A couple of months ago, I had what I thought was the worst travel experiences when I went from Prague to Cusco; a trip that took 32 hours. But when Hurricane Irma threatened to totally mess up a scheduled trip, these two evacuees beat my experience and then some. My friend, who never loses her cool for anything, experienced severe anxiety for the first time. And her boyfriend, who only travels to see the Foo Fighters in concert, risked missing them at Lollapalooza Berlin.
GnomeTrotting: So what happened?
Anxious for the First Time in her Life (AFTL): Irma happened. We had this trip planned for six months. And I was in an extreme state of denial for a week and a half. I kept telling him for a whole week it’s gonna be fine.
Travels for Foo (TF): Growing up in Florida you see projections and they’re never accurate.
AFTL: On Friday, the day we were supposed to fly out, it wasn’t near Florida. So my whole thing was that it would still be so far on Friday. And it was true. Our flight could have left.
TF: Wednesday I started to freak out ’cause other major airlines started to cancel. We weren’t sure if our airline was ballsy or they were just slow. At the end of the day, they did the same thing as all the other airlines, but gave us less notice.
GT: When was the flight cancelled?
TF: Thursday at 4 pm.
GT: I broke the news. Because I was refreshing that page all day.
TF: I was expecting that notification.
AFTL: Yeah on Wednesday night, I noticed he hadn’t come to bed and it was 2:30 am. He walks in and tells me, “I’ve been looking for two hours for a backup plan.”
TF: The problem was that early on, we could fly to Berlin cheap as hell from anywhere in the country. The problem was getting out of Florida. Florida to anywhere wasn’t happening.
AFTL: Thursday, a day before the flight… we go to work, everything is fine. And we got word at 4 pm. That’s when I got worried.
TF: We weren’t even packed. So leaving on the same day wasn’t an option. Unless we were willing to come here and buy a new wardrobe. And flights for the next day were getting cancelled left and right.
AFTL: I was getting my nails done. And you tell us at 4, the flight is cancelled. I sat down I picked my colors for my Oktoberfest outfit and my phone is going off. I had to make something up. I told the nail tech I couldn’t do my feet cause ‘my boyfriend wants to evacuate tonight.’
GT: What were the flights like getting out of Miami?
AFTL: We were both looking online, but all the available flights were a lie. When you clicked it, it wasn’t actually available. You couldn’t buy it. So I started freaking out. I started calling. I even wanted to just show up at the airport.
TF: Yeah, you know it’s bad for AFTL to call places. And I was following the airlines and MIA on Twitter for more than 24 hours. They were saying their garages were full. If you don’t have tickets don’t come to our airport.
GT: So what did you finally book over the phone?
AFTL: I figured our best bet was Fort Lauderdale and not Miami. And I called Spirit, since I know they fly from there. I waited on hold for exactly 56 minutes. When the woman answered, I told her, “I need a flight out of Miami. To anywhere.” She says, “We have this one to Baltimore. At 8 pm.” And I thought she meant the next day. I know that’s in the northeast. I knew NY had options, so we were going to book it. Then I’m halfway through booking it and I realize, wait… tonight? We don’t have time.
TF: Yeah, when she told me it was the same night… With no packed bags. And we needed to get from Miami to Fort Lauderdale in 2 hours.
AFTL: So I asked her what she had got tomorrow? What’s the closest thing? She said, “There’s a flight out of Orlando to Philadelphia at 7 am tomorrow.” Meanwhile, every report is saying that it’s taking 9 or 10 hours to get to Orlando. I didn’t think we were going to make it.
TF: And the whole week, I hadn’t been worrying about gas cause I thought we were gonna be out of the country. Now we have to be halfway across the state and we have no gas and her car needs new tires. So I start driving around. I go to a gas station and the line looks long but I got gas within 30 minutes. You can tell whoever owned the station brought out the family to help with that emergency situation. They had one entrance closed so no one could skip the line and they were directing traffic. That’s how they controlled it. No chaos.
AFTL: By the time I got home, the last person I knew who went to Orlando had taken 9 hours. We had less than 9 hours already. And I had kept half packing, really depressed thinking I might not get to go. I didn’t wanna pack cause I didn’t think it as real. So when he got home, it was just a Tazmanian devil cartoon of him throwing shit out of the closet at me.
TF: We hadn’t done anything to protect our apartment except the shutters were up. Unplugging electronics, bagging our things.. we had done nothing.
