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Little Spouse On The Prairie: Wrong Side Of The Road

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We don’t do it often, but every once in a great while, we decide to take a bigger vacation than our usual road trip in the U.S. This summer seemed like the perfect time to do this...

We don’t do it often, but every once in a great while, we decide to take a bigger vacation than our usual road trip in the U.S. This summer seemed like the perfect time to do this, because my 16-year-old daughter had signed up for an international music tour. We wanted to spy on her the entire time and make her teen life miserable. No, not really. But, we did want to attend some of her concerts, and a couple of our own friends were interested in going along.

Instead of booking a prepackaged tour, we gave a copy of our daughter’s itinerary to a travel agent friend and said, “Get us within an hour or so of her throughout the weeks she’s in Europe.” Needless to say, this excursion gave rise to a lot of material for Little Spouse, and throughout the coming weeks, listeners will be subjected to all our adventures.

We actually rented a vehicle. There were six of us traveling in our party, so our capable travel agent reserved an eight-passenger van to make sure we had enough room for baggage. We were nervous about this, because we were starting in England, and planned to drive the same vehicle throughout our trip on the continent as well, so we wondered on which side of the van the steering wheel would be.

When our flight landed and we collected our massive amounts of luggage, we made our way by shuttle to the car rental station. We immediately laid eyes on a gorgeous Mercedes van, shined up, ready and waiting. But the dour man explained that the establishment preferred that we take a much smaller vehicle, as the van was not tagged for the continent and had the steering wheel on the right side; we would be doing the vast majority of our driving on the right side of the road on the continent, so he felt we’d prefer the steering wheel on the left, since that’s what we Americans are used to.

We agreed with that for certain, but we were skeptical about how the six of us and our gargantuan pile of luggage might fit in the compact SUV he suggested. Nevertheless, we were game once he explained that he would discount the rental price by 1,000 pounds, which converted to around 1,250 USD at the time.

Wow. I don’t know about listeners, but in our world, $1,250 is more than “a bit dear.” That brought the vehicle rental for 17 days and 6,000 miles of travel to just over 500 USD. Um. Yeah. As listeners know, I am an extremely tight person, so I hardly need to say that we jammed ourselves and our luggage into the tiny, SUV.

He offered to let us examine “under the bonnet” “have a peak at the boot,” but after we heard about the discount, we just nodded along and smiled. To complicate matters, the vehicle was a stick-shift, and though all of us grew up driving them, only one of us had recent experience, and none of us were that confident in driving on what we considered the “wrong” side of the road.

Poor Clementine was in this itty-bitty hidey hole in the third row of seats, right next to a stack of hard-side suitcases that reached to the ceiling. A number of smaller bags were jammed around our feet. My husband Joel (a big man), my six-foot tall teen son, and I were jammed in the middle row. Our friends (the driver and navigator) were in the front bucket seats.

We vowed then and there that we would keep souvenir purchases to an absolute minimum. This would be a blessing in disguise, because we’d all be required to stick to our purchasing budgets. I secretly remembered that the last time I traveled in Europe for a few weeks, I gained 15 pounds (not the British kind), but I knew this time I’d stick to my careful diet.

And so began our European vacation. If our vehicle was heavy, our hearts were light as we took seven wrong turns getting out of the car rental parking lot. The vehicle’s GPS had a lovely British accent as it said, “recalculating” and “proceed to the route,” which somehow made the experience less frustrating. Thus, I assumed that affecting a British accent would be an excellent tension-diffuser throughout the trip, but every time I advised my companions,

“Come now. Let’s all bloody-well be adults about this holiday.”

I got nothin’ but good old American profanity back. We had SIM cards for our mobiles, a few pounds in our pockets, and brilliant plans for holiday as we pulled into our first adorable little flat in Kensington. Have a brilliant week!