Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Travel Tips I Learned The Hard Way

It has been close to 2 years, but I remember every detail of that morning. We were on our way to spend Christmas with our daughter and my parents in sunny Florida. We were so excited to get out of the cold of Illinois, knowing we would have 2 weeks of swimming, sunning and family. The trip was well-organized as they always are. It is “my thing” to really plan well for vacations. I make lists of the things I don’t want to forget, I had the packages all wrapped and in shopping bags. The suitcases were filled with enough clothes for the entire trip so that we wouldn’t have to think about doing laundry at the hotel. We packed an overnight bag for our nights on the road, as we have always done in our 30 years of family vacations. It was what my parents had always done and it made it so much easier to pull into a hotel exhausted, and grab just the overnight bag. We were staying at a Marriott Courtyard hotel, in an upscale area with a Marriott resort and golf course. It was almost new, and we had stayed there a few months earlier. We were on the first floor, next to the exit.

I slept in my ugliest pajamas, the gray ones that my husband put in the dryer and turned into highwater pants. After all, it was just for the hotel on the way there. I was still sleeping when he went out to take something to the car the next morning. The first thing I heard was my husband opening the door to our room, looking at me and saying “it is all gone, I have to go to the front desk” and then he was gone. Stunned isn’t the word for how I felt. I couldn’t process what he was saying. I called my dad and couldn’t even speak. He talked to me while I walked (in my pajamas and barefoot) out to our SUV which had a broken window…and everything inside was gone. All of our Christmas presents, all of our luggage, my husband’s laptop which he had hidden under the seat, the CD’s which I had downloaded from iTunes, they even took our dirty clothes bag from the night before. They took the bag that held my scissors, and extra wrapping paper in case we bought more gifts while in Florida and my knitting bag. We had nothing left. We had the clothes that we had in the room to wear that day. They left our winter coats and our cooler. Everything else was gone and we were alone in a strange town on a Sunday morning, 8 hours from our destination, with a broken window.

I wandered into the lobby sobbing, where the front desk manager offered nothing except saying “bless your heart” way too many times. The desk clerk told us the same thing had happened to someone else parked in the same spot the week before. I found they were a bit late with that information. My husband went to a Home Depot store nearby and got plastic and tape to cover our window, the store opened early for him. The manager on duty didn’t even offer to help with covering the window, on a blustery cold morning with winds of 50 miles and hour, so I helped in my pajamas. He did finally offer us breakfast for free, as if we could swallow food. The actual manager of the hotel eventually gave us a free night’s lodging, and was very nice. That was after I wrote a letter complaining when I got home. The front desk manager should have been fired. He never walked out to look at our car, nor did he go talk to the police when they arrived.

We were lucky that we had a long-term relationship with our insurance agent. I could call her on a Sunday morning. She told us to start making lists of everything we had with us and go replace it. Our homeowner’s policy covered everything except for a $500 deductible. Our automobile policy covered the window repair, after a $100 deductible. We found kindness in the hearts of strangers as the hotel we checked into (another Marriott) guarded our car overnight, until it could be repaired. They also offered to go get us toiletries or things we needed. The salesclerks in the Chicos store that first night, asked my size and what I needed and liked, and they brought things to me…enough to get me through a few days of shock. The waitress in the restaurant that night asked a simple, “how are you”? When we told her, she used her discount on our meal. People really stepped up to help strangers in trouble, and we were so grateful.

We never leave anything in the car that we care about now. It is a pain to carry in all of our luggage for a long trip for just one night, but we do it. I make a list now as I pack of what I have with me. It isn’t easy to remember exactly what you have and how many of each if you have to provide it to the insurance company. We were able to replace all of the Christmas presents with almost identical items. We didn’t let it ruin our holiday, just the first few days of it. We counted our blessings that my husband hadn’t caught them in the act, or they might have killed him. We realized that stuff is just stuff and that isn’t what matters in life. We also learned that there are horrible people who will steal someone’s Christmas without batting an eye. We decided that they must need those things more than we did, although I’m sure that iPod, computer, cell phone and all those gift cards were cashed out pretty quickly. We also realized that there are wonderful people, who will step up and help a stranger.

1) Take everything into a hotel room that you care about.
2) Carry your insurance agent’s phone number (and home number) with you when you travel.
3) Make a list off what you have in your car and in your suitcase.
4) Save receipts when you buy clothing, it really helps when you are filling out the paperwork for the insurance company if you can prove what you spent on your shoes, jeans etc.


J Rodney said...

I am so sorry that this happened to you and your husband, but I am glad to hear that strangers offered help, when the hotel management failed to step up.

Many moons ago, when I vacationed in Miami with my family, my dad was loading our stuff into our car, when we were about to leave the hotel. When he came out to the car the window was knocked out, and the only bag in sight (my brother's backpack) was gone. Fortunately my dad just started packing the car. This was in bright daylight right in front of the nice hotel entrance.

Since then we no longer leave stuff in the car, when parked overnight.

I have tried having my luggage lost several times when flying though, so on my air travels I always make detailed list and pack enough in my carry on to at least be dressed properly.

Sue said...

f-well, it was certainly a shocker. It was also the first time that shopping wasn't fun. It was a necessary evil.

But, the picture posted with this is the Florida sky from the day after the robbery, and sort of sums up how quickly the spirit heals.

Patty Benedict said...

You are so right, "It's just stuff" and I'm sooo glad you both did not get assaulted if you had tried to stop the creep!
I believe "What goes around comes around!"
Thank goodness you also had some NICE people during that stressful time!!!
Have a great weekend!
Bugs & Hisses

Sue said...

