Vacation Planning: When Everything Goes Wrong (and How to Make the Most of it)

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You know how it is when you’re really looking forward to a vacation? Like really REALLY excited and you’re planning every detail and already imagined how great it’s all going to turn out? To the point that you feel like you’ve jinxed yourself… Yeah, that was me last weekend.

We’ve been wanting to make a trip to Valdez (an amazing little port town in southcentral Alaska, located along Prince William Sound) ever since we moved here last July, so when our friends from church said they were heading down that way for a snowmachine competition in 5 days, we spontaneously invited ourselves along! It was going to be great; they would rent an RV (so much easier to camp in an RV since they are two adults and two young children) and Brandon & I would sleep in the Subaru.

The Planning Begins…

As the weekend drew nearer, I did lots of research [read: wasted hours and hours of my life on Pinterest] learning everything there is to know about Valdez and finally got the car fully packed just in time for us to leave Friday afternoon around 3PM. There is no cell phone service where our friends were waiting for us in Thompson Pass, just north of Valdez, so I couldn’t call or text to let them know we were already running later than expected. We jumped in the car, dogs and all, and pressed the keyless start button. NOTHING happened. Our 2017 Subaru. Wouldn’t. Start.

After a quick search of the manual and subsequent call to the dealer, we were able to jump start the car off Brandon’s truck and determined that we needed our battery tested. We drove the 40 minutes to the dealership in town, only to be told that the test took 3 hours and they were closing in 2… so we drove instead to O’Reilly’s, where the super helpful girl got us tested (bad battery after only one year–TOTAL shock!!), supplied with a new battery, and back on the road. This was all fine and dandy, except for the fact that if we made the drive now, we’d be arriving in the dark, someplace we’ve never been, trying to locate our friends in a packed parking lot in an RV we’ve never seen with no cell service.

The view as my fully loaded car (complete with GoPro mounted) is jump started.

Total Breakdown…

I cried. I bawled and I stomped my feet. Typically, I pride myself on my laid-back nature, the ease with which I jump from one plan to the next. But this was too much! Brand new cars shouldn’t have bad batteries and I shouldn’t be stuck 4 hours away from my friends with no way to let them know what was going on. I knew that arriving the next morning in the daylight was the smart decision (what if we had more car trouble??), but I wasn’t happy about it. We went to sleep extra early and got up at 4AM Saturday to start the 250 mile journey.

Moving Along…

The drive itself  was breathtaking. The Glen Highway took us all the way from our home (just north of Anchorage), through the Mat-Su Valley, along the Chugach Mountain Range, past the Matanuska Glacier, and to the town of Glenallen, facing the majestic Wrangell Mountains. Here, we turned south onto the Richardson Highway and continued along another hour or so until we finally reached Thompson Pass. It was amazing to see the scenery change in a matter of miles–whereas our neighborhood had already seen most all of our winter snow melt away in early April, the Pass had drifts over five feet deep and we could tell there was plenty of snow for the snowmachine races. We rounded a corner and finally saw the many motorhomes and campers lined along the highway for the weekend event–and finally saw Chet’s smiling face as he flagged us down outside their RV!

Stepping into the warm RV (the temperatures in the Pass were much cooler and the winds had really picked up), we were finally able to explain all that had happened the day before and Jessica & I both shared how worried we had been for each other, unable to communicate at all, while our husbands had reassured us each that it really wasn’t a big deal. Sometimes men just don’t understand! We settled in with conversation & coffee and got ready to experience our first annual Mountain Man Snowmachine Hill Climb event.

Chet on one of his first runs in the 2018 Mountain Man Hill Climb at Thompson Pass, AK

Just when we thought it couldn’t get worse…

We thought once we got there, everything would be great–but Chet ended up getting super sick just before his first run in the races and spent the rest of the day struggling through the competition and battling a stomach bug that their daughter had exhibited the night before. Brandon & I decided to drive into Valdez proper to get some medicine and soup for our friends and stake out the town as a potential camping spot for that night.

Small Boat Harbor, Valdez, AK

It took only about 15 minutes to have driven through all of Valdez and to realize that if you weren’t going out on the water, or going on one of the many hikes around the perimeter of the area, then you weren’t really going to find anything to do there this time of year! To make matters worse, snow and rain were rolling in and the weather predictions for the night did not sound good for car camping. We drove back to the RV with the supplies for our friends–only to discover that they were going to be driving back to Anchorage. They were too sick to continue on for the weekend. We decided we may as well do that same thing, and we were home in our own beds by 10PM that night.

Final Thoughts…

So after what was supposed to be a fun-filled three day weekend in Valdez, Alaska, turned out to be a single day there and back, here are my DOs and DON’Ts when it comes to travel “disasters:”

  1. DON’T get so caught up in planning the details of your perfect vacation that you forget to leave wiggle room for mishaps and a little spontaneity!
  2. DO be prepared for the worst! Always have emergency kits (first aid, spare tire, jumper cables, snacks and water, etc.)–expect the unexpected.
  3. DON’T play the blame game. If you’re on a trip with someone else and things start to go wrong, it can be easy to point fingers and try & figure out whose ‘fault’ it is. This doesn’t help the situation any and is only going to result in hurt feelings!
  4. DO maintain a positive attitude. This can be a huge struggle when things aren’t going the way you wanted, but keeping your cool and looking for ways to make the most out of a sudden change in plans can save a disastrous vacation.
  5. DON’T ever look back on a vacation as “bad.” The way that you tell the story of your trip shapes the way that those memories form… choose to share the positive moments and laugh at the negative ones, this can turn even a disastrous weekend into a special (and usually funny!) memory.
  6. DO make plans to go on another vacation or weekend getaway! Maybe a second-chance trip to the same destination (which we will definitely be doing with Valdez) or a new locale that you haven’t tried out yet.  Always continue wandering!
My handsome man
Swan and duck pairings along the Richardson Hwy
Our adorable little Livi
One of the many waterfalls along the drive to Valdez
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