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Dee and Aaron: Budget Motel Vacation

During the development of this site, interviewed dozens of families and heard numerous varieties of travel faux-pas and fiascos. With permission from these sources, we hope that readers will benefit from these accounts or at least find them interesting reads.

Dee, a Fresno-based real estate agent, and mother of three-year old Nicholas, relayed her own account of this to me.

Last June, Dee's husband Aaron, a self-employed web-site designer, told her that business looked slow for him at the end of the month, so he would be able to take off a few days to head to the coast. With a little reshuffling of appointments, Dee was able to carve out two weekdays during that time and they decided on San Diego as their destination. Not having planned or allotted money for this trip, they decided to trim expenses by traveling "economically." Dee obtained a listing of hotels in the San Diego area from the internet, and with two phone calls was able to reserve a mini-suite at a widely known economy chain hotel at $99.00 per evening, for Thursday through Saturday nights.

When they pulled up to the hotel two weeks later, after a tiring, six-hour drive, Dee was dismayed to see that it was situated directly alongside a major highway. The internet listing had not indicated this feature of the hotel, nor had the man at the front desk when she had asked about the location on the phone; he had instead told her that they were centrally-located, close to many local attractions. Dee remarked: "I was not told that my family and I would be inhaling exhaust fumes during our entire stay, or that we'd be hearing the sound of car horns and traffic throughout the night, and that our view was of grid-lock."

As they carried their luggage into the sparsely decorated "suite," Nicholas began complaining that he was hungry. Dee grew more upset when she walked into the bathroom and immediately saw ants crawling across the sink. She decided to redirect her attention towards their dinner plans, but the hotel provided no restaurant and no concierge to offer suggestions. She started flipping through the yellow pages trying to find a place to eat, as Nicholas broke into a cry. Not knowing the proximity of the hotel to any of the listings, and feeling her own hunger mounting, an overwhelmed sensation began settling over her. Aaron suggested that they just drive until they find a restaurant along the highway, and gave Nicholas a candy bar from the lobby vending machine.

As they drove further and further east along the highway, they passed mainly junk food chains while the night grew darker and later. Finally, they saw a steak house that looked "good enough for the moment" and, although the food and service were "nothing special," the bill totaled over $63.00. Full from his candy bar, Nicholas hardly ate his hamburger. Afterwards, they drove back to the hotel, exhausted, and fell asleep in their suite listening to the blare of traffic, which made for a restless night.

Circumstances did not improve the next morning when Aaron discovered that the water in the shower was not draining and called the front desk to inform them. The woman who answered asked Aaron if he wanted her to tell maintenance about it (as if this were an option). He said yes, of course, and then informed her that they had also found ants in the bathroom. The woman seemed irritated by these details and replied: "Sorry. This isn't the Ritz."

As the hotel provided no complimentary breakfast or coffee whatsoever, they found themselves in the same food dilemma that next morning, as Nicholas exclaimed that he was hungry again and wasn't having fun at all. This comment hurt Dee, who had especially wanted this to be a memorable family trip for Nicholas. When Nicholas grows restless, he begins twirling, pretending he's an airplane. As he gained momentum that morning in the cramped room, he banged his arm against a sharp edge of the bedroom night table. At this, he began crying and screaming that he wanted to go home. Quickly gathering their map, Dee and Aaron brought Nicholas to the car and headed towards Seaworld in hopes of salvaging their family vacation.

The three Seaworld tickets purportedly totaled $115.85 ($41.95 per adult, and $31.95 for children ages 3-11 according to Dee), and Dee and Aaron spent their day standing in lines and taking Nicholas to various water shows and attractions within the park. They spent another $26.00 on overpriced snack foods, and $39.00 on lunch. Dee commented: "I was very glad that Nicholas began to cheer up and have a good time, but for me, the day was tiring. I couldn't help but think that Aaron and I weren't doing any relaxing for ourselves. With a few souvenirs, we were out over $200.00 for the day, and I kept thinking that we would still need to find someplace to eat dinner. We got lost leaving the park and ended up somewhere called Ocean Beach where we settled for Mexican food at a less than sparkling café with some very interesting local surf bums."

Unfortunately, the rest of Dee's trip followed this same direction. The shower was never fixed and continued to clog water around their feet and legs, which Dee remembers as a particularly disgusting element of her stay. Before leaving home, Dee had packed some snack foods (mineral water, bread, roast beef, cheese, and milk) in their cooler, in an attempt to decrease the number of the meals they would have to buy out. When they discovered that the suite had no refrigerator, they thought they might set the food on ice. Aaron asked the lady at the front desk for a few ice buckets, and her monotone response was: "One bucket per room." As a result of this less-than-accommodating service, they ended up throwing most of their food out, abandoning their money-saving food plan. Instead, for virtually every meal, they were forced to drive down the highway in search of a clean, decent restaurant, most of which turned out overpriced and mediocre.

Dee also noted that although they had deliberately selected a suite in hopes of creating some privacy and romance, these objectives were not achieved on this trip. Both Dee and Aaron had been working ceaselessly at their careers for the past several months and had been looking forward to this time of togetherness, knowing that their bedroom area would be separate from Nicholas' fold-out bed. But as the trip grew increasingly stressful until it became evident that they were facing something of a fiasco, neither of them felt romantically inclined.

On Saturday, Nicholas wanted to visit the San Diego Zoo, which purportedly cost $66.00 for admission, (with deluxe adult admission, $26.00 each, and deluxe admission for children 3-11, $14), plus another $100 for three t-shirts and a small lunch at one of the restaurants. On Sunday, they checked out of the hotel and embarked on the long drive back to Fresno. The cost of the trip, including the room, tax, three meals a day, Seaworld tickets, San Diego Zoo tickets, parking, snacks, gas, and a couple of shirts and hats as souvenirs for three people totaled over $1,200--more than they had planned for this semi-impromptu vacation.

Dee said that this vacation seemed like a waste of money, and it made her feel more tired and frustrated than before she had left. She remarked: "It would have been more relaxing for us to have just stayed home and spent time around the house and in our neighborhood. I felt helpless in our accommodations because nobody at the hotel cared about my family's comfort. Aaron and I wore ourselves out driving around in the car every time we were hungry, and doing kid activities the whole weekend. I have to remind myself sometimes, I guess that's what parenting is about."

What parenting is about . . . Dee's words echoed in my mind as I continued to interview traveling parents and listen to their stories and thoughts. I was amazed to discover how many other conscientious, professional parents have experienced similarly discouraging scenarios traveling with their youngsters. Many others, those who have not yet ventured into the unknown terrain of baby-travel, fear this end.

Here is the relieving news for all of us who have found ourselves in Dee's type of predicament or who have mused over her same disturbing outcome. Excellent parenting does not have to equal martyrdom. Traveling and young children can mix—quite well. Adult fun and child fun do not have to be mutually exclusive. And, best of all, contrary to Dee's inauspicious San Diego venture, the whole family can experience rejuvenation from vacation.