Inadequate Planning Leads To Hilarious Painful Moments On Our Summer Vacation

I mean, Jeebus!  It was roughly two weeks ago that I reminded everyone to feed and water their reservations to avoid complications with your vacation.  I guess if I had practiced what I preached, I wouldn’t have a funny story to share that was quite painful to live through at times.

We embarked two weeks ago on a trip to Europe that would ultimately include stops in Greece and Paris before a flight out of Amsterdam back home.  Between work travel and actual work, I’ve been swamped.  So much so that, even though I bought Fodor’s books for Greece and Paris months ago to familiarize myself with activities and restaurants, I didn’t actually crack open either book prior to leaving the country on this trip.  As an aside, I’ve always found the Fodor’s books helpful.  There’s a lot of info in them I already know, but I consistently find a few gems that otherwise would have been left undiscovered, like our first visit to Cul de Sac restaurant in Rome over a decade ago.

About two months prior to departure, I remembered I hadn’t booked tickets for the Eiffel Tower yet.  I thought I would have plenty of time even though it was summer, a very busy time to be in Paris as a tourist. I would be proven wrong, with all our dates in Paris sold out for our group to reserve an elevator ride up to the top of the tower.  Unfortunately, that meant having to copy our last trip to Paris, which involved paying a private tour company instead of planning a multi-hour wait at the tower.  Some say exposing your kids to some stress and situations that require patience are good for character building.  I, for one, didn’t want to use a couple of hours in line on a hot Paris day to illustrate this.

If that was the worst of it, I wouldn’t be writing this post with a little bit of a smile as I remember some of the rest of the frustrations.  I woke up one night while we were in Greece fearing I hadn’t booked the right number of people for our tower tour.  We had a 5th person with us on our trip, a long-time family friend who’s essentially like a 3rd child for Michelle and I.  Had I remembered to book 5 for the Eiffel Tower?  I had.  Whew.  Back to sleep.

Of course, I didn’t check the date on the reservation too closely.  When planning the trip I had done the smart thing and given us a “rest day” after our late evening flight from Greece to Paris.  But, somehow, I had it in my head that I had booked the Eiffel Tower for our first full day in Paris.  We got the kids up early and hustled over to the tour meeting place to find out we were a day early for our reservation and, of course, they were completely sold out.  Good or bad, someone at the tour place mentioned that things weren’t too crazy over at the Eiffel Tower that morning.  So, we walked over to see if we could make things work.  The elevator lines were already nutzo.  We decided, for better or worse, to climb the tower stairs.  It was something I can look back at and say I’m glad we did, but I’m nowhere near in shape enough to do that without paying for it later.

We also caught a bit of bad luck in that the ticket booth on the observation deck to purchase access to the top of tower closed about 5 minutes before we got there due to the size of the lines of people waiting to take an elevator to the top.  All that effort and the pain and suffering my legs had taken still meant we would need to come back the following day to complete our Eiffel Tower experience. My wife is incredibly health and our kids are in good shape, so everyone was good-natured about the mistake.  Surely enough bad planning for one trip, right?

Nope.  I also had neglected to purchase the train tickets from Paris to Amsterdam to position us for our flight home.  Part of it was intentional. The tickets were cheap and I saw something on the website saying that they offered huge discounts for last-minute purchases.  Unfortunately, I would find that those last-minute purchases were cut off at 10 days prior to departure.  Ugh.  Couple that with trying to complete the task using bad Wifi networks at restaurants while hopping around Paris when I realized I never booked the tickets, and my stress level ratcheted up another notch.  I was finally able to complete the booking after at least half a dozen attempts of making it very deep in the booking process only to have the website fail.

But, at least it was done and my lack of planning had come to an end.  Maybe?  Not when you book the train tickets from Paris to Amsterdam for the wrong day, show up at the train station to find a train full of partygoers heading to Amsterdam for a good time.  Silver lining?  Because we had purchased our tickets so late, they were flexible enough to change and a conductor on board worked with us to get that done.  Not so silver lining?  Full train meant a combination of standing and sitting on the floor in the bar car for the first hour or so until the train thinned out a bit at the first stop.

Just to make sure the trip had a slightly imperfect ending, I got a bit lax on our final morning when we were staying at a hotel connected to Amsterdam airport.  I got up a bit later than normal and ran the bags over to the airport that needed to be checked while the family finished getting ready.  I didn’t know the airport that well and didn’t take the time the night before to locate our check-in area, which would cost me precious minutes I would need in the morning.  We were already running a bit behind where I wanted to be but I had a bit of false confidence given the proximity to the terminal.  When I found an extra security check at the airport meant that the whole family would need to go through the check-in process, I went into full panic mode as I sprinted back to the hotel after checking the bags (and needing to take one to a different drop-off area to cut a few more minutes).

My wife had taken the kids downstairs for a full breakfast in the restaurant as opposed to the lounge, so I sprinted upstairs to pack up the few remaining items we were carrying on.  As an aside for those that know me, you can only imagine my face when I found out my wife hadn’t heeded my comments as I sprinted over to the terminal that we were now running a bit late.  She’s a great woman, and I’m sure the look on my face made her want to strangle me.