AFTL: We made sandwiches for the road. This is how I knew I had feelings. I had nothing to eat the whole day. I woke up at 5:30 am. I didn’t eat anything until 10:30 pm halfway to Orlando.
GT: So you guys live in an evacuation zone, a storm surge area. For people who don’t know what that means, it’s when the ocean reclaims land and turns streets into rivers. So what was your evacuation plan if you hadn’t gotten this flight?
AFTL: We did not make one cause we were positive we were gonna be on vacation.
TF: If it wasn’t for her, I had no fear for life even though we were in a flood zone. The person interviewing us is a worry wart. And I’ve been throught Andrew and I know my town. I wasn’t gonna leave Miami. I didn’t wanna be far away.
AFTL: I did feel West Palm was gonna be more secure but I didn’t wanna be an hour and a half away. We got supplies even though we assumed we were leaving.
GT: How was the drive to Orlando?
AFTL: We were so hopped up on adrenaline and anxiety we required zero Red Bull. And since he had been stalking the Twitter, he thought the Orlando parking lot would be full. So we started looking up parking. But a couple of the lots were still open. So we left it there. At the end of the trip, we need to find a way to get to Orlando to bring the car back.
TF: Then you had your hero moment and saved the flight by paying attention to the GPS. I would have never paid attention to the GPS, because we’ve gone to Orlando so many times.
AFTL: Yeah, we got on the road. I was on my GPS. I would tell him about any delays up ahead. The biggest slow down was supposed to be an extra 25 minutes. So we got off and took another route.
GT: And that was a smart move because my parents got stuck in that same “25 minute delay” for 4 hours. You guys would have missed your flight.
AFTL: We got there in 4.5 hours at 1:39 am. The flight was at 7 am.
GT: Did you manage to sleep?
AFTL: He passed out for like an hour. I journaled. We escaped Florida. We’re here. It’s such a sense of relief. Half of me doesn’t believe I made it.
GT: But you still had a lot of trip to go at this point. What was the rest of the route?
TF: We flew to Philadelphia. And we had a lot of time between that flight and a flight to Dusseldorf out of JFK.
GT: Did you book the flight to Germany before you got to Philly? What if you hadn’t made it?
AFTL: We booked it with insurance. Now we know how important that is. And we didn’t get our bus to New York until we got to Philadelphia. And when we got there, we booked a bus to New York like at 11 am.
GT: How much time did you have in New York? What did you do there?
AFTL: Like 8 hours. He looked up luggage storage. We had to be at the airport by 6:30 pm , and we realized we had a few things we could do. Neither one of us had been to the NY public library. So we stored luggage, and our only plan was library and meatballs. So we walked around and at that point he started to shut down. He was like, “I need to sit down right now.” And I was totally cracked out.
GT: Then you had a connection from Dusseldorf to Berlin to get you guys there in time for TF to see the Foo Fighters at Lollapalooza. How many hours was it total?
AFTL: 43 hours.
GT: Did you sleep from NY to Berlin?
AFTL: An hour at most. It was a 6.5 flight, so I was scared to take my sleeping pill. I might have been lucky enough to sleep 2.5 hours. We got to Berlin and I showered. We were disgusting from not having showered for 48 hours. We weren’t gonna nap, but I took a nap.
TF: I’ve never seen anything like it. She knocked out in a second and woke up an hour later, ready to go.
AFTL: We woke up, had drinks at the highest point in Berlin. And the rest is history. Five days later, I can’t believe I made it. I keep thinking my flight is gonna get cancelled.
GT: How gross was your underwear?
AFTL: I threw it out. It wasn’t until NY that I realized I had been in these clothes for 36 hours. I was so hyped up. I didn’t even think about it. We were so frantic to get out of Miami. In Berlin, I had been up for 48-50 hours straight. My underwear was disgusting.
GT: What was it like experiencing Irma from far away?
TF: Guilt. Worry. Because this was nothing like our original vacation. We had booked months ago, but it got canceled. And we still planned a new way to leave after. Nothing happened like I said it would. But it would have been weird to be here if anything happened to family or our homes.
AFTL: I felt weird things. Feelings I didn’t wanna feel. My body was still physically exhausted.
TF: As devastating as you could have felt about losing a vacation you’ve been planning, it still wouldn’t have been as bad as a disaster hitting your family, your home. I don’t think I would have been able to stay here for 12 days.
GT: But if you had to do it again, would you leave?
AFTL: I’d always leave.
TF: I’d leave. I’d also tell you to shut the fuck up cause you were stressing so much.