New Orleans: An Unexpected Journey…

It started out simple enough…

I was in Houston for Christmas and Merelyn had a couple of days off for New Years.  We hadn’t really made plans for anything so we decided to head to Galveston for some quick beach time and then head home for a quiet New Year’s Eve together.  Then, about a half an hour into our drive, Merelyn said, “You know…we could just drive to New Orleans for New Year’s.”

Now, she’s mentioned driving to New Orleans before.  It’s only about 6 hours away and neither of us have been there.  It could be fun, but every time we’ve looked into it we’ve decided not to go.  I knew it was something she wanted to do before leaving Houston.  So when she threw the suggestion out there (half joking I’m sure), I took the bait.

“Is there any reason why we couldn’t go right now?”

We went through the list: No clothes, no toothbrush, the cats didn’t have enough food, etc.  None of those reasons, I argued, would be a problem in the next 24 to 36 hours.  We could drive to New Orleans, be there in time for dinner and hang out for New Year’s, maybe spend the night then drive home.  No problem.  Merelyn seemed a little surprised and scared that I was actually accepting her challenge but I thought it would be FUN!

As quick as that, we changed our plans from a few hours in Galveston to an overnight trip to New Orleans.  We made a quick stop at the Johnson Space Center then headed East.

We were both so excited to be on this spontaneous adventure that the drive was easy.  Merelyn was excited to be exploring and I was excited to get out of Texas and see some of Louisiana.  We usually have a good time on road trips, laughing and talking and exploring the sights.  This was no different and the added excitement of just going, without a plan, made it all that much better.

Action in the French Quarter - New Orleans

beautiful New OrleansAbout an hour outside of New Orleans we started looking for a hotel (we found none for a reasonable price) and a bank so we could grab some cash.  We found a bank next to a grocery store, so we grabbed some cash and did a quick run for some essentials (toothbrushes and beer).  Then we were off to explore the French Quarter!

We parked in the sketchiest of sketchy parking garages where they were packing cars in like it was a contest.  I was convinced they were going to keep piling cars in until the rickety, rust-bucket structure collapsed.  We paid our $20 and high-tailed it to Bourbon Street, right in the heart of the French Quarter, where the action was just picking up steam.

Even through the thick, drunken crowds of Bourbon Street, New Orleans’ historic French Quarter is charming.  We grabbed a beer and walked up and down the streets and alleyways checking out the architecture and looking through the windows of the shops and galleries.  We got away from the crowds a little bit and took our time sight-seeing.  We walked down to the waterfront and walked along the river for a while.  Then ventured back into the rabble and checked out a few bars and pubs, had a couple more drinks and a snack.

Getting ready for Midnight -  New OrleansCloser to midnight we headed back down to the riverfront park and waited for the big fireworks show.  It was cold and I had offered up my jacket to keep my wife from getting chilled.  We hung out on a grassy rise, looking out over the Mississippi, holding each other close to stay warm.  It’s been difficult these past couple years spending so much time apart.  So when midnight came, there was a sweet and simple triumph in getting to kiss my wife at the ringing in of the New Year while fireworks painted the night sky…in New Orleans.

Spur of the moment adventures can be full of magic and excitement.  There’s nothing better than ending your day in a totally unexpected and amazing way.  That morning, we had a modest plan and no expectations and we ended our night with a magical moment in a new city.  I can only hope that throughout our marriage we make time for many more spontaneous adventures together.

New Year's Fireworks - New Orleans

I loved our New Orleans adventure, does anyone else have any awesome, unexpected, spontaneous adventures they can share?

Tips to Improve your Airport Experience…

For the past year and a half or so, flying has been a major part of my life.  It seems, these days, my schedule revolves around when I fly next, how long I’ll be gone, how long I will be home between flights, etc.  I’ve flown on several airlines including United, Alaska, Frontier, Us Airways and Southwest.  My Airline of choice has been US Airways, mainly because they are the most consistent and predictable…and those are the qualities I look for to ensure a smooth travel experience.

Traveling as much as I have recently, I’ve learned a lot about how to navigate the airport experience as painlessly as possible.  I also see a lot of frustration from people who don’t travel much.  As I see it, much of this frustration could be avoided by following a few simple pieces of advice and arming yourself with a little knowledge about the process.

 

Tips for flying

Buying your ticket

Buy early!  The recommended window for purchasing your ticket, according to most travel experts, is 2 to 3 weeks before departure. More than three weeks out and you are paying a normal, premium price. Less than one week and you are definitely paying a premium last-minute price.   Make sure to factor in baggage fees and any upgrades (like preferred seating) when budgeting the cost of your trip.

