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Lessons Learned From Vacation

April 11, 2011 · 28 comments

in Life

Each new day in life is an opportunity to learn something, and vacation is no exception.  Actually, for me, I learn more during ‘off’ days because I actually have a few minutes to really pay attention to what is going on around me, instead of rushing from one place to the next.

So, what did I learn during my 10 day break from normal life?

Ignorance Can Be Bliss, and It Can Be Dangerous!

We were staying in a hotel right on the Gulf Coast and there was a terrible storm.  The locals said they normally only get storms that strong during hurricane season.

Stingrays swimming near the shore in the Gulf of Mexico (Florida)

The storm really affected the Gulf water for the next few days, even though the weather was beautiful.  The waves were so high you could actually surf on them if you wanted, it was so fun!  However, the water was also all churned up from all the wind and such that you could not see clearly to the bottom at all.  This cloudy water lasted until the morning of our departure.

As we were packing up, I looked out the balcony and I saw about 10 stingrays swimming right by the shore.  Rays generally do not like people and will swim away if you get too close.  However, they can and may still sting you.  My daughter thought she might have stepped on a ray early in the trip as she did see one near the shore that morning, but she was not stung.  I didn’t give the stingray much thought and figured it was an isolated incident.  Once I could see the water though, I realized that those rays were everywhere.  Had the water been clear and I saw how many rays were in the water when we first arrived, we may not have gone in the water at all.  Instead, we spent 2 whole days frolicking in the water nonstop.

Tip: Really, really research any vacation destination.  I had investigated our hotel on Tripadvisor and such, but I did not read all the reviews.  Had I known the beach had so many stingrays, I don’t know that I would have chosen the same location.  We did have a great time, and it was beautiful.  However, if someone had gotten stung or hurt, I would have been pretty upset.

Plan as much as you can, but accept reality will most likely be much different

Driving for 20 hours with 3 kids requires a lot of packing and planning.  I like to plan the basics of any trip, and then play the rest by ear.  Meaning, I have the hotel reserved, the bags packed, and that is about it.  However, this time, we needed to take along medication (Vancomycin) that had to be refrigerated, along with a bunch of probiotics and other OTC medicines.  Well, about 5 days into our trip, my son came down with a raging sinus infection/fever, and with the exception of the Vancomycin, I  realized I had left all the other medications behind at the other hotel.  (We had since traveled from the Gulf to Orlando.)   To make matters even better, I realized I had left the Vancomycin out on the counter overnight instead of putting it in the refrigerator.  In my pre-planned perfect world, all the medicines would be taken exactly as directed and would be transported properly.  Instead, I ended up spending an afternoon tracking down probiotics at the Vitamin Shoppe and I had to get on the phone with several pharmacists to find out if the Vancomycin would still be stable after being out overnight. Thankfully, it all ended up ok.

Surprisingly, I just rolled with it, but I very easily could have gotten frustrated and upset and ruined an entire day because things did not go as planned.  This is nothing short of a miracle for me!

Tip: Try to be as flexible as possible, especially when it comes to situations you may not be able to control.  Worry and guilt are both useless emotions, and so don’t let them get the best of you.  (OK, I need to repeat that to myself about 1000 times…)

If A Store Seems Scary, Don’t Buy Anything From It

We were driving back to Michigan, and it was getting dark, so we decided to pull over and get some gas and a cup of coffee.  We were kind of in the middle of nowhere, but there was a gas station that was open.  We walked in and the ‘convenience store’ portion of the station was actually more of a souvenir shop- from hell.  The store was selling ‘fresh fruit’, which consisted of moldy strawberries in the fridge and some citrus out front.  (Produce shipping was available too!) All of us needed to use the restroom, but they were closed for cleaning.  After a couple minutes, the restroom doors were opened to reveal a giant puddle of bleach water sitting in the middle of the floor.

After a quick trip to the bathroom, we looked around a minute.  Turns out some of the souvenirs were quite gruesome.  The store was selling real alligator heads (small ones that were preserved somehow) and baby sharks in jars of formaldehyde.  Of course, Mickey and Minne were on the next set of shelves over, so it was quite an amalgamation of offerings.

In the end, we did buy a bottle of prepackaged Starbucks iced coffee and some overpriced gas.   However, the ‘iced’ coffee was room temperature and was promptly whipped into the garbage.  The whole experience  left us all feeling creeped out and we just got out of there instead of asking for a refund on the bad iced coffee.

Tip: Buying fresh fruit, preserved baby sharks, or small alligator heads at a gas station is probably never a good idea.

I am sure I could come up with many more lessons, but this post is getting quite lengthly.  Overall, we had a fantastic time and it really was hard to come home.  However, I was so happy to take a shower and sleep in my wonderfully comfortable bed after a 20 hour drive.

Do you have any vacation stories to share?

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Moneycone April 12, 2011 at 7:06 am

Glad you and your family had a good time Kris! Preserved baby sharks and aligator heads? Maybe they were kept just to distract you from the high gas prices!


Kris April 12, 2011 at 2:13 pm

We already paid for our expensive gas before we got to see all the oddities unfortunately, but good point!

