Artist’s Lane: Family trip on a shoestring

By Betty Slade
PREVIEW Columnist

Each year, our family comes from out of town to visit. We tell stories and bring up memories we’ve made together. One of the stories that surfaced this year was our trip to Hawaii -— on a shoestring.

Our youngest daughter lived in Albuquerque at the time and worked at a travel agency. Needless to say, she had access to some amazing discounts. She said to my Sweet Al and me, “The family is planning a vacation. It will only cost you $500 each, which will include airfare and hotel.” 

We will go to Hawaii for 10 days and travel from island to island. We will stay at the King Ranch on Molokai, then go to the southern point of the Big Island and see a live volcano. We will walk through the rain forest and travel between islands on small planes or a ferry. We will even get to visit a pineapple farm, feast at a luau with real hula dancers and place a lei on the statue of a famous swimmer. 

Snorkeling in the ocean and walks on a black sand beach? It all sounded so wonderful. I should have known better when I realized my children wanted to travel on comp passes, determined to see how much fun they could have as they made a game out of traveling on a shoestring.

Our son was in the Philippines and couldn’t get away, so three sisters, my Sweet Al and I packed our bags and headed out for this “trip of a lifetime.” 

No more had I kicked off my shoes and thrown myself on a five-star hotel bed when I found the first clue of the mystery that was to unravel. Traveling on comp passes meant all five of us would stay in one room together and only for one or two nights at each location. 

“It will be cozy and fun,” my middle daughter said. “Besides, we get unlimited chi chis served poolside.”

“And food?”

 “Meals aren’t included, but we have it all figured out. We have an extra-large suitcase packed with snacks, instant oatmeal, rice-in-a-bag, peanut butter, instant coffee and a hot plate. There is also a Costco on one of the islands where we will shop. We will eat in the room and take picnic lunches with us when we travel.”

I was too exhausted to think about what I had gotten myself into. Certainly, there were things I couldn’t deny once we headed to the airport on day two for our first island transfer. Would you believe that an extra-large suitcase full of food weighed 75 pounds? I know this because it was over the limit. The only way we could board the plane was to evenly distribute our daily snack rations into the other nine suitcases. I told one of our daughters that I didn’t even want to know how much the airline charged for over-weight baggage. 

Her response, “Don’t worry, we will eat as we go, which will lighten the load.”

To our children, our vacation on a shoestring was the ultimate family adventure. They would spring for a rental car and move us from one tourist attraction to another. We visited everything from a museum to a graveyard and everything in between.

When we needed to switch hotels, the five of us and our 10 suitcases piled in the car, my Sweet Al bungeed the hatch and off we went. Picture the opening credits of the Beverly Hillbillies if you want to relive that moment. 

A trip to Costco would supply us with everything we needed to make burritos. And how would we cook the hamburger meat? In the coffee pot, of course. 

It was about this time that I had enough of “the fun.” And then the fire alarm went off and there was a knock at the door. My Sweet Al and my three daughters scrambled for cover. Two in the bathroom, the other two out on the balcony. 

“Get the door, Mother. See who it is.” 

I opened the door and there stood a security guard, a retired policeman from Chicago. 

“Ma’am, there is no smoking in the room.”

“Trust me, none of us were smoking.” I couldn’t bring myself to tell him how we were cooking our dinner, but I think he figured it out. The whiff of Hatch green chile surely gave us away. 

Every activity was like a roll of the dice, including a ride on one of the deadliest roads in the world, Kahekill Highway. It is unforgivably known as the “death highway of Maui.” The road was not in any condition for travel, but we went on it anyway. It was one of our daughters’ birthdays and she insisted on seeing the sunset at the end of the road.

We scraped the bottom and tore off the tailpipe on the rental car. Back at our five-star hotel, in the valet parking area, my Sweet Al asked a construction worker for some wire. He lay under the car and tied up the parts to hide the evidence. I just looked the other way in complete disbelief. 

After 10 days of hopping from one place to another, I told my family, “My nerves are frayed.” They couldn’t believe I felt that way. For them, the experience was nothing short of playing with a barrel of monkeys. 

Final brushstroke: Counting cost is different to each person. For some, the adventure of tripping on a shoe string is worth more than paying full price to someone else. But, when it comes to telling stories and laughing with family, the cost of being part of an experience is invaluable. While I am certain I will question my decision, if asked by my children to “do it again,” count me in. 

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This story was posted on July 14, 2020.