Packing

Pack what you need for your trip, no more, no less.

Know your airline’s baggage policies, don’t guess.  Make sure your bag is the appropriate size, whether checking a bag or carrying it on the plane.  Check on your size, weight and quantity limits.

Plan ahead for going through security.  Liquids and gels are limited to 4oz. containers and must go through the scanner separate from your luggage.  It’s also required for these to be in a see through bag, zip-locks work great.  So store that shampoo, deodorant and toothpaste in a zip-lock and make sure it’s easy to get to.

Checking in

Check-in early!  If your airline will allow an early check-in online, take advantage of it.  It will save you time, money and headaches at the airport (especially if you are not checking a bag – you can skip the lines and head straight to security!).

The Boarding Pass

If you check-in early, print your boarding pass at home.  Some airports are equipped with a special scanner that allows you to have your boarding pass sent to your phone.  Either way, make sure you have it on you AND accessible for when you need it (checking bags, security and boarding at the gate).

Security

Everything off!  The new scanners require that you remove everything from your pockets, remove shoes, belts, jewelry, hats, jackets/sweaters, etc. – Plan accordingly.  Use as many bins as you need (for me it’s 3 bins).  If you are carrying a laptop or other portable electronic device (DVD player, iPad, etc.), it must also go through the scanner in it’s own bin.

So, remember: Belts, shoes, jackets in the bin – Liquids and gels in the bins – Laptop in the bin – bags go through by themselves.

Getting to the Gate

Always check the monitors for your gate assignment.  Don’t rely on your boarding pass, gates change all the time.  If you are there early enough to hang out at the bar (or restaurant) before your flight, don’t wait until the last second to go to your gate to board…it might not be the same gate and you may find yourself running through the airport to catch your flight.

Boarding

Most airlines board by zone, or seat number.  Know ahead of time which zone you’re in and wait your turn patiently while staying out of the way for those who board before you.  If you are impatient and crowd the gate, you are doing nothing but delaying the boarding process and adding to your own frustration.  Relax…we’ll all make it on the plane.

If you are planning to carry-on your luggage, make sure you know the limitations of the overhead bins. If you luggage is oversized, plan on it being checked through. Overhead luggage limitations are based on the most restrictive overhead bin sizes, but not all planes are designed the same. If it fit on your last flight, that doesn’t guarantee it will fit on the next. Also know you are limited to two pieces of carry-on luggage and your purse counts as luggage, ladies.

So many people are trying to avoid checking luggage these days that overhead bins fill up fast, so if you are in a late boarding zone or show up late expect there to be no room for your luggage (and it will NOT fit under your seat, don’t try, you’re just annoying everyone else by trying). The attendants will check it at the gate for you and you can pick it up at baggage claim. Just do it, don’t argue about it. You won’t make any friends that way.

The Flight

View from the plane

I’d rather be hiking down there…

Know that flights rarely leave exactly when scheduled to leave.  Once on board, just relax and have faith you’ll get there.  If you have a connecting flight, watch your time but understand that throwing a fit mid-flight because you are running late won’t make the plane move any faster.  And you’re not going anywhere if you get worked up about it and get arrested or have a heart attack!

Flights these days don’t have a lot of in-flight perks.  Short flights no longer have snacks and unlimited beverages and most don’t have any form of entertainment.  Know how long your flight is and plan accordingly with books, movies, puzzles or whatever will keep you relaxed and occupied for your flight.  There’s nothing worse than being bored, frustrated and uncomfortable.

Touching Down

Wheels touching the ground does not mean the trip is over.  Stay in your seat with your seatbelt on.  Getting up prematurely can cause further delays as the crew tries to get everyone back in their seats before they can taxi to the gate.  This process can take some time, especially if your flight arrives early.  Once again, getting impatient and throwing a fit will not get the plane to the gate faster…I promise.

A note about Electronic Devices from the airlines…

Whether you agree with the policy or not (thanks to MythBusters), it is a requirement to turn off your electronics when taking off and landing.  Don’t be the douchebag that refuses to turn off his phone and delays everyone’s trip because you are playing “Words With Friends”.

Conclusion

Travel can be stressful and confusing if you are not accustomed to it.  The stories about bad flights, rude gate attendants and inappropriate TSA agents are all based on real experiences but it’s not the norm.  Most of the time, people are just trying to do their job.  The best thing you can do is plan ahead, give yourself plenty of time, be respectful and, most of all, RELAX.  Being friendly, respectful and easy-going throughout the entire process will insure a more enjoyable experience for everyone.