A Not So Uplyfting Start to our Family Vacation

The other day I told you that we were traveling to Colombia to make Juan’s birthday wish come true. What I didn’t say was that during the first hour– during the first 10 minutes of our trip– Juan’s nightmare also came true.

There are many things I love about my husband, but his anxiety about travel is not one of them. This is surprising because for a man who stresses about travel, we have certainly taken several trips.  To be fair, he doesn’t stress about travel in general, but what gives him the greatest amount of anxiety is everything that happens before we actually get on the plane. How should we get there? What should we pack? Where shall we stay? And most of all,  “How far ahead of our flight should we arrive at the airport?” (Four hours, thank you very much.)

This trip was no different. Even though we had worked out a lot of the logistics that come with booking travel for six people to a foreign country, we did not do any advance planning to arrange transportation to the airport. With Father’s Day as our departure day, we couldn’t ask any family or friends to drive us. The shuttles were very expensive and public transportation just seemed too complicated for six people and as many suitcases. Earlier this week I happened to take a Lyft and as I chatted with the driver, I learned that Lyft could take us all to the airport far cheaper than a regular airport shuttle. It sounded like the perfect solution, except that you can’t book a ride on Lyft in advance. For those of you who have not used Lyft, or Uber, it basically allows you to use an app on your smart phone to order a driver to come pick you up.  The fares are reasonable and the drivers are usually prompt and friendly.  There are different levels of service and since there were six of us, plus luggage in our group, I knew we needed a Lyft Plus. As Juan and I crunched the numbers we decided it made the most sense to order a Lyft Plus to get to the airport. I repeatedly assured Juan what the Lyft driver told me, “Lyft drivers are widely available anytime.”

In order to make our 1:45 p.m. departure, Juan wanted us out the door at 9:00 a.m. (I wasn’t kidding when I said he wanted to be there four hours before.) A little later than planned, I opened my Lyft app at 9:15 to arrange pick up at our house. My heart started pounding a little faster when I read, “No Lyfts available.” I refreshed the screen. Still none available. Worse yet, the message now indicated, “Prime Time,” which meant I had to pay 50% more! I broke the news to Juan and watched his face turn red and a vein in his forehead begin to throb and turn purple. Frantically, he picked up his phone and began calling an airport shuttle. He repeated the message on the phone, “No shuttles available in your area.”  I watched his face now became the color of the throbbing forehead vein. It was too late to schedule a shuttle! I began doing the math in my head. If we drove ourselves and paid for parking that would be $13 per day.  With tax that would be over $300! Luckily, Olivia, a Lyft and Uber expert, like most kids here age, suggested we order two Lyfts, estimating it would cost us the same as Lyft Plus. That seemed to calm my husband down and stop his cardiac arrest, especially when I told him that the Lyft could get to us in 5 minutes.

True enough, five minutes later our first Lyft arrived, a car without any trunk space! I watched from inside the house as Juan’s agitation grew until the driver told him that he would cancel our order without charging us, and order us another Lyft with trunk space. Two minutes later the second Lyft arrived–a Honda Civic. Juan and the driver crammed  four suitcases into the trunk and Juan left with two of the kids. Meanwhile, I waited with Olivia and Nico for our replacement Lyft. Less than five minutes later our Lyft arrived, a beautiful 7 passenger minivan! The kids and I put in our two suitcases and stretched out in comfort. Meanwhile, we sent Juan a text to tell him we were on our way and would meet him at the airport. He asked if we had leg room. Olivia and I debated if we should tell him the truth, and decided to let him know that had he just taken a breath and waited five minutes we could have been driving together in a comfortable minivan. The response he texted me looked a lot like Juan’s face did earlier:

The only thing this emoji is missing is a throbbing purple vein.

The only thing this emoji is missing is a throbbing purple vein.

Now we are here in Medellin and things are going well, for now.  The kids are generally getting along.  Juan looks a lot happier.

He’s smiling now.

Tomorrow we are venturing out in the city.  We have decided we are going to use Uber.