Patty-one nice side benefit of the experience was the fact that when all was said and done...we had all new stuff! I've never had that many new clothes at once in my life. Thanks!

koralee said...

Wow...what a story. You just don't think that those things will ever happen to you! Thank you for the advice...I will remember it. You were very wise not to let it ruin your Christmas because as you say it is all just stuff. You still had your family and found kindness in people around you. Hard not to me upset though!

Sue said...

koralee-believe me, the first few hours I was sobbing, and really felt violated. Someone had my clothes, had touched everything in the car, and the scary part was they had our home address because of the insurance stuff in the glove compartment. They knew we obviously weren't home. We called the police in our town and had them watching the house. But when we got with my parents and my daughter, we just all sucked it up and got busy replacing things. We were even able to laugh about it a bit.

Lexie said...

that is such an awful story, but i am so glad that so many people offered help after what happened.

Sue said...

Lexie-it really brought the best out in perfect strangers.

Happy To Be/ Gl♥ria said...

Hey girl thanks for coming by and seeing me...I just seen where your from Southern Ill...Istill have family in Caborndale and Marion...My Late DH was from Marion and my Dad was born there also..Thank you so much for following my blog...I have also added you to follow..
What a shame about you being robbed like this...You know I just read the other day idf you have a GPS don't to put your home address on it...just in case someone steal it to just put a store or gas station address near your house on it for HOME...because you can find your way from from that store or gas station but robbers won't know where you live..Its a shame we have to live like this...but girl I found out a long time ago locks were made for honest peeps crooks will get in no matter what kind of lock you put on your doors and windows...Hope you have a great week my new friend...Please come back your welcome any time...I love meeting new peeps...You'll enjoy blogging its really fun meeting others like yourself and caring and sharing...Hugs and smiles Gl♥ria

Sue said...

Gloria-thanks for the following and commenting. So glad to "meet" you. That is a wonderful suggestion about the GPS. I actually had ours in the hotel room (so it wouldn't get stolen)! I was lucky to have my laptop and camera in the hotel room as well.

We lived in Murphysboro a long time ago, so I'm very familiar with Marion and Carbondale. We are a little further north.

Relyn Lawson said...

Oh. This story has made me rethink holiday traveling. It would all be sad and frustrating, but the gifts would hurt the most.

Sue said...

Relyn-we were actually lucky about the gifts. We shopped differently than usual because we were traveling. Many years we have some one of a kind, handmade things. We did more gift cards than usual. We did have an iPod and some clothes for my daughter, but they could all be replaced. I had just learned to knit and I made her a special scarf. I'd spent hours on it. That one really bothered me. But, I bought more yarn and every moment she wasn't with me I was working on it. I had another one done by Christmas morning.

JUST ME said...

This blog is such a good idea. My mom would be so happy to know there is another mom looking out for kids everywhere...

Drawn to The Sea said...

Such a horrible thing to happen. But how wonderful that people did step up. We see that so much down here after a hurricane. Kind people assisting strangers... they restore faith in human nature, at a time when help (& consoling) is greatly needed.


Sue said...

jm-I'm glad you like the idea, I was hoping that people your age wouldn't think it was silly.

Julia-I think people really tend to be kind, but it takes an emergency to remind them how important it can be.

Unknown said...

Wow! What an ordeal! I am so glad God worked it for good, but I am sorry you had to go through it. It reminds me a bit of our family's journey when Hurricane Katrina hit. Me, my son and his pregnant wife, and my two daughters evacuated, praying we had everything of value with us. It just so happened that my husband and our other son were traveling home from the opposite direction and met up with us at the hotel we managed to get. It was crazy... evacuees everywhere. We smuggled a dog and a cat into our room, as the hotel we evacuated to was not pet-friendly, but there was no other place available, no way to leave the animals boarded, and no way we were going to leave them to fend for themselves in that monstrous storm.

To make a long story short, we were lucky. Everything we had of value that I could shove into the trunk of the car, and still fit the people in that had to travel, lived in the parking lot, and we later found out that we were NOT in the nicest part of Birmingham. But God saw us through.

We now have an evacuation plan in place. We'd never evacuated before Katrina. And we had a home to come home to, unlike so many others. We've only had to evacuate one other time since then, for Gustav.

Anyhow, have a blessed weekend.


Sue said...

Cheri-I can't even imagine what Katrina was like. I've actually been in Florida for 2 hurricanes, and evacuated both times. My parents live on an island on the Gulf, so we did leave, but we knew that their home was only in danger of water damage, not completely being washed away. They were lucky both times, and the hurricanes were not huge ones. Katrina was an entirely different storm and situation. I'm glad things worked out for you. Thank you for commenting.


BrightenedBoy said...

That must have been so awful. I'd be frantic. Thank goodness your family was alright and you were able to replace everything.

Sophie said...

Well it sounds like it ended well, even though I know that it must have been horrible to go through. There was one year, a long time ago, that someone or two someone's ruined Christmas for my family. It was in Chicago, went from a hijacking to kidnapping (all of us kids were in the car). It ended well, but mom went into labor with the twins, they were born very premature and with lot of health issues.

Sue said...

BB-It was awful when it happened, but now we can even laugh about how strange I must have looked wandering around a hotel lobby sobbing in my pjs.

Sophie-That sounds much worse than what happened to us. We were never in any danger, your experience sounds horrible. I'm glad it ended well.