Back at the beginning of February we were on the verge of taking our first ever European vacation. First stop was going to be Venice, Italy – a long time bucket list destination of mine. Not 100% sure why but thinking it is another water thing for this Garies expat.
In the span of 30 days, we went from preparing to travel overseas to worrying about our family’s health and safety, budgets and single incomes and how to stay sane during a worldwide pandemic. COVID was here to stay and we had to adapt and adapt quickly.
Pieter needed to move back to Atlanta from Austin, Texas and it had to happen fast. The decision was made on Monday, I was on a plane to Austin on Thursday and we started the long drive back that very same evening. Before I flew to Austin, we were planning his move via phone calls and getting things in place to leave Austin for now.
Giving up our Apartment
We had a small apartment here and were able to get a co-worker of Pieter’s to take over the lease. Utilities needed to be transferred and mail forwarded. While scarcely furnished, there was still a lot of furniture pieces and “stuff” that had to make their way back to Atlanta with us. The couch was staying behind, but the bed, media stand, chairs and kitchen items were coming back with us. Pieter went out to rent a U-Haul the day before I arrived and started packing his clothes and some small items.
For those readers not familiar with U-Haul – it is a rental company that rents us general folk trucks and trailers to move our items from Point A to Point B. You can rent a large U-Haul truck and move your belongings from East to West and return the truck again at your destination. Don’t need a large truck? Rent a smaller trailer and pull it behind your vehicle. We’ve done a couple of self moves in our lifetime and this is such an easier way to do it.
Arriving Early to Pack
Flights from Atlanta leave just after 6am EST and land in Austin, Texas at 7:20am CST. Nice and early for a whole day of packing and carrying items down three flights of stairs. Pieter’s clothes were already packed and I could focus on the living room and kitchen. Instead of boxes, we bought some plastic bins (I just love to use plastic bins!) and proceeded to add in all the accumulations of 11 months in Austin.
By sheer luck (sorry Pieter, I know you didn’t plan it that way), the U-Haul trailer was tall enough and long enough to fit the queen size mattress. We took the bedframe apart and since I’m the master of Tetris packing in our family, started the process of fitting everything into the trailer and the back seat of his truck. Once the large items were in, we added in the rest of the furniture and chairs and then added all the plastic bins and smaller items. The two duffel bags with clothes went onto the back seat, along with the television and all the bedding to protect and cover those items.
Road Trip Day 1 – Austin to Galveston, TX
212 Miles – 3 and 1/2 hours
Our original plan was to get everything moved out and packed into the U-Haul and spend a last night on the air mattress in the empty apartment. Even after cleaning the empty apartment, we had plenty of daylight left, and decided to just get on the road and get to our first stop in Galveston. We both craved the ocean and it wasn’t too far of a detour. It was going to take us a couple of days to drive back to Georgia anyway and there is no telling when we will be in this part of the country again.
We stopped for gas at a Buc-ees outside of Houston. Buc-ees is a chain of travel centers known for the cleanest bathrooms across the nation (!), and we were surprised to see a Wienermobile parked outside. There are six of these hotdog shaped vehicles that tour the USA and in spite of the windy weather, we had to get a picture with this one.
Galveston is located 45 miles south of Houston, on a narrow barrier island and is a huge tourist attraction. In fact, most of it’s economy is centered around tourism, health care and shipping. We were still in the beginning phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the effects could already be seen in Galveston. A lot of hotel closures, entertainment shutdowns and very little visitors around.
We arrived after dark and spent the night in a hotel that I picked right across from the historic Pleasure Pier. This is an amusement park that stretches the length of more than three football fields into the ocean. It was built in 2012 after Hurricane Ike destroyed the Flagship Hotel in that same spot. While not open due to COVID-19, we could still appreciate the view of it from our room.
The next morning, sunrise was hidden behind clouds but we had a nice walk on the beach, got to climb the rock jetties and spent some quiet time breathing in the fresh ocean air.
Day 2: Galveston, TX to Biloxi, MS
410 Miles – 7 hours
Too soon, it was time to get on the road again. We wanted to get to Biloxi, Mississippi by the evening and we had a long way to go. Instead of heading back north to Houston though, we took the coastal route which started with a ferry crossing back to the main land. A lovely 2.7 mile trip that takes about 20 minutes, all while sitting in your car and enjoying the view.
We followed the coastal road for a while and then headed north towards Beaumont, Texas. Pieter came here in 2017 after Hurricane Harvey came through and left the area dealing with a lot of flooding. Back then he brought his small boat and was helping people and their pets get from flooded homes to safety. A lot of civilians came to help from as far away as Florida and Georgia.
This section of I-10 has the most impressive bridges that crosses large areas of swamp. Impressive to see and drive on. I got a chance to drive while Pieter took a nap and while focusing a lot on the trailer and the towing part at the beginning, soon relaxed enough to enjoy the scenery. Sorry, couldn’t take any pictures while driving!
We made it through the state of Louisianna with just a quick Walmart detour for much needed new wiper blades, and into Gulfport, Mississippi by that evening.
Gulfport, another Gulf of Mexico town, is very close to Biloxi, our stop that evening. This town also took a beating when Hurricane Harvey came through and we could see a lot of damage still, but also a lot of new construction and roads. The beaches were so clean and white when we showed up that we had to stop for a bit to take a walk and appreciate the views.
Pieter was in charge of picking the hotel for the evening and ignored my ocean front requests to finally book us the last room on the bottom floor of a sketchy hotel that was as far from the ocean as you could possible be. We went ahead and kept the reservation, but made sure to at least have dinner in a restaurant that offered an outside deck and ocean views.
Day 3: Biloxi, MS to Suwanee, GA
420 miles – 6 hours
We got on the road after breakfast at the hotel without even taking a last beach stroll and turned west to head home. After a short trip next to the ocean, we headed north towards Mobile and Montgomery, AL. I was able to get one final beach picture while we were driving next to the ocean.
This part of the trip was uneventful – just driving and stopping when we needed to. Since I was now very comfortable towing the U-Haul, we took turns to drive and cover the the final stretch home to Atlanta.
The kids helped us unload the truck and trailer, and Pieter returned the U-Haul. After just over a thousand miles and three days of driving, we were finally back home and had the whole family together in one house again.