Family Vacation in Colombia: A Wish Come True?

I am writing this somewhere over Mexico, en route to El Salvador. My final destination is some two hours after that, Medellin Colombia. Why Colombia? Well, you might recall, a little over 3 years ago Juan and I traveled to Italy for my 50th birthday, and as part of my list of 50 Things to Do Before 50.  Juan didn’t have a list of 50 things he wanted to do, but he liked the idea of taking a birthday trip. We considered all sorts of destinations to mark his milestone birthday—Argentina, Spain, or perhaps even Portugal? They all sounded like wonderful and romantic locations for the both of us to get away. Ultimately, his birthday wish was to travel to Colombia. The country of his parents’ birth, the country where he spent many happy summer vacations of his youth, and the place where found solace when his first marriage ended. So here we are traveling on, appropriately enough, Father’s Day. It’s an appropriate day to begin this trip because the second part of Juan’s birthday wish was that we take this trip with all four of our kids. He wanted to experience Colombia with our kids, and show them how special this country is to him, and introduce them to the extended family who live here. You know that adage, “Be careful what you wish for, because you might just get it?” That’s kind of how I am feeling.

Blogging somewhere over the Americas.

Blogging somewhere over the Americas.

If I sound like I am anxious about this trip, it’s because I am. Not since our disaster of a family vacation in 2008 have I ever dared to think we would all travel together for any extended period of time. That year, I spend an inordinate amount of money and time planning a week-long vacation at a beautiful resort on the Mexican Riviera. I had high hopes that the kids would spend hours on end in one of the four resort pools, complete with a lazy river and water slide. They would occupy themselves while Juan and I lounged poolside, reading and sipping tropical drinks. Instead, one of us spent the majority of time sleeping in the darkened hotel room, others complained of heat, humidity, foreign food, and the lack of internet, some of us got the “Turista” and the balance of the time we spent trying to pretend we were enjoying ourselves. The week ended with a major meltdown where some of us ended up flinging clothes at each other and the rest of us couldn’t wait to get home and back to work again.

A happy moment before the turista hit and the vacation imploded.

A happy moment before the Turista hit us and the vacation imploded.

Here it is eight years later and we are trying it again. This is not to say we haven’t all been together for any trips. We did a short camping trip with friends who ran interference among siblings, and we took a vacation with my extended family.  There were enough adults to act as referees, allowing us all to get away relatively unscathed. That is, until the ride home from the airport which ended with an embarrassing teenage temper tantrum, and my parents racing to their car so they could drive themselves home to their peaceful retired life.

This time around I am trying to manage expectations and yet I still have hope this vacation will be different. The “kids” are not kids anymore. They are almost 21, 18, 17 and 11. Olivia just got home yesterday after a semester in France. Maybe her travels abroad and maturity will enable her to roll with the punches and not throw any at her sister. Erica has gone through a lot in the last year, and she has learned techniques to help her regulate her emotions. Now, If she could just put the techniques to use when she feels triggered. Nico has always flown under the radar, and acts with the neutrality of Switzerland during most family conflict, even when he knows better than to stay silent. With only two months left before he leaves home for college, I hope he can find it in himself to speak out instead of going along to get along. Diego is just the right age to enjoy this vacation with the siblings he loves, and not so old that he doesn’t want to hang out with his parents. I am also excited to see how fluent he has become since finishing his elementary school education in a Spanish language immersion program. As for Juan and I, we know that with the kids being the ages they are, this could very well be the last time we vacation together as a family. I just hope that we all get along well enough that none of us regret Juan’s birthday wish.


Ready for take-off. Who looks more nervous?

Throwback Thursday: Summer 1985

All this talk of travel has me remembering my first real solo travel experience. In the summer of 1985, just before I graduated from college, I went on a self-guided tour of Europe.

It may sound extravagant, but when I think back to how scrimped and saved my money and how I traveled sleeping on trains, and in hostels, I know that I would never want to have that experience again. And yet, I would not trade that experience for anything.

