Sam’s trials and tribulations, travelling on a shoestring!

Sam’s done her share of travelling for an 18 year-old – since her first move at 3 months (Fort Lauderdale to California) she’s been regularly going back and forth to France, either with the family or on her own. Last year though, she had her first real experience of travelling; planning a trip of a few weeks with her friends through France and Italy. She’s got her own story to tell about those adventures, but suffice to say she learnt a lot, and came back a lot more capable of looking after herself and figuring out things as they come up.

I’ve always said that the best thing you can do for your kid when they leave school is to give them a backpack and a one-way ticket and send them off to learn how to get around. Sam didn’t need any pushing!

This year she decided to visit a friend in Holland, then pop down to Antibes in southern France for a few days to see her sister who was staying with her exchange friend, before meeting us in Brittany. Not especially challenging; they’re all civilized countries and speak either English or French, so for someone like Sam not a big deal. Unless of course, you travel standby…

We’re lucky enough to have an airline-employee friend who helps us out with buddy passes, which in these hard economic times when precious few folks are going on wine tours really makes a difference. The only thing is, of course, you fly standby. So as long as you give yourself enough leeway to allow for the odd extended departure date, and you don’t mind kicking your heels now and then waiting to get on, it’s a great deal. One thing you never do: book yourself a paid connection with a tight turnaround after the flight you hope to be catching on standby.

Sam can’t use her buddy pass all the way, so she has to buy a ticket from London to Amsterdam. Budget airlines are cheap now in Europe, but non-refundable… The rest of the family have already left, and poor Sam’s been spending her last week in CA tying up the loose ends of the house ready for the summer renters to move in. Day before she’s due to leave, she gets a call from our airline friend: “Are your bags packed?” turns out the flight that looked great has just filled up, and she’s likely to get bumped. And that London-Amsterdam flight? Yes, you guessed it… booked for the same day she’s supposed to arrive in London. (I have to say here, that Sam didn’t make that booking; that was done by her parents…)

The bags were ready, so they’re tossed into the car, quick whip around to make sure the house is OK, and off to LAX. For the night. Didn’t make it onto the flight that day, and tomorrow still looks bleak. The contingency plan for an airborne hitch-hiker in this scenario is to find an alternate route. Off to Salt Lake City she goes, then on up to Chicago. Chicago turns out to be even less comfortable than LAX for airport lounge floor accommodation, and things are looking really rough from there to London. To cut to the chase, she ends up taking 3 days to get to Amsterdam, via SLC, Chicago, Boston and London, of course having to pay for another flight to Amsterdam, now not quite so “budget”! In the process though, she makes friends with a pilot and his family who are also going standby, who insist she stays in their hotel room for her London overnight, and make her promise to go visit them in Michigan – the best part of hitch-hiking is meeting new friends!

The rest of her trip goes boringly smoothly (normal tickets… no fun!!) till this week she’s getting ready to head back to NY to college… accompanied by her new friend “Irene”! Stay tuned, that one’s still a work in progress, with Sam currently in sunny Syracuse for her second night!

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