The #1 Rule When Traveling: Be Flexible!

A change of pace in this article: travel tips so you can get the most out of your vacation.

Often travelers assume their vacation will be a wonderfully restful, peaceful getaway.  But occasionally an unplanned event inserts itself into the itinerary and throws the trip’s participants for a loop.  When this happens, there is one thing all travelers must remember:  BE FLEXIBLE!

Case in point . . . . .

Welcome to Yellowstone

A road trip for my husband and I to Yellowstone National Park started out like any journey I take:  much anticipated and very well planned.  Part of the joy I derive from travel is the planning that takes place well before the car leaves the garage or the plane takes off.  I make decisions about places to sleep and reservations are secured.  Restaurants are scoped out, with locations and menus noted.  I research activities and sights and each day can be planned in advance.  Spontaneity is not my strong suit and this is very obvious when I travel.

Along the Firehole River

Fall was the ideal time to visit Yellowstone as the weather was perfect and the diminished numbers of people made for much more relaxed visits to all the National Park’s sights.  We spent idyllic days seeking the different species of wildlife, fishing in clear rivers, and marveling at the unique geologic spectacles found only in Yellowstone.

One of many thermal features

The next leg of this journey took us to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Montana.  We purchased an auto tour CD and, over the course of several hours, drove to the far end of the property as we learned the history that happened here.  We were at the last stop, the actual site of Custer’s Last Stand, when . . . . .

Last Stand Hill

Our 10-month old Ford Escape conked out!  Luckily, we had cell coverage where this happened; in many areas within Yellowstone and in the wilds of Montana this would not have been the case.  We were able to call Ford Customer Service and they dispatched a tow truck.  It was quite some time before we saw our rescuers pull through the gates of the almost-ready-to-close park.  Upset as we were, we did realize that our situation wasn’t nearly as disastrous as Custer’s was on that hot July day in 1876.

The tow took us to nearby Hardin, Montana—population about 3,000—where it was determined that the fuel pump was shot.  To our dismay, the nearest replacement pump was in Memphis, Tennessee which is 1,400 miles from Hardin!  This was Wednesday morning, and it might possibly be the first of the next week before the needed part arrived.

The Lariat Motel in Hardin, Montana

A small motel in downtown Hardin was conveniently located right across from the Ford dealership, so we paid in advance for three nights and did what we could to settle in for what would apparently be an extended stay.  We also decided that there was absolutely nothing we could do about the situation except make a big pitcher of lemonade out of the basketful of lemons we had been handed.

The next order of business was to figure out what to do with our time.  More than once we strolled the two or three blocks of Hardin’s main street, peering in store windows and trying to fit in with the friendly locals.  Shortly we would be out of clean clothes, so we trudged over a mile, toting bags of dirty duds, to the laundromat where we spent a steamy couple of hours. Essential medications were running critically low, but a helpful pharmacist was able to avert that crisis.

The main drag in Hardin

We do like to “eat where the locals eat” when we travel so we enjoyed extraordinary fried chicken at the cowboy bar and fresh pie from the café next to the motel.  We played many games of cribbage and caught up on our reading.  The lady in the motel’s office told us about her experiences rescuing stray dogs from the nearby Crow Indian Reservation and we played with some puppies corralled in a playpen.

Lots of leisure time.

On Saturday there was to be a big community event at the fairgrounds and we were eager join in.  Luckily, the location was within walking distance. We found a church to attend on Sunday and hoped it would be okay to worship in blue jeans as that was our only choice of attire.

Our plans for spending additional days in Hardin abruptly changed when, late Friday afternoon, we got a call that the car repairs were complete and we could head home to Denver the next day. We both admitted to a certain sense of disappointment that this unexpected diversion was coming to an end, for we had been thoroughly enjoying ourselves and were actually looking forward to the weekend’s events.

Our detour to Hardin was certainly one of those “what if” adventures . . . . . what if we hadn’t had cell service when the car broke down; what if the fuel pump had died at the start of the trip instead of the end; what if the warranty hadn’t covered the repair bill and our living expenses; what if it had been imperative that we get home quickly; and, what if we felt our only recourse was to spend three days complaining about this unplanned turn of events.

Even though we encountered quite a bump in the road, we had a memorable time in a town we would have merely passed by PLUS we learned an invaluable lesson about being flexible when traveling!

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