Dealing with disaster: Making vacation memorable when it all goes wrong


Special for Muddy River News

Destin: The Emerald Coast or the Redneck Rivera? You decide!

As I scrolled through social media, it seems the Midwest trend this vacation season was destination Destin. It was the choice for us and the 4.5 other million visitors of the Emerald Coast every year. Many minds think alike. The great ones make it happen.

The Griswold Family…from National Lampoon’s Vacation

My family and I never had been to the Destin area, and we were ready to explore what the rave was about. Tapping into our Clark Griswold groove, the Greybluff’s packed our bags and flew to Florida.

(The Greybluff’s are what I refer to my family after finding out that those cardstock Christmas cards didn’t have a three-different-last-name option. Thus, our household name was born.) 

Hah! I wish it were that easy. 

Time, planning and hard work went into this vacation. Most working Americans have to work a little extra or a little harder to make vacations happen financially. American personal finance personality and radio show host Dave Ramsey says if you’re on Baby Steps 1 or 2, you shouldn’t even be thinking about vacations.

This is why Dave and I are not friends. Everyone deserves a break now and again.

Planning takes time. You need time to research online the breakdown of the area you’re visiting, where you’ll stay, how you will get there, how you will get around once you are there, where you will eat and what you will do. It seems the planning never stops once you’re in the vortex of the World Wide Web. Seriously, what did we do before the Internet?

Most things online are different in real life. Look me up online. (Ok, maybe you shouldn’t.) But if you did, Brittany in real life is totally different than what Brittany shares online. Normal people share what we want people to see, unless you have that “Dear Diary” aspect of online representation.

I’ll step outside my comfort zone and “Dear Diary” you one. 

In the weeks before takeoff, it seemed my anxiety about travels took the best of me. 2020 was cancelled, so it had been a while since I had to measure my liquids to three ounces and clean out my purse crumbs. The TSA may confiscate my sunscreen but not my … pride. 

William Wallace from Braveheart

Packing everything, boarding dogs and making sure everything was reserved made my stomach turn. Against our better judgment, we stepped outside our comfort zone (a part of every true Griswold vacation) and rented our stay through one of those third-party sites due to the high peak tourist season and my lack of travel knowledge. (I learned it is better to use these sites for comparative research and book directly with the hotel, according to RamseySolutions.)

We chose a beachside hotel because it’s where we wanted to spend most of our time. I contacted family I had down there to plan a visit. A scenic road trip was mapped out for our commute from Panama City to Destin in our rental car. I planned, planned and planned.

But as every inner Griswold knows, vacation never goes as planned.

“You serious, Clark?”

This is a story all about how vacation got flipped, turned upside down.

During that planned scenic drive, the transmission went out on our rental car along the side of Florida 30A, a bustling coastal highway of tourists well known to the locals. You will guarantee stares if you happen to pop a squat, because the American company that said “We’ll pick you up” outsourced roadside assistance internationally to someone who just kept repeating, “You need to go to find-my-location-n-g,” to our cries for help with no phone internet service.

Stranded. Defeated. Baking in the sun. It seemed our vacation was doomed.

At least the car isn’t on fire.

Maybe it was all of the luggage sadly sitting on the side of the road, the squat or just good ol’ fashioned Southern hospitality, but we had quite a few people stop to see if we were OK. 

An older man named John first pulled up on his motorcycle and asked if we needed help. He said he would return with his Mercedes and take us to his condo. The next Good Samaritan was Lee, a shuttle bus driver working his rounds. Lee insisted we chill in the AC on the bus until we figured out the plan. Lee kept our minds cool with his very calm and collective vibe.  

Old man John came back with water bottles. He insisted we cancel our whole vacation and stay with him in his condo…forever. I informed him our lodging already had been paid for through one of those third party sites where refunds are highly unlikely. (See, I knew what I was doing booking through those sites.)

John accepted our decision, and the “Dateline” fan in me was relieved. 

We called family for help. Our savior and my cousin Kim cancelled her workday. She drove three hours out of her way to save the day and get us to the rental car offices. 

Kim – The Queen, in my book!

While Kim was in transit, we waited outside a small restaurant with our luggage, looking like broke-down bums at this point. Jillian, the daughter of the owners of Angelina’s, was extremely welcoming and quenched our vacation blues away. She provided some of the best domestic draft beer I have ever tasted. It was not just the situation that made it taste good. Her lines were clean, and that beer was crisp. I highly recommend a stop at Angelina’s if you ever make the infamous Florida 30A drive.

Jillian of Angelina’s. She was great!
Bean’s World – Future Youtube channel

While were inside the restaurant, a couple heard our story. As they left, they rolled down their windows and offered help. We told them how amazed we were by all of the stranger kindness. The man yelled from the driver’s seat in a thick accent, “Yourin the South.” Between the Southern hospitality, the family rescue and the overall vacation breakdown experience, love was there to save the day (as Midwest corny as that sounds). 

The Greybluffs finally made it to their beach vacation. The planning that didn’t go as planned was a real life travel education, probably at a 300-level college course. Also, I’m not the calmest clam, so thank cod for Mike’s problem solving skills and all the fresh seafood we later ate. 

“We are going to have so much fun that we are going to need plastic surgery to get the smiles off our faces.”

Our Destin trip had bumps along the way, but it did provide an opportunity to reflect on the vacation dream. I want to focus less on the vacation and more about the time. Soak it all in, even when it doesn’t go as planned. Beaches are great, but that yearning for the perfect vacation can be achieved in the mind, right here in our Qmunity with the right attitude.

Pick up a strawberry Maid Rite pie. Dip your toes in Mississippi mud. Take pictures. Make memories. Appreciate the moments, even when all is lost and the only one there to pick you up is old man John.

Photo credit: Angela Stover

Brittany Boll is an award-winning mixologist and social media influencer in our Quincy community, which she has dubbed our #Qmunity. She reports on what’s cool in Q-Town as Muddy River’s #Qmunity Connoisseur. If you have an idea for our Muddy Vibes, please drop her an email at

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