The Journey Begins

“There is never a good time to take a vacation, so take one anyways.” W. Churchill

Of course the best laid plans often go awry and the day before we left was no different. We decided to fly out on a Monday in order to have the weekend to pack and also because there’s more awards availability when departing on a Monday (so it was cheaper). We were leaving from Dulles in Washington D.C. rather than Richmond, VA because it’s an international airport and has more awards availability, plus there was a lesser chance of delay/cancellation. 

Due to booking late, after waiting for my sons passport to arrive, our only flight options included various layovers ranging from one to eleven hours. We looked at the extra layovers as chances to explore different environments with our kids, and even if we had to stay in the airport, we’d at least be able to experience Swiss chocolate or eat Canadian Poutine. Carpe Diem.

Leaving from Dulles would require booking long term parking for a reasonable price, plus it added two hours to our total travel time. We ended up using Spotherowhich leases out unused parking spaces at nearby office buildings and hotels. We parked at a nearby Marriott Residence Inn in Herndon, VA and the total cost was $97.74 to leave our car there from June 11th to June 29th. We considered leaving our car with family in Alexandria and then taking a cab/Uber to the airport, but the cost would have only been $20 cheaper. Since it would have added another hurdle to getting to our plane on time, we elected to use the Spothero app and couldn’t have been happier with its simplicity and 24/7 security guard watching our car while we were away, plus it provided us with a much-needed shuttle to the airport.

Not everything went as smoothly, and on the Sunday before leaving I made myself overly paranoid reading articles about people coming home following an extended vacation to floods so I decided to flush my hot water heater. I’m not a very handy man, and my forward thinking almost cost us the trip when the faucet handle immediately snapped off hopelessly expelling water with no way to shut it off. 

After some verbal abuse from my wife, and a lot of side-eye, I convinced her to sit under the hot water heater filling up buckets while I ran to the hardware store to find a replacement faucet. She panicked and asked for help on Facebook and a contractor from the neighborhood showed up to tell us that it would be impossible to repair and we’d need to order a new hot water heater immediately. That was obviously not an option because we were leaving for France in 12 hours and I could see the tears well up in my wife’s eyes as the words left his mouth. My over-prepping had become my worst enemy and postponing the trip would have been all my fault if I couldn’t figure out how to fix this problem.

After shaking off the image of sending my family to France without me, I took all the broken plastic pieces to Home Depot and compared them to the maze of metal faucets available. I showed the pieces to an employee and was again told that I would need a whole new hot water heater, but luckily I ignored them and was able to find one that looked similar. 

I returned home to a drenched and angry wife as I wrapped plumbers tape around the threads and prayed to Mario it would work. I shoved the new faucet into the rusty hole, plugging it, and doing my best to portray the image of an unconcerned man I spun it tighter and tighter until finally the leak was contained.  I of course told my wife this was exactly what I meant to have happen, and that I was in control the whole time.  She never bought it, but the first crisis was averted.

The next hurdle was packing, Since I wanted the kids to pack and carry their own bags, a careful audit was required to ensure they had everything they needed for the various environments, from the French Alps to the beaches of Pisa and the Sistine Chapel. 

Our total luggage included 2 checked suitcases, 3 carry-on backpacks, 2 laptop bags, and my wife’s purse, we also brought an empty top-load canvas bag for transporting dirty laundry. I purchased luggage locks as well, but didn’t end up using them after TSA told me they could be cut off. Prior to leaving, we also went to the grocery store and let the kids each pick a healthy snack for the plane which were packed in my youngest daughters bag with her single stuffed animal allotted for the journey. 

After finding out that barely any places in Italy have air conditioning, I decided to purchase portable fans which have a 13 hour battery and are pocket-sized. They ended up being an important investment if we wanted to sleep comfortably, and a power converter was also necessary. Since we were going to multiple countries, I purchased one with detachable plugs and a voltage converter.

I hopped into the family SUV to pull it out of the garage and load it with our luggage, but the travel gods weren’t done throwing me curve balls yet when the truck wouldn't start. To make this work we’d now need to fit five people and eight bags into my Prius.

The next morning we gated our pooch in the kitchen, left a note for our house sitter, and stopped at the Post Office to ship some last-minute items, then we set off for the airport. It was a cozy car ride, but also good preparation for the kids who had no idea how cramped the plane would be after never having flown before. We left at 9:00 AM and, after dropping our car at the Marriott in Herndon and taking the shuttle to Dulles, we arrived at the airport around Noon. 

Getting through security with the kids was quick and easy, since we received the free TSA Precheck benefit with our Chase Sapphire Reserve card, and we found the way to our gate with plenty of time to spare. After feeding them some fast food for lunch, we boarded the plane and were on our way to our first layover in Canada.

After disembarking from the plane we were shuffled through hallways and arrived at Canadian immigration where we stepped up to an available kiosk, answered some questions, and had our photos taken. I thought that layovers didn’t require an immigration check because we never left the airport, but apparently that wasn’t the case. 

My passport was flagged from an argument with a border guard that occurred during one of my frequent trips across the border while attending college in Rochester, NY. I was in my libertarian phase and NY residents were recently required to have visas to cross after being able to just show my driver's license in years prior. Apparently, cursing at a Canadian border officer and ranting about imaginary lines will get you banned from their country for life, but keeping out assholes like my former self is probably why everyone is so pleasant in Canada. They asked me if I knew why I was stopped and I foolishly said I didn’t, then a snarky woman at the counter smirked and escorted my family to one of the interrogation rooms while commenting “I know why you’re here.”

We waited around for over an hour in that room while trying to keep the kids calm, but we had a backup plan if I ended up getting deported. My wife was going to take the kids the rest of the way to France and then I’d catch a plane the next morning which didn’t connect through Canada.

Our group was called and an officer asked me some questions about the timeline since the incident and if I had committed any crimes since. My teenage stepson finally found something he was immensely interested in because he couldn’t help but push his way to the front to hear what was going on. Since it had been over ten years, and after apologizing profusely, the border agent agreed to stamp my passport and let us pass with a warning that I would need to go through extended immigration checks every time I tried to fly through Canada in the future. 

Luckily, we got through the baggage x-ray line quickly and made it just in time for our flight. We handed out some gummy melatonin to the children so they’d sleep on the plane, in an attempt to fight the inevitable jet lag, but the discomfort of not having a window seat kept the boys awake for the duration of the trip. My daughter slept like a baby after the drama in Canada and we were finally on our way to Paris.

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