The Shah family from Ahmedabad undertook a 30-day roadtrip in the US. From a raging alarm in their rented apartment, a lad who took umpteen loo breaks, vagaries of weather and more, the lady lived to tell the tale!
I cringed from the sound as my husband pounded away furiously at the laptop! I knew that he was plotting and charting a very arduous road trip that would leave my rambunctious boys gasping for breath! “14 states in 30 days!” he announced at the end of his digital frenzy. He shoved a printout under my chin and I began reading the elaborate plan for vacationing in the USA that included a 30 day road trip from the Mid West to the East Coast.
“But I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep…” I murmured to myself as I boarded the aircraft towards the ‘economy’ class, perspicaciously positioned behind the swanky business class. ‘Seek not material comforts, ye travelling soul…..happiness and contentment is a state of the mind, not behind!’ And so I ignored the opulent ‘Business Class’ and jostled my way towards the 30-32 inches commoner’s seat that had the multiple task to provide for sleep, support meals and entertainment for the next 17 hours. Soon the comfortable masculine shoulder and the warmth of the fleece blanket impelled me to slumberland as I made a mental note.
Tip # 1: Some airlines offer the facility of adding the cumulative family points into the primary holders ‘Frequent Flyers’ account. This enables the primary account holder to book seats in the ‘Premium Economy’ class. The fare is generally 65% less expensive than a ‘Business Class’ fare. These premium seats have up to 50% more legroom, significantly greater recline, more substantial leg rests and headrests, and superior food and wine offerings.
San Francisco – we had arrived!!
If you are a citizen then its halleluiah all the way from the baggage claim to the exit doors of the airport! If not, be ready for snail paced winding lines that take you the friendly officer. Electronic kiosks for immigration make the entry to USA for American citizens seem like a red carpet welcome! I kissed my USA passport and thanked Uncle Sam for taking such good care of its citizens.
Thankfully our rented car had ample trunk space for 8 big bags.
Tip # 2: If you are renting a car make sure you have had a preview of all the cars so that you don’t end squeezing your big bags full of ‘namkeens, farsan and mukhwas’ into minuscule trunk spaces. Never underestimate the spatial power of Indian bags!
Investing in a pre-paid phone plan as soon as we checked into our temporary apartment was the most sensible thing we did in the USA. It gave us instant access to the internet and most importantly we needed our friend, the smart and reliable lady from the GPS who was to be our companion for the next 40 days.
Tip # 3 – Stores like the At&T, sprint etc offer great deals on pre-paid domestic and international calling plans. The AT&T prepaid plan was a genuine deal as there is no fee for activation; otherwise $10 to $25 calling plans with other companies are also widely available.
We checked into our guest house provided by the company and settled our Indian stuff in the apartment shared by one more employee from India. From now, we were on ‘joie de vivre’! Nothing could possibly go wrong, until that one fateful afternoon when the fire alarms went off in all the rooms. Having lived in the U.S I knew just what to do to disable the ear shattering alarm. But I was wrong! Flailing and flapping my arms with a towel would not stop it. Our apartment partner saw me and thought that I was yet another Indian bumpkin who cooked away without the vent fan and created this racket. “I did not cook anything!” I yelled over the alarm. “Then you messed up the washing machine for sure.” Nothing there!
Finally my stunned son dragged me to the balcony and showed me that all the residents were scampering towards the staircases and were headed towards the entrance of the building.
Tip #4: Be alert at all times. Sometimes a mock safety drill or a false alarm could trigger mass evacuation.
We flew into Chicago and rented a SUV from O’Hare airport. There she was! The majestic G.M gleaming like a superstar, chiding us, “Oh! The places you will go…..” We climbed into her ample front and behind and embarked upon our ‘intense’ road trip. Our first destination was St Louis. Wrong! Our first destination was back to O’Hare airport!
We drove off with excitement in our heart, from the airport to meet a friend. All was well until the gleaming majestic GM, parked at our friend’s driveway, was suddenly bruised when our friend was backing up in his own driveway. What ensued later was hours of telephonic and email exchanges between the rental car company and insurance company.
Tip # 5: Car insurance is a must for an extensive road journey. If you do not reside in USA or Canada it is better to buy from the car company. Use Costco travel to find out rental rates to compare or book through it. Some other options are AMEX premium plan for rental car and www.insuremyrentalcar.com
So now we were off by 8 hours as per our planned schedule. “Houston! We have a problem!”
Driving 1085 miles from Chicago to Houston in one day with active boys was seriously a problem!! I gave a look of exasperation to my mentally tired husband who was busy taking notes of which feature was missing in the exchanged car now. “We will survive without the voice alerts”, I chided him! “Main hoon na!” He looked through me and heaved the luggage into the trunk. “All right” I shouted back,” I will not snooze when you drive!” To which he smirked and asked me to pass the laptop bag. All settled in now we were on our way.
