How to survive a vacation tip 1: don’t trust the website

Last updated: April 2021

A couple of weeks before Memorial Day weekend, I had an epiphany: I needed a vacation. Not an action-packed trip, mind you, but a vacation. No commitments. No one to answer to. No schedule. A vacation.

Considering my health situation and limitations caused by the seemingly incessant Migraine attacks I've been suffering through the last two months or so, my first instinct was to assume that I had to go alone. Having another person there would mean I'd feel guilty if I had to bail on plans to go to the beach for a couple hours or if I sat through dinner with my ice water glass against my forehead. So I concluded I'd go it alone.

Until I thought of a certain friend of mine, one of my best and dearest friends. In the interest of privacy (read: she doesn't know I'm talking about her on my blog as we speak), I shall call her by the nickname each of us has taken to calling the other: Handicapped Twin. HT for short. She is a woman near my age with rheumatoid arthritis--this year in particular she's had a really rough time of it and we've taken turns being laid up at each other's house to watch movies and zone out in our drugged hazes.

A week or so before Memorial Day, I emailed HT, who was finishing up a particularly hectic week at work. I said something to the effect of, "I need a vacation. I'm going to the beach. You're the only person I can think of who'd be the perfect company. Interested?" Within a couple hours I got an all-caps response: "HELL YES!!!" And thus The Plan was born.

I researched lots of hotels off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina and decided we should go to Jekyll Island, a gorgeous and (for now) well-preserved island I've been visiting since I was a wee little thing. Turns out HT and her family went to Jekyll since the 70s or early 80s as well, so she was up for some relaxing and reminiscing. I showed HT the top five hotels I'd found, and we selected one with a sharp website and a claim that the entire property had just been renovated. After confirming there was a hot tub and beach access, we booked it.

A five or six hour drive on Friday afternoon led us to Jekyll. We parked in front of the lobby at what looked like a long, stretched out motor lodge. "Maybe it's nice inside," thought I, thinking simultaneously of how the hotel room price and the facade did not at all match. We got our hotel room key and anxiously wheeled our luggage to the door. First thing I noticed? Cracks and cobwebs and rust by the dingy front window. I reassured myself again: "Maybe it's nice inside."

It wasn't.

The room smelled of stale smoke and mildew. (When we left for dinner, HCTFebreezed the whole joint--after asking me if the scent would bother me. What a great handicapped twin!) The hotel had graciously put in incandescent bulbs for me but, when I went to turn on the lights, the lamps weren't working. The "new" carpet was torn in a couple of spots, there were spider webs in the corner, and the stuccoed ceiling looked almost furry in texture. I dared not look too closely above my head for fear of figuring out what the dark matter in between the white fibers of the ceiling was, exactly. The bathroom light was a fluorescent, so I brought in one of the lamps to plug in and set on the counter. Turns out the only outlet functioned only when the overhead fluorescent was on. Attempting to remove the sticky, dusty, yellowed cover off the fluorescent bulb proved disgustingly impossible. The bathroom fan cover was suffocating with dust, dirt, and "debris," as HT so affectionately called the clumps of mysterious gray matter on the intake screen.

I called the front desk about the nonworking lamps and said, "Also: I was wondering if you had any renovated rooms available..." "What room are you in?" "617." "That one is renovated, ma'am." "Um, what exactly was renovated? Because..." (Then I proceeded to give a brief description of the horror I've already described above.) "Oh, each room got new paint, new carpet, and furniture."

Oh. Well then. Ignore the typical hotel tradition of cleaning the rooms and making sure the electricity works, I guess.

That night, I fell asleep in my double bed not feeling so hot. In the middle of the night, I had to take some medication and at last fell back into a hazy, fitful sleep. In the morning, I felt great--that is, until I lifted myself from the bed. Pressure rushed to my sinuses and the Migraine attack restarted in earnest. I left the room to read outside, but the blaring sun was too much for me to take when in so much head pain. Heading back into the room to lie on the bed to read meant another rush of stale mustiness, which made everything feel worse again.

When HT woke up, she too was feeling worse for the wear and completely congested, as I was. She said, "It's the mold." "What mold?" "The mold. On the ceiling. Look." "Wait--that dark stuff is MOLD? Are you serious!?" Eventually, after we'd decided we'd leave in order to save our poor bodies, I climbed on a chair to scrape at the ceiling with a ballpoint pen. Sure enough, the white ceiling material stayed put as the wettish mold scraped off with little work.


We went to the front desk, ready with my camera full of evidence in case the receptionist said we had to pay for the next two nights, too. Instead, the impersonal but effecient woman quickly printed up a receipt for one night and said we weren't committed to Saturday and Sunday despite the internet agreement we were supposed to adhere to. Cool.

We drove out of there and scoped out more hotels, eventually deciding upon an expensive (but aptly priced) condo farther down the main road. The space was open, clean, personal, and--get this!--not moldy in the least. We felt pretty good for a couple of days and, unsurprisingly, those pesky sinus issues cleared up as soon as we were away from Room from Hell for a few hours.

That brings me to lesson 2 in tips for surviving a vacation: paying for what you need may cost more than the cheapy places, but it's NOT splurging if you're putting your health first.

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