I could not get out of there fast enough, that is for sure. Also, I did not request any produce be shipped to my house!


101 Centavos April 12, 2011 at 7:36 am

Good advice, Kris. We’ve been tossing around a few ideas on vacations ourselves, and a trip to the Gulf is top three in destinations.


Kris April 12, 2011 at 2:12 pm

The gulf is definitely a great place. We have been to Sarasota, Long Boat Key, Marco Island, Venice Beach (great for sharks teeth) and now North Redington beach. You can’t go wrong with the view anywhere along the gulf coast. The thing I disliked about Marco island was the sand was comprised of crushed shells, which made the feet pretty darn sore. The Siesta Key area is just beautiful. I also liked Redington if you are looking for a nice quiet place to stay.

Let us know where you decide to go!


Nicole April 12, 2011 at 8:42 am



Kris April 12, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Was that in reaction to the baby sharks, alligator heads, gas station produce, or room temperature dairy products?? 🙂


Dmarie April 13, 2011 at 6:02 pm

I second Nicole’s Eep…to all of the above!


Kris April 13, 2011 at 10:23 pm

But we really did have fun!!! 🙂


Money Reasons April 12, 2011 at 12:24 pm

I think I was driving through West Virginia, when the 2 lane highway was funnelled into 1 lane. Well the truck pulling the large mobile home on a tractor trailer took out all the orange cones! The cones went flying like bowling pins and some even went into the next lane (over the cement divider). It was both funny and scary at the same time.

Of course the truck driver just kept right on rollin on 🙂

Since I got stung on my last Vacation trip by jellyfishs, I’ve now check online to see if the jellyfish are bad during the time I’m on vacation or not…


Kris April 12, 2011 at 2:09 pm

I remember the tractor-trailer incident!

We saw jellyfish blobs along the shore, but never saw any in the actual water. The stingrays were beautiful to see and fascinating to watch. But, they did give me pause, that is for sure!


Money Reasons April 12, 2011 at 9:45 pm

Ever since the Crocodile hunter incident, I’ve have much more respect for stingrays. Plus I learned how nasty those tails really are! Great pictures of them by the way!

Needless to say, I hate jellyfish! I heard they don’t have brains, how odd…

I’ll never forget that tractor-trailer incident, it was like it was from a movie 🙂


Kris April 12, 2011 at 9:58 pm

I kept thinking about the Crocodile Hunter too. I don’t know if the storm is what brought these rays in to shore or if it is normal for them to be so prevalent near the beach. However, they were really neat to see, but I don’t think I would choose to swim with them again.

I can see why you (and I assume your son) hate jellyfish!!


tampa girl April 12, 2011 at 12:56 pm

IMO after 20+ years living just 30 minutes from the Gulf Beaches- Indian Shores, Coquina and Fort DeSoto Park are the tops and not nearly as touristy as the ‘bigger ones.

On your next trip- consider skipping the hotel and rent a condo/personal residence beach front on VRBO.com – much cheaper and a way better experience. We started doing this a few years ago- I will never go back to a hotel for any trip longer than 3 days.


Kris April 12, 2011 at 2:08 pm

We were actually in North Redington beach, which was actually very peaceful and nice. I wanted to avoid some of the more popular beaches since it was spring break and all.

I too prefer to stay in a condo or something. But we were only staying three nights, so the hotel was just fine. Thanks for the suggestions though!


Niki April 12, 2011 at 3:40 pm

That sounds scary. Sting rays, alligator heads and moldy fruit, oh my! Rolling with the punches is the best way to vacation, nothing is ever going to work out perfectly, at least not for us.


Kris April 12, 2011 at 10:01 pm

Niki, you are very right, we have no guarantees that things will ever be perfect. It is the tough things in life that make us stand up and take notice (usually) and adds perspective to our lives.

The sting rays really weren’t that scary because we didn’t really know they were around when we swimming. Had we known, well that is a different story. Preserved animals are definitely scary though, especially when it is being sold right next to food.


Crystal @ BFS April 12, 2011 at 4:20 pm

I think that rolling with the punches on vacations or life in general is the best advice ever. I used to overreact very easily but the last week was just too sucky to handle like that. Instead of ruining a whole weekend, we just packed up the car and celebrated our friend’s 21st birthday as planned. Life goes on. 🙂


Kris April 12, 2011 at 9:59 pm

BFS – isn’t it funny how adversity can affect your entire mindset? Some things that used to really bother me don’t even affect me anymore. I am not saying I am indifferent to everything, but I have learned that the little things are not worth losing sleep over. I am glad you were still able to enjoy your weekend even after having such a bad week.


Armando@CreditDonkey April 23, 2011 at 3:32 am

Good thing you and your family still had a great time on your location because from what you described the water was nowhere in good condition, and good thing nobody got stung, Personally this is the reason I don’t like beaches because there are a lot of sea creatures that can cause serious accidents.


Kris April 24, 2011 at 10:25 pm

Armando, the water was still fine, just stirred up. (I assume it was still fine… 🙂 )

I love the beach. However, until I visited Florida and the Carolinas, I never realized how common rays and jellyfish are. As I said, my ignorance was bliss.


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