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Being spontaneous can save a vacation

By Angela Reinhardt

staff writer

     If last week’s vacation had a theme it would be Roll with the punches.

We’d had it planned for months: Just me and my family goofing off on the beach for an extended weekend in Florida. But what’s that John Lennon quote? Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans?

     A tinge of anxiety welled up in my stomach as the giant, sloppily organized weather system named Debby spooled up in the gulf.  In an effort to look on the bright side, I maintained hope she would pack up and move out quickly. But as the week trudged on, those hopes were dashed like a dinghy on a raging sea.

Debby stalled, and forecasts for our Florida city were grim. Photos of flooded streets and downed trees paraded across news channels. My husband told me he heard a DJ say something to the effect of, “Man, what a bummer for all you folks who had a trip planned in Florida.” Then a state of emergency was declared.

     Damn.

     Granted, thoughts of driving into the eye of a tropical storm were disconcerting, but not as frightening as the thought of being cooped up in a tiny room at the Hawaiian Inn with a four-year-old and a five-year-old for nearly a week.

     Needless to say, our beach trip capsized and drowned in a soggy whirlpool of sand and palm trees. We cancelled our reservations and, after a few hours of mourning the sun and surf, I started to shift mental gears.

     The night before our original departure date, my husband and I sat on the patio, cooked an incredible meal together and brainstormed. We decided to throw away any real attempt at planning and instead opted for complete spontaneity. Before we had children, we thrived on the stuff. It worked then, why couldn’t it work now?

     That first day of our vacation, my husband went into work, since we were in town. So, for a little gas and a $5 entry fee, I took my children to Amicalola Falls. We packed a picnic, checked out the live snakes and stuffed critters on display in the visitor’s center and hiked all 600-plus stairs to the top of the falls and back down.

     The next morning, I spent about 20 minutes packing absolute essentials - A few clothes, swimsuits, a toothbrush and toothpaste. I didn’t even pack a hair dryer or makeup, and for the first time in my life, I opted to take advantage of the complementary soap and shampoo at whatever hotel where we ended up. Then we all took off for North Georgia, with no itinerary, for a driving tour of our own backyard.

     Neither my husband nor I own a Smart Phone, so we went old-school and relied on a real live paper map to get us around. We didn’t even print out directions. We followed Hwy 515 up through Blairsville by Brasstown Bald and over to Helen, where we went tubing, among other things, and spent the night in a slightly odd, but interestingly charismatic motel on the river.

     Then we toured through parts of the Chattahoochee National Forest, which is absolutely stunning, and hiked, swam, and paddle boated at Vogel State Park (another whopping five bucks for entry). Later it was over to Dahlonega and finally back home again.

     Every day our children asked excitedly, “What are we doing today?” I didn’t know, and I didn’t want to know.

     For very little money, we rediscovered our own homeland and found that not only do we live in a place of incredible beauty, but that being spontaneous on vacation, even with young children and a sweltering heat wave to manage, gave us a unique sense of freedom, excitement and relaxation we had not experienced in years.

     So I highly recommend letting go of your own plans sometime to make memories you didn’t even know you wanted.

     Happy travels!

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