The last week and a half have been a complete whirlwind; I wasn’t even sure what day it was half the time. My sister’s fiancée passed away last Monday. Later that day, she announced through tears that she was expecting. There was last-minute travel to plan, arrangements to make, and his family to meet. Definitely not the best circumstances to meet your fiancée’s family. There were a few moments of drama, and some hiccups along the way, but all in all things went better than I could have expected.
There’s a lot I could delve into as far as what’s going on with my sister right now. But, that’s her business, and not really what this blog is about. But I would like to share the parts that relate to me, which is mainly travel, if for no other reason than to thank all of the wonderful people we came into contact with over this past week. Honestly, this entire thing could have been an expensive disaster from start to finish, but people went out of their way to make things go smoothly for us. And I am truly appreciative of that.
My Mom, two sisters and I decided last year that we would like to make an annual thing out of taking a vacation together. We’ve always been very close, but all have a lot going on in our lives; This was our way of staying connected. My two sisters have less than stable financial lives, so my Mom and I went into that plan with the idea that we would likely be splitting the cost 50/50, with my sisters each contributing when and what they could. To help curb the cost, we had the idea that we would do a big vacation one year (Disney last year), followed by a shorter, less expensive vacation the next. We were thinking we would wait until September or later for our vacation this year. That would give me time to recover from selling my house, and my older sister was planning to get married at some point this summer. Plus, with my younger sister newly engaged, there was a good possibility there would be a second wedding at some point this year.
When we realized the funeral would be held out-of-state, my Mom and I agreed that we would cover the cost of my sister going. It would be our “vacation” this year. My sister asked that we come with her, for emotional support. My older sister was unable to take the time off work. Honestly, I would have helped with the expenses regardless. And, while I wasn’t intending to spend the money right now, not having to plan for a vacation later in the year does take some stress off.
I’ve booked travel on short notice before, but never less than 24 hours. We originally thought the funeral would be on Friday or Saturday, so on Wednesday afternoon I purchased 3 tickets leaving Thursday morning, and returning Sunday night. Travelocity had the best deals, flying Delta Airlines, at $608 per person, round trip. The closest airport is 45 minutes away from the town where the funeral would be held, so we needed a rental car as well. It turned out to be cheaper to book the car directly through Avis, rather than combining it with our airfare. The advertised rate was $100, but there was another $40 in fees when I actually booked.
We’re honestly all terrible when it comes to packing for a trip, and not having been to the area before, or met any of the people we would be spending time with, we weren’t sure what to expect. Plus we didn’t have time to prepare, and everyone was emotionally worn at that point. So, we had to check 4 bags ($110 on first leg of trip). And we opted to park in a lot that was close to the terminals, because we didn’t plan enough time to catch the shuttle ($72). By Wednesday night, we found out the showing had to be moved to Sunday night, with the funeral on Monday. I couldn’t stay any longer, because of work, but as we checked our luggage and got our boarding passes that morning, we spoke with the Agent at Delta about switching my Mom and sister’s flight home to Tuesday. We were prepared to pay $200 per person, plus the difference in the cost in tickets. The Agent waived the $200 fees, and since flying back on a Tuesday was cheaper than flying back on a Sunday, gave us two $50 travel credits. I was completely blown away by that! Most airlines tend to nickel and dime you for every little thing. The Agent was kind, and helpful, and had us on our way in less than 10 minutes. My mom and sister were able to use the travel credits to check 3 bags on their return trip, so it only cost me $25 to check my bag coming home.
I looked into hotels when I booked the flights, but there wasn’t anything available in the town surrounding where the funeral was being held, and we weren’t really sure about the area. Several members of his family offered to take us in, so we weren’t without a place to stay. We decided to wait until we got there to look into the hotel situation. We learned on arrival that one town was having a Catfish Festival, one a Hog Rally, and another a Truck Rally. Who knew so much could be going on in one weekend out in the middle of no-where? Since we didn’t know anyone there, and there had been some family drama in the past, and everyone was grieving, we opted to look into hotels. Multiple phone calls later, we found a Hilton Garden Inn that had a cancellation, and could at least get us in for part of our stay (and agreed to try to rearrange any other cancellations to allow us to stay our entire trip). It wasn’t cheap ($160 per night), but the area was nice, and close enough to the funeral and family. Plus there was a restaurant in the lobby, which ended up being a Godsend: My sister refused to leave the hotel except when things were planned with his family, and didn’t want us to leave without her. The restaurant didn’t serve lunch, but at least we managed to have 2 meals a day.
Much to our surprise, the hotel was directly across the street from the Hog Rally. Even more to our surprise, a Hog Rally has nothing to do with roasted pig. While disappointed about the lack of pork, the hotel full of jolly bikers was a welcome distraction, and they were all wonderfully nice people. As an added plus, there were no children running up and down the hallways. The hotel was busy, yet somehow peaceful.
The only downfall to our trip (other than the obvious) was the car rental situation. Avis did allow me to rent a car with a debit card, for which they place an additional $100 hold until the car is returned. But a second driver can only be added if that person has a major credit card; My Mom didn’t bring her credit card, and they wouldn’t let her be added as a driver with only a debit card. They would allow us to book her a separate car. Which means we rented a car under my name for Thursday through Sunday, and then a second car under my Mom’s name from Sunday through Tuesday, which cost us an additional $150. It was ridiculous, but they would have had to take me to the airport anyways, so it just added an extra step. And it worked out well: All that was available when we originally booked was a Toyota Corolla, but when we traded cars we were given a Ford Focus, which my Mom was much more comfortable driving.
While we were away, I managed to contact one of the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) Posts in our home state. Since my sister’s fiancée had served in Afghanistan, they were willing to let us use the banquet room at their location to host a memorial this coming Friday. As all of the services were held out-of-state, we wanted to have something locally for all of his friends and coworkers. I went in yesterday to sign a contract and put down a $75 refundable cleaning deposit, but they’re letting us use the space free of charge. I am incredibly thankful that they are letting us use the space at all on such short notice, let alone not charging us.
Over the course of the past week I figure I’ve spent about $2,200; I paid for the plane tickets, parking, baggage, the first rental car, and the deposit at the VFW. My mom covered the hotels, all of our food, and the second rental car. At some point, we’ll sit down and go over everything and balance the costs back out. For now, I’m not too worried about it. Yes, it was expensive. But, I had the cash to cover everything, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I’m focusing now on rebuilding my emergency fund. I wasn’t planning to spend that money right now, but I did have plans on spending it at some point this year for a vacation. It just came sooner than expected. As my Mom said though, we plan a pretty crappy vacation.
The entire experience has been heartbreaking, and I feel so sorry for my sister and his family. I’m glad that she had the chance to meet his family. He was a wonderful man, and will be missed by many.
– Cindy W.