I was 22 years old. I was working as a waitress while attending college. My friend, who was studying French,  wanted to go to Europe that summer and speak with the natives. I thought that sounded great!  I was nursing a broken heart and the thought of traipsing through 11 countries in six weeks sounded a lot more appealing than staying in a Southern California and running the risk of bumping into my ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend.

I read the travel books, planned our itinerary, applied for my passport and hostel card and, in a big splurge, bought a First Class Eurail pass. My friend and I planned to save money on accommodations by staying in hostels, and sleeping on trains. We heard how 2nd class cars were crowded with backpack-toting-college-aged cigarette- smoking students so we figured it was worth the extra expense if we could travel in a train car where we didn’t have to sleep standing up, breathing second-hand smoke.

In this photo, from the looks of the clean, roomy train compartment, I would say it was money well spent.


Traveling this way was a once in a lifetime experience. We had a planned itinerary, but we remained spontaneous along the way. We decided to take an overnight train from Amsterdam to East Berlin after hearing it was a great destination for the budget traveller. We met people along the way who opened up their homes to us. In Rome we spent the night in a convent after a local priest learned we needed a night’s lodging. As we crossed over the English channel from France to catch our flight home out of Heathrow Airport, we met a friendly Englishman and his family who put us up for a night and then drove us to the airport the next day.

At 22 years old, I was trusting and still naive enough to believe that being in another country meant I was free from harm’s way. Sadly, I don’t know that if I traveled this way again I would have the same rich experience filled with random encounters of both hospitality and adventure.


Number 22: Travel to Italy (Part 1)

If you have been around my blog before, you know that this has been a pretty eventful year for me. In May, I celebrated a milestone birthday.  In preparation for my half-century anniversary of life, I made a list of 50 Things to Do Before my 50th Birthday.  Number 22 on that list was Travel to Italy.   I didn’t get to finish everything on my list, but in April of this year I managed to complete Number 22.  I tried to keep a record of my trip as I traveled,  but time was short so I never finished writing about my trip,  until now.  Thanks to NaBloPoMo, I have the motivation to get it done. Here’s the first leg of my trip:


We arrived in Rome in spite of ourselves.  After making our travel preparations, which, by the way did not include actually planning our sight-seeing itinerary, we nearly missed our flight.  We arrived at the airport early and found a seat near the gate.  We began to wonder why it was taking so long to board our flight.   I was on the phone with Diego, who had called us for the 5th time since we left home, when all of sudden, just minutes before our flight departed, I heard the announcement, “Last Call for Mejia.” I then realized the airline changed the gate number.  I abruptly ended the phone call and raced to catch our flight!

Whew! We made it to the plane. Barely.

Whew! We made it to the plane. Barely.

Once we boarded the plane, we settled in for the long flight to Toronto and then onto Rome. I managed to sleep a bit while Juan stayed wide awake almost the entire 15 hour flight. When we arrived in Rome we found our rental car and tried to get our bearings.  Juan, my techie husband, did all kinds of research in how to use our smart phones for international travel.  He figured that he would use our unlocked iPhones and buy a SIM card for data usage.  This would allow us to use our phones as GPS devices.  It sounded too techie for me to be concerned about, but had I known how much we would need our smart phones as a GPS from the moment we drove out the airport, I might have given it more thought.

The ride from the airport to our hotel was enough to make me start drinking and made Juan start biting his fingernails again.  We were completely turned around, and had no idea where we were going.  We were tired,  hungry and we had to use the bathroom.  Juan drove and we kept circling the same roundabout looking for our hotel.  We finally gave up and decided we needed to eat lunch.  That was the best move we made.  We found a wonderful trattoria with delicious food, and oddly enough, no women in the restaurant. We ordered wine with our meal and began to relax and get into vacation mode.  Hey, who needed a GPS? We were on an adventure. In Italy!

Our first meal in Italy.

Our first meal in Italy.

