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November 14-17, 2019
I Bought My Plane Tickets 3 Hours Before My Flight Across the Country… Here’s Why!
To hear about an adventure consisting of: military love, Uber-recommended agendas, the National Aquarium, Baltimore crab cakes, a train ride, Washington D.C. monuments and museums, and SPONTANEITY AT ITS FINEST -- keep on reading!
I know the title sounds a little outrageous… especially coming from someone who typically plans their trips at a minimum of 3 months and tends to wait at the airport 2-3 hours in advance for both international AND domestic flights (I’d rather wait at the airport and chill, than risk being late or “just on time!”)… but you did, in fact, read the title correctly!
Why did I put pressure on myself by booking a flight with such short notice back in November? How did I pull it off even when I had to consider an hour-long commute to the airport? Well… let me explain by rewinding to the beginning of the month.
Lucas Came Home For a Few Days!
Lucas and I found out that he was chosen to escort a soldier from Afghanistan back to America around the end of October. Why they decided to choose Lucas as an escort instead of someone else was beyond our control, but we weren’t going to question an opportunity that fate had provided us.
When we initially heard that there was a soldier in need of returning back to America, we weren’t even sure if Lucas would escort him all the way to Texas, or if Lucas would be asked to turn around along the way. We kept our spirits up and hopes high as he made his way closer and closer back to the states.
Once he received his flight information to return to Texas, we started to think of ways to fly me out to meet him. Whether or not he would even be given free time was uncertain, but a possibility to see each other after spending about 4 months apart would be worth the trip! I also wasn’t working at the time and was able to pack a bag and hop on a plane at a moment’s notice.
(Before you think that that was the flight that my title refers to, it’s not!)
On a completely random (and lucky!) chance, the soldier needing to be escorted required specific medical services that they later discovered Texas didn’t have. The closest base with these services ended up being Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington! Instead of planning for me to fly to Lucas, he received the chance to fly home for a few days!
We were reunited with open arms and the fullest hearts! The entire time he was home, we had no idea if the day we just spent together would be the last before he was sent back. Due to a delay of his military orders, we were able to seize the few days we had by visiting with family, going on mini road trips to nearby areas (we spent a day driving to Mount Rainier just for the views and I even got to take him to our wedding venue location!), trying wedding cake flavors, binging the TV shows that we only watch together (This Is Us!!), purchasing our wedding bands, having coffee dates almost every morning, and planning a date night at our favorite restaurant in downtown Seattle!
Although only a short time back home, it was still time that fate had given back to us. It even happened almost halfway through the deployment -- a blessing that I was grateful for wholeheartedly!
When the night to say goodbye arrived, his flight back to Afghanistan involved a stopover in Baltimore, Maryland first. He arrived on Thursday morning to receive the news that his flight to go overseas wasn’t scheduled until Sunday, giving him almost 4 days of just waiting around in Baltimore.
So what did we do? We flew me to Baltimore! :)
We found out this news around 8:30am that morning, and I found a flight that could fly me out at noon the same day. With stress levels VERY high, I hurriedly packed a backpack (yep! JUST a backpack!) and asked my dad if he could drive me to the airport. When he asked “When?” and I answered with “Well… now?” he laughed and we hopped into the truck!
I went ahead and purchased my plane tickets during the car ride to the airport, and spent the drive making sure I had packed all that I needed (ID, phone charger, etc.). I’m the type of person who packs for their trips DAYS in advance, not minutes! Fortunately, I spent a big part of 2019 frequently traveling so I had packing the essentials down to a science at this point of the year. I even figured out a way to bring Lucas some civilian clothes (since he had a limited selection beyond his military uniform) by shoving some in my backpack and wearing a sweater or two, haha!
Since I packed pretty quickly, and the traffic during the commute to SeaTac International Airport (SEA) wasn't too bad, things were looking like I was going to make it JUST in time for boarding! I was even going to have enough time to possibly buy snacks to have on the plane.
However, my biggest obstacle was the line for security.
I had never traveled on a Thursday afternoon before, so I wasn’t sure what the lines would look like. In the car, I checked online and saw that wait times were about 10-20 minutes which didn’t seem too bad at all. But that wasn’t the case when I arrived. Wait times were about 45 minutes!
A quick life hack for you - if you’re ever running late for a flight, try signing up for CLEAR. Not all airports have this service, but if the airport closest to you does, take the opportunity to try it when you’re running late (or if you really do travel often!). I considered signing up pretty much every time I went to the airport in 2019, but always arrived early enough that I didn’t mind waiting in the security line.
For a brief background, CLEAR is a service found at over 60+ airports as well as various venues. Instead of bringing out your travel documents, CLEAR uses the irises of your eyes and your fingerprints to identify you. In addition, CLEAR members are able to skip the general passenger lines, and use an exclusive one. Although you still need to go through airport security measures, you’re able to skip a huge majority of the line-up prior to security.
Definitely use your best discretion on whether or not CLEAR is a sustainable choice for your lifestyle. However, signing up only takes a couple of minutes and there is also a 30-day free trial!
That being said, CLEAR was exactly how I was able to make it through the security line with plenty of time to spare at my gate! I even had the time to purchase a couple of snacks and charge my phone for a few minutes.
By noon, I was in the skies with a stopover at Denver before arriving in Baltimore very late in the evening. It’s always a little disorienting when you travel through different time zones and 10pm felt like 7pm! Regardless, all of the traveling and the high levels of stress from the day knocked me out as soon as I got to my hotel.
Day 2 was our full day in Baltimore, MD. We didn’t have an agenda since the trip was so last minute, and neither of us have explored around Baltimore before. We went ahead and looked up some places online to see what Baltimore’s tourist spots were, noticing that a good majority of all things “touristy” were found in the Inner Harbor and surrounding areas.
