Preparing for the unexpected
You know where you’re going, but do you know what to expect when you get there?
Travel planning is exciting. You may think you have it all covered. Accommodations? Check. Itinerary? Done. You’ve researched everywhere to eat, explore and enjoy. However, you may be overlooking something small that could have a major impact on your stay.
Are there any annual festivals or local events that could disrupt – or enhance – your plans or affect the vibe of your stay? This may seem like an open and shut case, but it’s not that easy. Let me share a few stories with you.
A surprise coastal Mardi Gras
Every February the tiny town of Folly Beach, South Carolina, hosts the Save the Light Marathon, a half marathon and 5K with proceeds benefiting the preservation of the historic Morris Island Lighthouse. Folly is a Southern gem on its own. Gershwin wrote the musical “Porgy and Bess” while staying at Folly, and, with its close proximity to all that Charleston and the Lowlands have to offer, it’s easy to see how Gershwin was inspired to pen, “Summertime and the livin’ is easy.”
I’m a sucker for destination races, but this one always fell on or around my birthday, which made timing difficult. In 2015, my husband and I finally committed to the half marathon and we had a blast. The race is flat, well supported, benefits a good cause and comes with a reduced rate at Tides Folly Beach hotel, Charleston’s only full-service oceanfront hotel (with all oceanfront rooms!). Plus, you can enjoy the charm of South Carolina’s coastline while also dipping into historic Charleston for dinner or some sightseeing. It can’t be beat.
Since that time, we’ve made a point of returning every February. Last year, we were excited to take my parents along for the ride for a restful weekend away. “Wait until you try brunch at the Lost Dog Café! Their homemade hollandaise on the eggs Benedict is to die for,” we said. “You’ll never get over the kimchi beef tacos in lettuce wrap shells at Taco Boy,” we promised.
We hadn’t factored in FollyGras, or Folly Beach’s ode to Mardi Gras. What is normally a fairly sleepy coastal town in the off-season suddenly exploded in a matter of hours to a completely different scene, replete with a huge parade, packed restaurants and revelers that shared in the Mardi Gras spirit well into the wee hours. (The contrast was so jarring that this year’s event, which drew 10,000 cars to the island, is under review by the Mayor.)
Whether or not that’s your kind of thing, knowing that crowds in the thousands may suddenly invade your relaxing coastal weekend is advisable.
Sisters in P-town
A somewhat similar experience, but with some warning, occurred for my bachelorette weekend with my sister on yet another coastline a little further north in Provincetown, Massachusetts, on the northern tip of Cape Cod. Provincetown, P-town as it’s known, is a longtime haven for the artist and LGBT community, and is packed with colorful galleries, lively nightclubs, cabarets and specialty shops along bustling Commercial Street. Every single weekend in P-town has a theme or event, which keeps this already active coastal town hopping.
Our sister celebration weekend fell during Women’s Week, which we knew about ahead of time. What should have been obvious was the fact that everyone would assume throughout our stay that we were a couple on honeymoon, and not sisters celebrating my impending marriage to someone else. It was hilarious, but could be a bit jarring if you were entirely obtuse and headed into town with only artwork and fresh lobster on your mind. (We knew to think twice when our innkeeper did a double-take at us and said, “Oh wait, you’re not a couple? Oh yeah. You ladies better watch out this weekend.”
Incidentally, we stayed at the 8 Dyer Hotel, a consistently top-rated P-town B&B that is only steps away from the heart of it all. The breakfast was TO DIE FOR, the snacks all day long were amazing, the innkeepers were sweethearts and the indoor Jacuzzi was just the thing for our October stay (plus you walk away with your own 8 Dyer waterbottle to stay hydrated while soaking away your troubles).
If you ever get up that way, do NOT miss the casual eats at The Canteen (pro tip: Order the crispy Brussels sprouts – even if you hate Brussels sprouts. And circle around back to eat outside at community-style, long picnic tables with an oceanfront view.) And while you can’t throw a piece of P-town seaglass without hitting an amazing gallery, don’t miss the famous Packard Gallery of Anne, Cynthia and Leslie Packard.
I once read somewhere that the light is inherently different in Provincetown and the vibrant sunrises and sunsets off the water on that tiny tip of the cape have always been a natural draw for artists. Whether you go with brush, bike or party pants in hand, you’re bound to find a good time.
A happy accident at a Montana ghost town
In 2002, I biked from New Haven, Connecticut, to Seattle, Washington to raise money and awareness for our local Connecticut chapter of Habitat for Humanity. A spot on the trip opened just weeks before the departure date, and I eagerly signed up with no training and just enough time to get a road bike and learn to clip in and out of my pedals. Embarking with no training wasn’t wise, but, then again, I had 4,000 road miles to work out the kinks.
Our route brought us up through Niagara Falls with a dip into Canada, through Mackinac Island, Michigan, and a steady course through Badlands National Park, Black Hills National Forest, Bighorn National Forest, Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park and the Cascades.
While in the wilds of Montana, we heard there was something going on at the nearby ghost town of Bannack, in the town of Dillon, which we were biking through. Detours might not seem wise, but when you’re averaging 75 to 100 miles a day, a few miles to catch something cool isn’t that big a deal.
So we pedaled off route and were so glad we did. Our ride-through collided with Bannack Days at Bannack State Park, a celebration of pioneer life held the third weekend of July in this now-abandoned 1862 gold rush town. For one weekend only, the ghost town fills with folks in pioneer dress. In we wandered, a ragtag group of road cyclists in Spandex, more than ready for the pancake breakfast served out of the historic Hotel Meade. We rounded out our stay with fry bread, corn on the cob, fresh lemonade, and a turn at playing in the ghost town jug band (I manned the washboard).
If you’re the planning type, at least be aware of the nearby festivals and celebrations that may be occurring during your stay – so you can avoid them or enjoy them! Successful travel is all about embracing the unexpected – whether it’s Mardi Gras hurricane specials or surprise pancakes on that 100-mile bike ride.