Barely had we driven a few miles than we had to stop at an electronic toll plaza. “Insert exact change”, the plaza commanded! “Where are the coins??” my husband hollered and I dug into our wallets only to find petty change. It wasn’t enough! As we passed another 10 odd toll plazas, I logged into the online portal to check our unpaid toll. There it was with time and location. Soon I paid off all the tolls before the evil toll troll punished me for not keeping the exact change. One such automated $1 toll plaza gobbled up close to 3 dollars of coins and yet kept us waiting for the green signal. We drove past it swearing under our breath to complete the undone online.
Tip # 6 – Keep lots of coins, they come in handy in Illinois. Don’t forget to log in to the online portal http://www.illinoistollway.com/ to check for any unpaid or missed tolls.
“Why doesn’t USA have a drive-through toilet?” I yelled when my little one wanted to visit the restroom for the 10th time. I looked at him firmly in the eye and said, “This time you will empty your bladder completely! Not a drop to be left behind.” He nodded in the affirmative and when I turned back I could hear giggles from the brothers-in-arms! But now it was raining. Not raining it was pouring!! “Let’s keep driving” I urged my husband. He already had plan B in mind for my little bathroom lover. He explained the procedure of relieving in a bottle. I gasped with disbelief as he calmly explained the multiple steps involved to conduct a hygienic bladder relief in a wide mouthed glass bottle. My little one was all excited at the prospect of doing the unthinkable! And then, it was over, all clean, not a spill. Ah! Relief!
Tip # 7 – Reuse wide mouthed glass bottles for a toilet emergency. With kids sound asleep behind us it was well past midnight and we were still driving. We were 500 miles away from Houston. It was time to check in to a hotel for the night. The Hilton app came to our rescue as we could choose the hotel closest to our location, book online and use our Hilton Honor points towards room booking.
Tip # 8 – Being affiliated to a points program saves time and provides a lot of convenience to book hotels while on the road. Being a Hilton member ensures rooms that are child friendly and very comfortable. Apps – like Hilton for booking, parking maps, for Chicago downtown parking, big bus tour apps to find out sightseeing places were very useful to us.
From Texas to Florida another 1000 miles was just a piece of cake. Now that we had braved the insurance companies, toll plazas, the weather, restroom emergencies and hotel booking; we already seemed like the pro roadies who knew it all! Until I was jolted awake from my mid morning snooze by a flying object. “The boys are fighting again” mumbled my husband as he lifted off the cruise control and slowly took the next exit. Before I could open my mouth to embark on a long winded lecture my clever husband turned on his laptop quickly and enticed my boys to watch, ‘Arrow’. I looked around embarrassed, composed myself and closed my half open mouth and dragged myself back to my seat.
Tip # 9 – Not all battles need to be fought and conquered. Boys will be boys and sometimes a little distraction and creative engagements can save our sanity. Some other apps that we downloaded on our iPad to keep them busy were: Bitsboard, word morph, Joby’s bistro, Thinkrolls 2, Tales2go, Attributes and inventioneers. While some apps are free, most other apps offer an intial 30 day free trial after which there would be a fee.
As we drove into ‘The Sunshine State’ – the beauty of the tall and willowy palm trees lining the highway was a visual delight for our bleary eyes. The Pensacola Beach is truly a tourist haven! The breathtaking beauty of its turquoise waters, pure white sand and the clear blue skies above rejuvenated our tired souls and we spent the whole day soaking in the warmth and glory of the gentle waves and the sun. It wasn’t until we stood below the shower did we realize our folly. Sun and beach bathing without an effective sunscreen proved dangerous to our Indian skin tone. Besides having gotten triple shades darker, our skin started peeling miserably and we had to protect it for the next few days with generous swaddling of cocoa cream. So much for us Indian bathing beauties in USA’s tropical paradise!!
Tip # 10 – The American Cancer Society recommends SPF 15 or higher for normal daily activity and SPF 30 or higher for extended use or outdoor activity especially at the Beach. The SPF 15 Salt Water Sport Sunscreen Gel, SPF 30 Triple Action Sea Kelp Sunscreen Lotion and SPF 50 Sport Spray Sunscreen are recommended for extended beach fun.
From Florida to Georgia we were on a roll. Our boys were well behaved and we were no more besieged by UFOs as now they had several apps to keep them seated for hours together. We were the unstoppable roadies, all the way from Georgia to Washington D.C. to the ‘Big Apple’. New York to Canada and back to Chicago where we returned our four wheeled companion and bid adieu to our mobile home for 30 days.
Soon we flew back to India and as we boarded the plane from Dubai to Ahmedabad, we were part of our very own thepla and dhokla eating citizens who jostled their way to their seats! Ah! The warmth of the pushy Amdavadi!!