emergency travel

I’m writing to you this week from lovely Ohio.  OK, not too lovely.  The temperature has been below freezing, and frequently in the teens, most of the time we’ve been here.  Thick curtain-like clouds obscure the sun.  The wind blows strong, chilling to the bone.  And all this without any snow to make it pretty.

Why would someone give up the grandeur of Colorado for the grayness of Ohio?  If you’re going to spend a mid-winter week away from home, why not make it Florida or the Yucatan?

We have family in Ohio, and we were called here by a family emergency.  Because of the nature of this trip, I’ve noticed several things about traveling that I haven’t noticed before.

Out of town guests are a strain on the host family, especially if that host family has other duties due to the emergency.  While we are always welcome at our hosts’ home, our hosts’ lives must continue in spite of us.  They have jobs, and a house to keep, and a sick family member in the hospital, and all of this is only complicated by having house guests.  We have attempted to make ourselves as useful as possible, but our efforts can only go so far.  Our future emergency plans will probably include a hotel stay, for everyone’s sanity.

Pet care is more difficult.  There are basically three options for pet care when leaving town.  You can take the pet with you, you can board the pet in a kennel, or you can find a friend to take care of it.  Taking the pet with you costs you travel time, as you still have to feed it and take it to the bathroom.  Boarding the pet costs you money, plus you leave the pet with a potentially impartial care-giver.  And asking a friend to care for the pet is difficult, because, let’s face it, nobody likes your pet but you.  In our case, we brought the dog with us, and we left the cat at our house and asked a friend to come by to check on it now and then.  When we get home, we’re going to spend some time making emergency pet care plans so we’re not left scrambling in the future.

An emergency fund is absolutely essential.  No matter how you handle the details, taking a last minute trip out of town is expensive.  If you do not have an emergency fund you will sink further into debt, turning a medical emergency into a financial emergency.  This is the first time we had to use our emergency fund since we started building it.  The difference between this trip and our past trips is like night and day.  If you have any desire at all to change your financial picture, you simply must have an emergency fund.  There is no substitute.

In short, while I wouldn’t wish an emergency on anybody, they are bound to happen.  At some point you will have an emergency.  How are you preparing to handle it?

This column originally appeared in the December 24, 2008, edition of the Greenhorn Valley View.

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