Travel Assurance

Travel involves risk. Some types involve more risk than others, but there is a leap of faith that every person takes when they book flights, find accommodation, and make plans to be elsewhere. The traveller trusts that these plans will come to fruition. Yes, there may be changes of plans, perhaps an unforeseen glitch, but for the most part, the traveller believes that trip will go as planned. For the niggling doubts that something might happen, we buy travel insurance, and for my last trip thank god I had.


Firemen in LA are kinda cute.

I know this because three of them showed up at my hotel room on the day I was supposed to fly home to Sydney.

Ben and I landed in LA on Saturday, late afternoon, and had a quick turn around before friends, Vince and Julie, picked us up for a night out. We’d eaten lunch at the Seattle airport and I was feeling a little off on the plane, even bringing up some of my lunch, but thought nothing of it when the excitement of a balmy LA night and the chance to see friends took over my thoughts.

We were a party of six and we dined at the Second City Bistro in El Segundo. The food was delicious and I enjoyed watching Ben easily fitting into a group of my friends – old friends and new. We moved next door to the Purple Orchid Tiki Bar for cocktails. Vince was all about this; it was the highlight of his night. We supped giant cocktails through six straws.

Sand Julie and Kirsten
We played probably the worst game of doubles pool in the history of North America. We danced to jukebox music, and then Vince and Julie bid us goodnight.

A short drive later, and now a party of four, Darion led us to Beaches in Manhattan Beach. A $5 cover, and another round of drinks and Kirsten, the boys and I hotted up the dance floor.
Shakin' our thang
When the place filled up with under-age girls and excitable boys, we moved up the road to a diner for second-dinner. I am a fan of second breakfast, which comes at about 10:30 on a weekend morning, but second dinner was to serve Darion’s screaming metabolism, and my need for ice-cream.

Ben and I ate through a hot fudge sundae with ease, and took bite of the offered pancakes (Kirsten) and fries (Darion). It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Kirsten saw us safely home and about an hour after we fell asleep, the horrors kicked in. Vomiting. At first I blamed the ice-cream as I am mildly lactose intolerant. Then I blamed the alcohol, but I had had a lot of water and food that night, and not enough drinks to make me throw up. When the diarrhoea started another hour later, and I was sitting on the toilet, throwing up into the tub, I blamed the dodgy chicken salad from the Seattle airport.

The next 6 hours were from hell. I was up two to three times each hour, and after waking Ben several times, with my sudden departures from bed, I decided to camp out on the floor next to the bathroom. It was just easier no to have to run through our suite to get to the bathroom two rooms away.

Ben woke about 7:30, a little oblivious to the night I’d had, and wondering why I wasn’t in bed. He talked me soothingly through the next few emergency visits to the bathroom, and then we decided I definitely needed medical help. I had thrown up over 20 times. Things that hurt when that happens, were hurting a lot.

Ben was on the phone, the third phone call in 10 minutes, when I heard him discussing getting me to hospital via a cab. I kept hoping that I was feeling better, but no, and as I sat again on the toilet and threw up again into the tub, I knew I would not manage a cab ride. I had also started to convulse uncontrollably. This part scared me most, as I struggled to remember my emergency response training. Was I going into shock? People died from that.

This is when Ben called an ambulance.

He helped me dress, and gathered all my vital documents. He had already called about my travel insurance, and arranged with the hotel to hold our room and everything in it.

Minutes later I could hear sirens, and minutes after that there was a forceful knock on the door. I was slumped on the couch, concentrating on remaining upright.

Ben opened the door to three firemen, and then it was all go, go, go.

“What’s your name?” asked fireman number one. I had to think about it.

“Sandy,” I replied, wondering whose voice I was using. I sounded 90 years old.

“How old are you, Sandy?” fired the fireman.

“Um, 38.” I was surer of my age than my name, as I forced my brain to focus. The questions came fast and thick. In the meantime, I was strapped to a heart monitor with those little suction cap thingies, and they pricked my finger to determine my blood sugar. Low apparently. I had a temperature, and low blood pressure. The stats were flying between the three men, and Ben stood by, also answering questions and looking concerned.

