When Bad Things Happen to Good Travelers

Savannah-dawn

I need to make a confession.

It’s a bit embarrassing, since I’m a travel writer, consider myself an organized and experienced adventurer, and routinely dole out advice to others. But, here goes…

During my last vacation, I lost my rental car.

Sometimes even the best travelers have, in the words of Judith Viorst, a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Mine started at 5 a.m. during our family reunion on Tybee Island in Georgia. We’d rented a bunch of houses and were having a grand ol’ time eating shrimp, playing cards, and swilling moonshine.

family-reunion-Tybee
Photo: Katelyn Sweeney

Multi-tasker that I am, I’d booked a morning photography workshop in Savannah, which is about 20 miles from the island. Billed as “Pristine Savannah”, the 2 1/2 hour tour began at 6:45 a.m.; I thought I’d get a nice walk, a photo and history lesson, and be back on Tybee before most of the young adults in our group were out of bed.

Although I’d been to Savannah before, I woke early to make sure I gave myself plenty of time to get coffee, eat, and find the tour meeting location. That’s what a veteran traveler does; she prepares. So I dashed out of the house at 5:00 a.m. and headed to the local Tybee diner for a quick bite.

The diner was dark when I arrived. And so was every other storefront. Picture pre-dawn after the zombie apocalypse. That’s what it looked like. So my first mistake on that fateful summer morning was failing to check the opening time for the restaurant.

No problem, I thought, and switched to Plan B – head to Savannah and get breakfast along the way. Confidently, I set off on the only road out of town, 99% sure I knew how to go.

That was mistake #2.

Unfortunately, my clueless 1% was navigating as I approached a fork in the road, and I went left (wrong) instead of right (right) and wound my way through a couple of small towns, adding about 20 minutes to my trip. When I realized my mistake, I remained calm because I still had plenty of time.

What I really needed was coffee. And then I saw the neon sign. Like a glazed oasis, a Krispy Kreme store appeared at the intersection. But the doors were still locked and the employees prepping the restaurant were not inclined to open at 5:50 a.m., despite my friendly waves and pleading smile. The drive-in was open, but I hate to eat, drink, and drive.

So I continued my journey. Arriving in town, I kinda, sorta knew the location of the square where I needed to meet Pablo, one of the owners of Capturing Savannah. If you’re unfamiliar with the city, Savannah retains the original grid layout as designed by founder James Oglethorpe in 1733. The streets are organized around 22 public squares. Some have fountains; others have monuments; and some just have a bunch of trees. It’s simple, yet confusing. I drove up and down and around and back. And then I did that again. I did it once more, then pulled up to the curb, parked, and asked two nurses heading to work for directions.

Savannah-city-square

This was my fatal mistake. They rattled off a series of rights and lefts and promised me that a Starbucks was along the route. I thanked them, checked my watch, and set off…

…without noting where I left the car.

Following their directions, I got turned around a few different squares and I couldn’t find the damn Starbucks. The clock was ticking, so, feeling stupid, I pulled out my smartphone, plugged in my destination, and followed the Google map.

If I’d done this at the very beginning, the whole morning would have turned out differently. But I can be stubborn, mule-like, in fact. I was convinced I knew where I was going so I wasn’t about to ask stupid Siri.

I arrived at 6:45 on the dot, with no coffee, no sugary treat, and no bathroom. Fortunately, Pablo is a pro with an engaging personality and, within minutes, the nonsense of my morning journey was forgotten and I was happily strolling and clicking and sucking up the Savannah dawn.

At the end of the workshop, Pablo left me at a different square than the one where we began. But I felt okay since it was next to the Kehoe House Bed and Breakfast. I’d stayed there 2 years ago and felt confident that I could wend my way back to my morning starting point.

I was convinced the rental car was on Oglethorpe Avenue. But after walking back and forth for several blocks, I realized it wasn’t. So I checked Liberty Street, which looks a lot like Oglethorpe. It wasn’t there either. I remembered that I’d walked through the square with the Gryphon Tea Room on the north end. Or was it the east side? At this point, I was sweating, I needed a bathroom, and, dammit, I still hadn’t had any coffee.

Completely by accident, I wound up on Broughton, a very busy street that, by 10:00 a.m. was wide awake and open for business. I ducked into a coffee shop, got an apple fritter and a large cup of joe, and considered my options.

I could call my family, relay my tale of woe, and get them to come out and help me find the car.

savannah-police

After 4 seconds of consideration, I discarded this notion. I could visualize the pack of us working the city grid like a search party looking for a body. Instead, I strode confidently into the Metro Savannah police station. I’d passed it about 15 times during my morning circuits. I excused my way through a throng of family members of an arrestee and sheepishly explained my plight to the desk officer. She calmly replied, “Sugar. You ain’t the first and I guarantee you won’t be the last.”

She called up a patrol officer who also reassured me that this happens all the time. “But it doesn’t happen to me,” I wailed. We drove up and down the streets while I unlocked visual clues about where I’d wandered. Surprised by some of the details I remembered, he told me I’d make an excellent eyewitness.

I sensed sarcasm.

intersection-street-signs-savannah

Finally we turned down E. Harris and I spied the gray Dodge Journey. I let out a whoop and hit the panic button on the key fob just to make sure. I wanted to hug the officer, but decided it was inappropriate, so I shook his hand instead. He offered sage advice: when parking your rental car, take a picture with your phone of the street signs at the nearest intersection. Later in the day, after they stopped laughing, my kids said I could have just dropped a pin on my Google map.

The event left me rattled, embarrassed, and flustered. And I have a $20 parking ticket to pay. It seems I not only forgot where I parked the car but, in my haste, I didn’t feed the meter.

Lesson learned? It’s foolish not to use GPS when it’s available and that I’m useless without my morning coffee and carbohydrates.

The next time you make a really dumb mistake while traveling, like showing up at the wrong airport for your flight, take a deep breath and remember that everyone hits a pothole in the road sometimes.

If You Go:

Travel-mishaps

Capturing Savannah is run by Pablo and Britt, two young professional photographers and licensed Savannah tour guides. They offer workshops from dawn to dusk with different goals: some are meant primarily to improve your photography skills; others are more traditional sightseeing walking tours. It’s an interesting way to tour the city and learn a photo trick or two. Pablo made me very comfortable shooting in manual mode on my Nikon D3300 and I finally learned how to capture sun flare!