Our hotel was only about 20 minutes away, so we called up an Uber to take us deeper into the city. Something that I’ve been doing every time I have a talkative Uber driver (I even do this in my own city sometimes!), is ask them what they would recommend us to do in their hometown! Locals typically have better ideas than what a Google search can provide!
With some luck, our Uber driver was extremely helpful and offered us many ideas on how to spend our weekend in the Baltimore area. He suggested that we visit the National Aquarium, take a train to Washington D.C., and explore his favorite part of Baltimore called Fells Point (that also had his favorite restaurant - more on this to come)!
We took all of his ideas into serious consideration. But first, we went to purchase an extra sweater for me (it was a LOT colder than I anticipated, but if I had more notice I probably would’ve looked at the weather in Baltimore more closely… lol!) and grabbed lunch at Chipotle (it was pretty much the first restaurant we walked by and we were hungry!).
We then walked next door to a HUGE Barnes & Noble - bookstores are ALWAYS a satisfying stop during any travel adventure in my opinion! We killed some time by buying ourselves coffee to enjoy while roaming around the store, and Lucas ended up buying me a couple of books as early Christmas gifts!
By then, it was just about an hour before it got dark, so we started our walk towards Fells Point. We thought about Ubering again but decided that walking 30 minutes along the water would be a nice way to embrace Baltimore.
As for first impressions, it was a pretty quiet city (at least around Inner Harbor on a Friday afternoon) and there were a lot of people commuting via scooters. In Seattle, we’re used to seeing rentable bikes, so scooters were something different for us to see. Business men/women in suits would even ride past us on these scooters!
We arrived at Fells Point to find the beautiful cobblestone roads that our Uber driver promised. They gave so much character to the area, and complemented the brick buildings perfectly. We were also blessed that evening with a stunning sunset, so we happily watched the sun go down behind the horizon from the harbor.
Our Uber driver recommended Thames Street Oyster House for dinner, and claimed that they had his favorite blue crab cakes compared to the whole city. Although we could’ve done more research on alternate restaurants to try blue crab cakes (that Baltimore is known for), we didn’t hesitate to just try the restaurant that he recommended to us! I mean - why not?
As we waited for our table, we walked around Fells Point to purchase some gloves (my hands got pretty cold once the sun went down!) and admired the Sagamore Pendry Hotel with its lights glistening on the surface of the river. We told ourselves that we would make it back to Baltimore again one day to stay at that hotel and enjoy Fells Point’s nightlife at some point in our lives.
Dinner did not disappoint. We ordered oysters from Massachusetts (I remembered how good they were when I went to Boston back in Spring 2019), a lobster flatbread to share, and Cast Iron (Blue) Crab Cakes! Every bite of everything was absolutely satisfying and we kept repeating to each other how grateful we were that our Uber driver suggested this place for dinner. The crab cakes also came with baked hubbard squash, which ended up being one of my favorite parts of the entire meal!
With stomachs extremely satisfied, we then decided to go to the National Aquarium right before it closed for the night. On Fridays after 5pm, the aquarium was only half the price of general admission, and even allowed a military discount on top of the half-price. We concluded our evening with the sharks, fish, turtles, and dolphins!
Because Lucas had never been to Washington D.C. before, we took a 20-minute train ride to spend our last full day together at the capital of the United States!
It was our second time riding the Amtrak, so it was pretty easy for us to figure out the train schedule and how/when to purchase tickets this time around. Once we arrived to D.C., we Ubered to the farthest point of the National Mall to begin our journey through some of the major monuments.
The first stop was the Lincoln Memorial. I remember it happening the last time I was there too (about 5-6 years ago I think?), but there’s just something about seeing where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech that just gives you chills. Our next stop was seeing the Washington Monument, located directly across the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.
We stopped for lunch at one of the conveniently located hotdog stands en route to see the White House. After snapping a photo, we went to the National Museum of American History, followed by the museum we were most excited for - the National Museum of Natural History!
The Smithsonian Museums of the D.C. area are all free admission, making them a great way to spend your day on a budget!
We spent our Saturday with the butterflies, gems/minerals, dinosaurs, mammals, and ocean creatures. We walked thousands of steps and by the time we made it back on the train, we were happily exhausted. So exhausted that we ended up using UberEats to deliver our Olive Garden dinner to enjoy from the comfort of our hotel room!
Truthfully, Day 4 is a hard one to write about. We spent the entire day at the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI), but at least we were together. My flight back to Seattle wasn’t until 5pm that day, but Lucas had to report to the airport before 10am to find out what time his flight was to go back to Afghanistan - which ended up being around 7:30pm.
We ate sandwiches for lunch, and waited near my gate for the whole day. We charged our phones, read our books, and talked about the trips we were going to take once Lucas comes back home from the deployment.
Once 5pm came, we had to say “see you later” again and walking onto my homebound plane without my fiance was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.
We’re holding onto the fact that we were so blessed to get time back on a random chance. The next time we see each other, he’ll be returning home.
Annnd that's a wrap!
When Lucas received the news that he was deploying earlier than planned back in June, he only had four days at home to prepare. Fate chose him to escort a soldier back to America, and fate helped a little more by sending him back to Washington, followed by more time together in Baltimore/D.C. Fate gave us time back!
Money will always return in some capacity, but time won’t.
Although it’s hard to say “see you later” every time, I am so so grateful for being able to get some time back to spend with Lucas. Despite the stress of booking a ticket across the country in such short notice, the meaningful adventures we were able to have together, and thinking about the time we’ll be able to say “hello” again, makes all the time away from each other, worth the wait.
See you soon, Lucas!
Cheers to spontaneity and happy surprises!
Storytelling by Gen
Travel diaries from explorations and adventures.