Finally it was time to get on the gurney. My first time. On a gurney. In an ambulance. I was scared.

We made it 10 feet before I vomited again, but this time into a bag thoughtfully provided by the firemen. I was worried we wouldn’t fit into the elevator, but we did, and Ben stood beside the gurney, holding my hand. It helped. The elevator stopped at a floor before the lobby, and the guy waiting for it, said “Oh,” with surprise. “You’ll have to get the next one,” I said, my sense of humour popping up to say hello.

The heat was like a wall as we exited the hotel, and there was an ambulance and a fire truck. The firemen handed me over to the ambulance officers and then I was hoisted into the ambulance. Ben would ride up front, and he squeezed my hand reassuringly, before letting go. I was in and out of consciousness as we drove to the hospital. There was no siren, as I was not critical, which in the back of my mind was a minor disappointment.

On arrival at the hospital, we discovered there was no bed for me. I was put into a wheelchair, which exacerbated my symptoms, and after too much answering of more questions, was wheeled into the waiting room where I immediately crawled onto the floor and fell into a deep sleep. I was woken less than an hour later when a bed was made available.

I was treated over the next six hours for dehydration and the nausea. I went in and out of consciousness, and the pain and sick feeling both dissipated. When I was finally permitted to take my first sip of water, it tasted so good I thought I would cry.

I could not fly home that night, and Ben’s scheduled flight out of LA was only hours away. He took care of everything. Our flights were rescheduled for the next day. We would stay on at the hotel, and my costs would be covered by insurance. Julie picked us up late afternoon, about the time that Ben was originally scheduled to fly. At the hotel, all I wanted was a shower, because I felt like death warmed up. And I looked it too.

We had a very restful evening, with room service and TV, and when I laid down next to him that night, he smiled at me and said, “This is bonus time now.” For two people in a long distance relationship, bonus time is a bonus.

I was feeling somewhat better the next day, and we had a good chunk more of bonus time before Ben flew out. We even headed to the pool and took advantage of the stunning LA weather.

Throughout my mini ordeal, I kept thinking two things: thank god that Ben was there to take care of me and everything else, and, no matter how sick I felt, I would get better. There are people in hospital who do not, and I was grateful to be otherwise healthy. It was horrid, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone (especially not Ben, who was subsequently struck down with it two nights later – a bug, not food poisoning after all), but it was a ‘count your blessings’ kind of day.

And I have many.

Thank you to Darion for the shot of Ben and me dancing.

Mexican Jumping Beans

I am not a huge Willie Nelson fan, but I do subscribe to his sentiment, because like Willie I can’t wait to get on the road again.  It is time.  I have ants in my pants, itchy feet and can’t sit still.  Were I six and were my mother here, she would wonder aloud if I had swallowed Mexican jumping beans.


This happens to me when I am close to travelling again.  It is eleven more sleeps, which means I am in final preparation mode.


The past couple of months have been about the planning.  Ben and I have been online and on the phone, swapping ideas, websites and our latest toy, customised Google maps.  We read up and revise, and discuss and decide.  It is a fun process, and one that lends itself to building anticipation. 


We will both fly into Los Angeles where I have friends, and where we will stay for a couple of nights (a short stay, but we will be back).  We then fly to San Francisco, where neither of us has been, and where both of us are excited to go for the first time.  I bought us a tiny guidebook, but really, we are governed by the ‘laws of first-timers’.  We are staying near Fisherman’s Wharf, where we will eat sourdough bread and seafood; we will ride a tram up an impossibly steep street; we will see the Golden Gate Bridge and visit Alcatraz. 


Importantly, Ben and I have promised each other that while we are following these obvious tourist tracks, we will be travellers.  We will find wonder and fresh perspectives in our touristy endeavours.  It will be our mantra: ‘travellers, travellers, travellers’.


From San Francisco, we hit the road.  We pick up a hire car and will continue north to Seattle where Ben is due for work, taking five days to get there.  We have some varied stops planned, the first of which is The Napa Valley.  Oh, Napa – the scenery, the wine, the Chintz!  