By the time we finished our wine and our meal we were so relaxed all we could think of was getting to our hotel so we could nap.  We left the trattoria and got turned around walking to our car.  Without a GPS we were in trouble. Still, we tried to stay positive and paused long enough to take in our first views of Italy.

A vista from somewhere in Italy. If we had a GPS we would have known where we were.

A vista from somewhere in Italy. If we had a GPS we would have known where we were.

Back in the car we tried again to find our hotel.  Another three times around the same roundabout and we wanted to cry, or get a divorce. Juan wanted to stop at a phone store and buy the SIM cards so we could use a GPS, but we could not find a phone store that took credit cards. We drove around looking for an ATM.   At last, we found cash, bought the SIM card and were able to use our phones as a GPS.  Several hours after we landed in Rome, we made it to our hotel.  Our hotel was located about 25 minutes by train outside of Rome,  in Frascati.

Enjoying a rest near our hotel in Frascati

Enjoying a rest near our hotel in Frascati


Frascati, Italy

Frascati, Italy

We checked into our hotel,  fell into bed and slept.  We woke up two hours later. By the time we were ready to start exploring it was already 9:30 at night. Even with a GPS, after all we had been through navigating from the airport,  we knew we did not want to drive into Rome at night for a meal. Besides, we were hungry and when I am hungry, I am cranky.  Frascati is a quaint town with many restaurants that close early.  We walked and walked looking for an open restaurant.

Frascati, Italy. Near the main plaza in town.

Frascati, Italy. Near the main plaza in town.

Thankfully,  we found a local pizzeria and enjoyed our first pizza of the trip. I think the pizza was really good, but I was so cranky hungry by that time, I can’t say for sure.  At least the service was wonderful.  Our waiter Alessandro was charming and friendly.  Fed, and nearly rested, we returned to our hotel where I watched The Walking Dead and Juan slept.  The next day Juan and I would start our tour of the Eternal City.

The first of many pizzas on our trip to Italy.

The first of many pizzas on our trip.




Throwback Thursday

Today’s Throwback Thursday is inspired by yesterday’s Wordless Wednesday.

Erica 4, Nico, 3 and Oliva 6, exhausted after a weekend of roughing it.

Erica 4, Nico, 3 and Oliva 6, exhausted after a weekend of roughing it.

I am sorry the picture is so grainy but I couldn’t find the original and I had to use a copy of the photo. Besides, the photo was taken in early Spring 2002, long before I had a digital camera.  Juan and I were dating and things were getting serious. We were spending more and more time together and on those weekends that we had custody of the kids, we would take them to the zoo, the park, or other outings.  In this photo we were driving home from our very first camping trip with the kids. I use the term “camping” very loosely.  Juan never really camped before, while I grew up camping with my family, and had great memories of spending time outdoors.  I wanted our kids to experience the fun and adventure of the great outdoors, so I convinced Juan that we should take the kids camping one weekend.  As an introduction to “roughing it” I chose a campground about 2 hours north of us, in Solvang.

When we arrived I discovered that the “campground” was really an open meadow located a few blocks out of town.  The campground was accessible to restaurants and grocery stores.  It wasn’t quite the getaway I envisioned, but the campground had flush toilets, and showers, and with three young kids, I figured it would be a pretty safe introduction to camping.  The campground accommodated tent campers like us, and RV’s like everyone else there that weekend.

Instead of the wild call of nature, we heard the hum of generators.  Instead of campfires and marshmallows, our neighbors listened to their radios and watched their portable TV’s.  Even though it was not the camping experience I wanted for our kids, they thought it was a great adventure.  They ran around the meadow, dodging RV’s and trailers, while Juan and I struggled to pitch our tent.  After a take out pizza dinner we roasted marshmallows.  We tried to sleep but the noise of all the other campers did not make for a very restful night.  The next day we packed it all up drove to a nearby beach.  Between the sleepless night and a day at the beach, the kids were wiped out.  They slept all the way home and I took this picture.

Do you have any camping memories?