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Niagara Falls or bust!

Heather ChristieHave you ever wanted to throw caution to the wind? Ride by the seat of your pants? Improvise?

Such tendencies are not in my comfort zone. I’m a textbook Type A personality who feels most content with an airtight schedule and clear contingency plans. But on Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013, that all changed.

The sunny season of 2013 had slipped away from us without a pre-determined family vacation. Every time I broached the subject of our summer trip, my husband insisted that, “we’d figure it out.”

So the morning of Aug. 10, I woke with an uncharacteristic tingle of excitement as I anticipated our spontaneous, undesigned family holiday. Map in hand, I asked the kids where they wanted to go. As my husband watched golf on the television (remember this fact) there was a heated discussion debating the merits of the beach versus the mountains. We agreed on Niagara Falls, which was driving distance from home, plus we could stop in the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon on the return trip as we circled down to the Eastern Shore of Maryland where we were meeting family for a few days at the end of the week.


We packed the car.

We started late because we had to attend our son’s end-of-season basketball pool party. The summer sun was heavy in the sky as the kids, wet-headed and wrapped in damp towels, jammed themselves into the back seat.

We were off!

Winging it! Going on an unplanned adventure! Rebels. Non-conformists — those Christie-Snyders!

At about 10:30 p.m. after four hours on the road, everybody was tired and I suggested that, perhaps, we should get a hotel home and drive the rest of the way at daybreak.

“Let’s get closer,” my husband said. “We want to be near the falls in the morning.”

We barreled through the dark night and hit Buffalo around midnight.

“Okay, start calling,” my husband said. “We’re not too far now.”

I inquired with one hotel after another, my anxiety growing.

Sorry, we’re booked.

No rooms.

The PGA Tour is being played here this weekend.

(Oh really? Yes, you would think we would know that since we were watching it on TV this afternoon!)

Three hours and 100 miles beyond Niagara we found a hotel with one vacancy.


Things were turning around. Our Volvo would not be the scene of a murder-suicide.

At 2 a.m., we unpacked the entire car, stuffing the rolling cart high with our suitcases, pillows, sleeping bags and stuffed animals. Weary-eyed, the kids and I checked in while my husband parked the car.

We maneuvered the heavy cart through the quiet hallway. I slid the room key into the lock and pushed open the door. The bedcovers were askew and the curtains were closed. I paused, my brain trying to reconcile the terrible housekeeping at this hotel. I was too tired to care. My family was grumpy and ready for bed.

“Get out!” someone screamed. “I’m calling security!”

My heart jumped out of my chest.

The hotel clerk had given us the wrong room key.

Sorry that was the last room. We made a mistake.

The kids almost started to cry.

The look of defeat on my husband’s face as we repacked silenced me from saying, “I told you we should have booked a room ahead of time.”

The kids thought we should turn around and drive home to Pennsylvania. Surely, we would get to bed faster than trying to find another room in New York.

No. Niagara Falls or bust!

Two hours later, we finally located another room.

The next day, bleary eyed and sleep deprived, we saw the falls, which were impressive. On the return trip through the Grand Canyon, we received a speeding ticket and our daughter contracted strep throat. Oh, and something broke on our car and we had to detour to a rural mechanic in the middle of nowhere and wait until a part could be located.

The trip is far enough in the past that we laugh about it now. It’s one for the memory books.



And not happening again.

It’s August. Most normal people have planned their family vacations by now.

I better get moving.

— Heather Christie

Heather Christie is a wife, mother, writer, real estate broker, knitter, cook, exercise freak and avid reader. When she’s not selling houses, she’s writing books and blogging about food, family and philosophy at She can be found on Facebook at @heatherchristiebooks and on Twitter @heatherc_writes.

Reflections of Erma