Two kinds of travelers

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My family of five (plus one large dog) made it home last week after a 14-hour road trip to the coast of beautiful South Carolina. Fourteen hours (each way) is a long time, and sane people might question why we’d do such a thing when planes exist.

We would’ve loved to fly, but we couldn’t agree on which one of us would have to sell an organ on the black market to afford summer airfare for five people. So instead, we rented a big minivan so there’d be room for one high school senior, one 19-year-old college kid measuring six-foot-two, one 21-year-old college senior, two middle-aged parents, and one 80-pound Goldendoodle.

We planned this trip at the beginning of the summer and booked our stay for the week after our three kids finished their summer jobs. We wanted to go somewhere where none of us had ever been before, and an island off the coast of South Carolina looked perfect. (Plus, the dog had never seen the ocean.)

In most families, there are two kinds of travelers. You’ve got people who get in the minivan with nothing but a smile and a backpack stuffed full of things they gathered in the last 10 minutes. And then you’ve got the person who spent weeks compiling a detailed packing checklist and thoroughly researched the destination. I bet you can guess which one I am.  

But I’m not complaining because I love research. One of my previous bosses used to say, “Prepare for the worst, and it’ll probably never happen.” And that’s why I studied tips on how to avoid alligators in the marshlands of South Carolina. It’s also why I packed a bottle of vinegar and a pair of tweezers – supplies you might need if you get stung by a jellyfish at the beach (especially if you happen to visit in August, which is peak jellyfish mating season.)

The alligators worried me the most. On Hilton Head Island, there are signs everywhere reminding tourists not to get close to alligators, not to walk along the water’s edge, not to feed them, or, God forbid, take a selfie with one. That’s how tragic headlines happen.

When we walked our dog, I constantly scanned the surroundings in case a gator tried to ambush us. (Did you know gators can run 35 miles per hour on land? These are the kinds of terrifying facts paranoid mothers learn before a vacation. It’s super relaxing.)

Thankfully, I didn’t see a single gator the entire time we were there. That week, it was a stifling 95 degrees, so I assume the gators hopped a plane to northern Minnesota. We also managed to dodge the jellyfish and never cracked the seal on that bottle of vinegar.

We did, however, see the most gorgeous trees I’ve ever seen. South Carolina’s Lowcountry and nearby Savannah, Georgia, should win a prize for incredible scenery. Their giant live oaks have massive trunks and sprawling limbs that reach out to form a shady canopy stretching three or four times wider than the tree’s height.

In downtown Savannah, I saw a tree with a branch that swooped down low over the sidewalk as if whispering ancient secrets to the people below and then twisted back skyward toward the sun. These majestic oaks practically drip with Spanish moss. This airy, lacy plant drapes and dangles over branches in the dreamiest way. It’s a scene straight out of a storybook. This is a must-see part of the country for my fellow tree lovers.

Four days on the coast gave us a chance to explore, eat new foods, parasail over the ocean, ride a jet ski, and watch the sunset over the bay as dolphins swam nearby the boat. The dog also saw the ocean for the first time and decided he loves to dig in the sand but is suspicious of the waves crashing into the shore and against his favorite humans’ legs.

Anyone who has survived a long car trip knows the ride back home is the toughest part. By the 28th hour of being stuck in a car, the only person with a good attitude was the dog. And trying to get five people to agree on where to stop for food was only slightly less treacherous than an alligator fight.

But eventually, we made it, and I’m so glad we did. Our hearts, minds, and bellies are full, and who knows where next summer’s adventure might take us.

Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at Her book is available on Amazon. 

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