Traveling always includes bumps in the road — some more expected than others

What we love about travel— the surprises and new experiences — are exactly what we hate about travel. You try to anticipate the rough spots and make adjustments. Then, you can only hope fate doesn't throw you a wicked curve, like a line of thunderstorms, a grumpy security officer or a mechanical failure.

Looking back at a trip last weekend to my high school reunion in New Jersey, I figured out there are only three kinds of travel problems: the ones you know about beforehand, the ones you should know about and the kind you can't know about.

I encountered it all going to Jersey and back.

Friday morning: I called late, but the cab company said a taxi would arrive before 8:20 a.m. at my South Tampa home. Close but still enough time for the 9:45 a.m. flight. When the cab didn't show, a dispatcher asked if the address was in Riverview or Brandon. Then, he argued it really was 8:17 a.m., not 8:20. And the cab — he even gave it an ID number — was rolling up now. It wasn't. I jumped into my car and sped off for Tampa International. (Should have known they'd be late).

I screeched into the parking space, sweating under a tweed jacket for the fall chill up north. Lugging a roll-aboard and suit bag, I jogged up to a short line for security screening.

Panic over missing my flight was replaced by confusion over collecting stuff that went through the X-ray machine: the rolling bag, plus three plastic bins holding the suit bag, jacket, sneakers, belt and pocket stuff. A large guy balked after I picked up his shoe by mistake. More sweating. (Should have known to consolidate and put the jacket in the suit bag).

Friday afternoon: I picked up the rental car at Philadelphia International and aimed toward the New Jersey Turnpike, my Yahoo map instructions perched on the Chevy compact's passenger seat. Everything went smoothly until I missed my exit to the north Jersey suburbs.

Traffic zipped by as I rode past industrial Elizabeth and Bayonne. Signs for the George Washington Bridge and Holland Tunnel to New York beckoned. I finally took an exit for Jersey City, and a toll-taker pointed out how to catch the southbound Turnpike and double back. (Should have known to keep a closer eye on directions).

Sunday morning: On three hours' sleep and two cups of coffee, I headed back toward Philadelphia bleary but confident. Retracing your route always beats trailblazing. And I had couple aces up my sleeve.

Traffic was light and moved quickly on the Turnpike. I gassed up 90 minutes before exiting onto a state highway that led to an interstate that led to the bridge to Philadelphia. I turned off the highway and gasped at signs declaring the interstate ramp was closed. Fortunately, the ramp wasn't really closed. There was just a stop sign at the interstate and no merge lanes. (Couldn't know this one).

Philadelphia International teemed with traffic. Security checkpoint lines for the Southwest Airlines gates looked like something out of a Disney park. I'd learned weeks earlier from a Southwest reservations agent that late-morning and early-afternoon flights to Tampa would likely be slammed.

That's why I got to the terminal an hour before departure. And I paid $10 for early-bird check-in. That queues you up for a boarding pass before regular customers and a good chance to land in the first boarding group. When I walked on board, there was plenty of bin space for my two carry-ons and a window seat at mid-cabin. We arrived in Tampa 15 minutes early.

I love it when a plan (finally) works.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

Traveling always includes bumps in the road — some more expected than others 10/12/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 12, 2010 8:48pm]

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