Gabby, our family friend, came with me to help.  When we got back downstairs to the restaurant, Gabby realized her boarding pass must have fallen out in the room.  Needless to say, I was twitching waiting for her to come back down.  It totally wasn’t her fault, an honest mistake.  But, I had eaten up all our free time at that point.  Imagine a stark raving mad lunatic trying to hold it together as the seconds ticked by.  My wife must have thought I was nuts.

A reckless pace ensued through the airport until we got to security.  That process was quicker than I expected and I finally felt a bit of relief that we had passed virtually all the points that could hold us up.  There would be no stop in the lounge, nor any duty-free shopping.  Upon clearing security it became immediately evident that our gate was far away.  Not as far as it could have possibly been, but a solid 15-minute walk to the gate.  A brisk pace with the two kids, though no outright sprinting, had us at the gate a few minutes before boarding finished.  It all worked out, though I hadn’t had even a sip of water let alone breakfast as we fell into our seats and prepared for takeoff.

It was a great trip.  We created tons of memories for our kids that I hope are lasting ones.  But, as Gabby said while we were crammed into that bar car with a drunk fellow singing about his upcoming 5 days in Amsterdam, that was the most exciting part of the trip, the story she would remember years later.

I am an anal retentive planner of epic proportions, but this trip was my epic fail when it came to planning. I’m happy to be home and thrilled for our experiences, even those bad ones it seems we’ll be laughing about for years to come.

I hope you get a good chuckle out of this.  I might someday far off in the future!

16 Comments

  1. Heading to Paris this fall before a T/A cruise back home. Making notes now. 🙂 And yes, you’ll chuckle someday, kind of like I now do over the train ride from Rome to Naples standing.

  2. My family teases me for my over-planning. However I am still feeling burned from a trip years ago when my kids were young and we were searching all over town for a hotel room at 1 AM. Who would have thought that a big race in Daytona, Florida would result in no available hotel rooms in Savannah, GA, 228 miles away? I learned that spontaneity has inherent risks that just are worth it, given my level of comfort.

  3. I think it’s a perfect trip! We all have blunders along the way and in the end it all works out.
    Funny though, our first trip to Europe was when our kids were 10. We had some fails…not as big as the second trip where we got lice in Croatia from horseback riding helmets and hubs left his laptop with no identification on the train when we got off in Austria…on our first day. (They actually found it six days later and we made a quick pit stop back in Austria seven days after that to retrieve it….THAT is a trip/story I should write for you!) Some of our best times are the unexpected things we thought were epic fails that turned into epic funny memories. Of course having to call your boss from the chair of the Lice Lady isn’t so funny….because he will tell your entire team where you are when he tells,”Lice! Is that contagious?!” into the phone from his desk.

  4. OMG – you just repeated the story of my travel life. I was the architect for a 21 day trip that involved 4 adults and 2 kids, 3 countries (France, UK, and Norway), planes, train, subways, car, and boats (cruise ship and ferries). I planned out the 90% of the transportation, which all worked out well for the most part. The 10% done by others fell apart, Go figures.

  5. No horror stories, just thanks for your blog. Enjoy reading it. I made the same mistake with the Eiffel Tower, guess one needs to book WAY in advance. Didn’t know about a private tour.

    1. Gail, there’s a link in my post to Easy Pass Tours. They’re a reputable organization, just not cheap. The cheaper of their two options is roughly $40 a head. The pricier one is $60-ish. Thanks for reading!

  6. Great story, glad everything worked out! I’m surprised you’re still allowed to travel by yourself, let alone with loved ones whose trust is placed in your care 😉

  7. With literally lots of moving parts -planes, trains & automobiles- when we travel in Europe, we always say “there’s gonna be some burps” no matter how well you plan. Sometimes things just don’t work out the way we plan them. Sometimes they do. Old Yiddish saying:” If you don’t think God has a sense of humor, try telling him your plans.” On what I thought was a beautifully planned trip to Paris for our 20th anniversary, we arrived two days late after a freak storm at DTW and our plane being recalled to the gate and cancelled — the plane was third in line on the runway. I knew the first class seats would not be on the next plane. Thankfully the Westin is attached to the airport and relieved some stress. I’ll spare you
    the rest of the story we went through just to leave the U.S. I spent mine it’s finding the right apartment in Paris in the 7th near the Eiffel Tower. When we arrived, that was scaffolding in front of the building which was being renovated. Inside, sheet rock dust cover the steps up to the third floor where the apartment is located. Six hours later, we left and checked in at the Westin Vendomme. Aside from my wife’s large bag not arriving, the rest of the trip was beautiful. Lesson learned about being flexible. Ed, sounds like your crew were flexible and understanding. In the long run, that does make things a bit easier when you are in the middle of stressful situation and having to make quick decisions. Experience does help. Glad you’re home safe.

    1. Paul, that sounds like something of a whirlwind! 3 days to get to Paris, you might have been able to do it quicker by boat. I hope you guys have fond memories of the trip. We certainly do for ours, with a couple of laughs in between.

      1. There’s always laughter looking back and great memories. I learned a bunch of travel lessons that i have carried forward since then. I’m quite sure there will be lots more. Fare forward.

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