Discount travel strategies for refugees of Irma can ease the financial and emotional pain of evacuation. This week Charlene and I joined Millions of Americans as we packed our bags and ran from the threat of Hurricane Irma. By last Monday it was clear that Irma was going to be a monster storm and like many Floridians we decided that we should evacuate and head North. After a brief discussion the plan was formed and we decided to drive both of our cars North to escape the storm.
In past articles we have written about our spur of the moment trips that can be stimulated by things as simple as a cheap airfare or a discounted cruise so the specter of a Category 5 Hurricane was more than sufficient to send us on our journey out of harms way. Luckily, the same travel tools we use to travel the world also work when we are fleeing the threat of a major hurricane.
In the next few articles we will be discussing our forced exodus and how the Geezer Tools made that flight from the danger of Irma much more comfortable.
On Monday the 4th of September our decision was made we were going North. On the 4th Charlene was traveling in South Dakota visiting family. It became clear quickly that Charlene would have to cut her trip short and we made plans to fly her back into West Palm Beach on Thursday. Charlene had originally flown into Denver on a round trip air miles ticket with American, and after a few days visiting family in Colorado and Wyoming had gone to Rapid City South Dakota. On Tuesday while I scampered around putting our boat, Itchy Feet, up on the hard and shuttering the windows of our new home Charlene called American and to our amazement was able to switch her Denver to West Palm Beach ticket for a Rapid City to West Palm Beach ticket at no cost. I’ve been dealing with airlines for years, American made a commitment to assist those in need of changing flights due to the critical possibility of Irma at a Cat 5 hitting the U.S. Just after Charlene changed her ticket, she got an email from AA explaining that they were waving any fees for the exchange of a ticket. She told me that it was the most efficient process she had ever experienced. They simply told her that they would be happy to assist in the ticket change and there were no fees for the exchange…we were both elated at their generosity and efficiencies in helping us and I’m sure others out during this stressful time.
In arranging her flight home Charlene again taught me an invaluable travel lesson: “If you don’t ask you can’t get what you want“. My quick and dirty answer to how to get Charlene home was to spend 12,000 AA air miles and fly her back from Rapid City but Charlene, being the master negotiator, called AA and explained that she wanted to trade the Denver leg of her round trip ticket for an earlier flight from Rapid City and the American representative agreed to do it at no additional cost! I was stunned but thanks to the kindness of some American employee in their reservations department at 4 pm on Thursday I was picking Charlene up at the West Palm Beach airport.
On Monday when we had decided to escape the threat of Irma the logistical problems of becoming a weather refugee had not fully sunken in. When millions of people suddenly start seeking limited resources like fuel, lodging, plywood and water those resources become scarce very quickly. By Tuesday when I joined my brother and sister Floridians in our scramble to find suitable lodging away from the storm and a full tank of gas for our evacuation the dilemma of limited resources, which has been the bane of every displaced refugee in history, became crystal clear.
My first difficulty was gas. In Florida by Tuesday morning the gas stations were running out of gas. As I drove down Federal Highway One, on my way to pick up supplies I needed to prepare for Irma I encountered lines of cars that lined the street for hundreds of yards outside the gas stations that still had gas. To my amazement I observed that most of my favorite gas stations were out of gas. I realized, for the first time, I was a refugee fleeing a known threat and every other refugee in Florida was suddenly competing with me for a limited resource: GAS.
In hind sight, a view I seldom use, the gas shortage was a no brainer. Only a week before refineries in Houston had been devastated by Hurricane Harvey, damage to those refineries restricted the availability of gas.
On top of the damaged refineries in Texas, much of the gas that is sold in Florida comes via tanker and is distributed from the Port of Miami. This fact is important because at some point the danger caused by Irma forced the closure of the Port of Miami and the flow of gas from the Port to the people of Florida stopped. In talking to a few gas station employees I was able to find out that the Port of Miami was closed on Thursday so the stations supply of gas stopped would end when the gas in their storage tanks was gone. No more trucks to save the day.
The final impact on the gas shortage was of course, good old fashioned, supply and demand. As every one of my Floridian brothers and sisters rushed to fill the tanks in their cars and every jerry can they could find the pressure on the gas supply was overwhelming. Confronted by this dilemma I fell back on a Geezer trick that I had used in the past to find cheap gas.
The tool is a free app for your smart phone called WAZE. WAZE is a GPS application that offers the standard navigation tools with a very special twist. Unlike your Garmin or standard apps like google maps WAZE is tied to a social media network.
With the WAZE app as you drive you can interact with other WAZE app owners and share real time information on important information like the location of traffic jams, police, construction and the price of gas. By studying the gas price input you could figure out the availability of gas. With the WAZE app I didn’t have to drive up and down the street looking for stations that had gas, my fellow WAZE app users were telling me via the app what stations had gas by showing and inputing the price of gas at specific stations.
Wednesday, and Friday I got up early, turned on my WAZE app and found the stations with gas and their prices. Thanks to WAZE I always had a full tank of gas and because I got out in the morning and beat the crowd I never had to wait in line. Charlene and I also used WAZE to find gas as we drove north to evacuate.
The second problem was to find lodging where we could stay while Irma smashed it’s way thru Florida. On Monday night a quick search of my usual lodging websites painted a grim picture. Lodging north of Florida was quickly disappearing. Cities like Mobile to the West and Savannah to the North were beginning to feel the pressure of millions of refugees seeking lodging away from the threat of Irma.
On a lark I opened up the RCI.com timeshare website and too my amazement I found a one week timeshare that was heavily discounted in the mountains of North Carolina by Sugar Mountain Ski Resort. The Resort was a ten hour drive but as I watched the news it was clear that to escape the long range threat of Irma the long trip north to the Carolinas would be necessary. After a quick consultation with Charlene I pulled the trigger and booked a week stay thru RCI.com at the Festiva Blue Ridge Resort. Some times I’m just stupid lucky and booking that resort was one of those times. We ended up with a great two bedroom apartment with a full kitchen and even a jacuzzi tub in our master suite. The Geezer refugees had landed on their feet.
In past articles I have discussed the advantage of having a timeshare and how to use your timeshare membership to get great vacation deals but this is the first time I have used that lodging option as a make ship refugee camp.
On Thursday the 7th of September, Charlene was back in Florida, our home was secure for the storm, both of our cars had a full tank of gas and we were ready to join the throng of millions of hurricane refugees flowing North in what the media would later describe as the largest evacuation in American history.
Travel tips like calling the airline and asking for help with reservations, using mobil apps like WAZE and having the timeshare option for lodging made our preparation to leave Florida much easier. In Part 2 of this series we will talk about the trip North. Like Moses we quickly learned that, as refugees, evacuation is not just a simple trip. Like the stork hiding in the men’s room the simple fact is you need to seek any port in a storm and with the use of our Geezer Tools, we are refugees but comfortable.
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