive a stipend to use for island activities. I believe it was around $200. Free money, why not? You should have seen the face of the salesman when Sis and I showed up. I think he knew we wouldn’t be purchasing that day. We sat through the spiel and got our money, which we used for a helicopter ride over Waimea Canyon. We didn’t even crash once, Mom.
Going home was a real downer. I think we had the economy, economy flight. It went from Kauai to Honolulu to Seattle to Memphis and there we stopped due to some flight delay. Memphis to Nashville is a 30 minute plane ride. You can drive it in three hours. We sat in the Memphis airport for six hours. Having a remaining cash stash of about $3, we bought a bag of pretzels, and watched everyone else get to leave. Finally, we got to travel the last 30 minutes to find our very relieved mother who just knew we had crashed into the ocean. She had been waiting six hours, and no one had cell phones then.
Overall, a wonderful trip. Life lessons to be learned from the rednecks in Hollywood:
- You don’t need a credit card to take a major trip.
- You can survive on macaroni and cheese for a week.
- Avoid all bellhops and valets. I still do to this day.
Getting out of your comfort zone is a good thing and makes great stories later on.
What was your first major travel experience? Do you pay for valet parking? Have Kias gotten any faster?