In seeking out a Bed and Breakfast close enough to several wineries, but somewhat off the main strip, we viewed more shots of Chintzy bedrooms that I ever care to again.  Some rooms are even named after the Chintz: The Pink Rose Blossom Room, The Room with Two Many Pillows (Ben: “Where do we sleep?”), and The “Oh my, Grandma’s Sewing Box Threw Up’ Room.  Resigned to the fact that Chintz is a given no matter what, we decided on the place with a spa tub and gourmet waffles.


After being spoiled in The Napa Valley, we will rough it in a Northern Californian coastal town, replete with Redwood Forest.  Yes, we go from wine tasting to woodland trekking, a challenge for even the most experienced packer.  From there, ever north into Oregon, a state I will get to add to my ‘I’ve been there’ list. 


I have friends from Oregon.  They all extol Oregon’s beauty as its greatest virtue.  To honour that, we will drive the coast for as long as possible, and then head inland up to Portland.  At this stage all I know about Portland is that I should shop there, as Oregon has no state sales tax (and Washington State has one of the highest in the U.S.).  I will be as true to my wallet as time allows, for we are due in Seattle the next day. 


Ben has work there Monday to Thursday and then we will be able to explore further a field for a couple of days.  For me, four days alone in a favourite city is a gift, and then of course, we can head out to the wonderful array of Seattle’s restaurants in the evenings. 


We fly out of Seattle on a Saturday, giving us that night in LA, where I have been promised we will Par-Tay.  My LA friends are in the know, which is important when in a city of that size.  LA visitors without a ‘local guide’ can suffer from ‘Disney-itis’.  This is a condition whereby they think they have been to LA, because they stayed in Anaheim and went to Disneyland.  Disneyland is not LA.  LA is a vast and energetic city with much to see and do that does not include a giant mouse and mass merchandising. 


So, eleven more sleeps.  At this stage I write lists: To do, To buy, To pack, To take on the plane.  I am a list-maker in everyday life, but when in travel mode, they are even more crucial.  They keep me sane, grounded.  And for a girl who swallowed a handful of Mexican jumping beans and can’t sit still, some kind of tether is necessary to keep my feet on the ground – for the next eleven days anyway.


“On the road again, I just can’t wait to get on the road again…” 

Off the Beaten Track

‘Off the beaten track’ is a state of mind as well as a way to travel.  Many of my travels have been on well worn roads, but my approach allows me to have experiences far beyond the brochures.   

In the past decade travelling has taken me to incredible parts of the world, where I have met people who have influenced my life, and done things I had never considered.  I have greatly embraced the surprises that travel brings, even on ‘well-planned’ trips, and especially when those surprises could have been considered disastrous.   

One of the best days of my life started with a head cold and a scooter ride through torrential rain, but on a Greek Island in the Cyclades, this was the beginning of an incredible adventure and the forging of an important friendship.   My mindset is what takes me ‘off the beaten track’, which is why my Blog carries this name.  

My passionate affair with travel took hold when I was given a life-changing job with Contiki Europe as a Tour Manager in 1997.  With Contiki I travelled Europe extensively and even though our tours stuck mostly to well worn paths, my experiences during that time marked an incredible change in my view of travel.I ran organised tours, yet I saw a diverse range of clients, from tourists who saw Europe through the lens of a video camera, to travellers who sought out their own adventures.   

Armed with these powerful observations, I vowed from then on to always be a ‘traveller’.  Mostly, I have succeeded.  This does not mean that I enjoy five-star luxury travel any less, just that a backpackers’ hostel in New Zealand, serving free soup at 6pm, can bring me as much joy.  The diversity of my experiences is what keeps me addicted to my drug of choice: travelling.    

My focus for this Blog, and the accompanying photographs will be the travel I have done most recently.  In the past 15 months I have been sailing through the Cyclades Islands of Greece, traversed Peru by plane, train and motor cycle, had adventures in Hawaii, New Zealand and Canada, and discovered treasures in the cities of Las Vegas, London, Seattle, Christchurch, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Denver and my home town of Sydney. 

Where next?  This is a lengthy list peppered with must-returns and must-sees. 

I invite you to read, comment on and contribute to “Off the Beaten Track”.