Travel Often & Richly Within Your Budget

The Home Swap Cure for Holiday PTSD (Post Travel Stress Disorder)

An aerial view of a snow-capped peak

More peaceful than most winter travel scenes

Holiday PTSD (Post Travel Stress Disorder). It’s real and it’s nasty, but some laughter along the way and a home swap at the end are exceptional cures.

Body Odor and Spousal Tiffs. Nice.

It’s January 3rd and now I’m listening to friends recount travel ‘horror’ stories born of Holiday Season airport, bus and highway messes. Tense moments, even tears, delays, body odor, sleeping on floors, fatigue-laden days, stiff necks, spousal tiffs…

Honestly, without these tales, what would anyone have to talk about on January 3rd?

Here’s the deal: It’s stressful. And it’s a good thing you have 11 months every year to recover! But it’s pretty good fodder for finding laughs, too. Either that –or an oceanfront home swap at the other end– might be the best cure for Post Travel Stress Disorder there is.

2008 was a year we braved Holiday Travel. My husband and I flew from Victoria BC, Canada, through San Francisco, to a home swap in Santa Barbara, California, USA. It wasn’t nearly the trial that we’ve had at other times, but the Captain of our first flight kind of set the scene for some laughs and it set the right tone for the trip.

What motivates such insanity?

Really? Tempt the Holiday Travel devil?

Well, we’d celebrated Christmas with family and on December 26th attempted to meet friends at a 2-bedroom, 2-bath home exchange in Ventura, California.

Why? Sun, warmth, palms and ocean views, and staying –for free– about four houses away from a miles-long stretch of white California sand for 2 weeks. Bring it on!

Oh, and we were running from this:

Snow-laden Victoria BC, Holiday Season, 2008

I love snow….for about 2 days ~Victoria, BC, Canada (2008)

Below is my account of our journey, cut and pasted from an email to family when the journey was done. What we found at the other end? Oh so worth it all!

A cheat sheet so it all makes sense:

  • When I started to purchase 2 economy airline tickets online for this trip, I entered ‘2’ but by the time I hit ‘submit’ only one was left. So I had to purchase a First Class seat. That’s a luxury I never have so you might say it was, well, a novelty.
  • The religious references are borrowed with good intention, having been at a loss with no religious convictions myself, yet wanting to alternately beg blessings and give thanks several times en route.
  • I had run a half-marathon a couple of weeks before.

The Short Story

We made it to our final destination on time and safely.

The Long Story

Departing looked like this…

Air Canada plane waits on the tarmac

OK, maybe this was a less-white day than Dec 26, 2008

  • a delightful surprise visit (and wonderful way to pass airport time) from my Godparents!  Thank you so much!!
  • zip through security
  • board plane at 2:15pm for 2:40 departure.
  • door closes at 2:45pm
  • taxi to runway
  • taxi down runway
  • turn right
  • Note: corners aren’t a part of takeoff
  • Captain:  “Folks, as we taxied onto the runway we got an engine error message we haven’t seen before, so we continued taxiing to clear the runway.  We think this is an easy fix and we’ll keep you posted.”
  • taxi back to terminal
  • wait 10 minutes
  • from my First Class (just had to rub that in) seat I can see the First Officer going through carbon copies of maintenance records.  They’re on the radio with someone I can only hope is an expert.
  • Captain:  “Well folks we have been assured by our maintenance department that they have seen this before and it is an errant error – totally inconsequential and we can proceed.  Sorry for the delay.  As soon as we get a pushback from the terminal, we’ll be on our way.”
  • wait 10 minutes
  • Flight attendant opens door, maintenance man boards and enters cockpit.  I hear (from my First Class seat) the captain say, “Listen.  Here’s the deal:  I have 28 minutes to get this bird in the air or we’re stuck here.  Do you hear me??”  More I can’t hear, and then…
  • maintenance man leaves and flight attendant closes door.
  • Captain:  “Hello again, folks.  It turns out that this airport doesn’t have the hook required to push this airplane back from the terminal.  Further, protocols at this airport give us a total of 90 minutes from touchdown to takeoff or we need to deplane everyone, put all of you and your luggage through security, and re-board again before takeoff.  By which time I may need a new crew.  So instead, with a Westjet 737 parked to our immediate right, and a Westjet 737 parked to our immediate left, I will be turning on the engines and reversing, then turning 180 degrees under our own engine power to attempt to get us on our way.  If we can do this without shearing off our wingtips and within the next 26 remaining minutes, we’ll be free and clear.”
  • Note:  our total layover in San Francisco is, no WAS, 2 hours.  Out come the Hail Mary’s.
  • Plane pirouette executed with admirable turning radius and grace.
  • Passengers applaud.
  • Plane stops shy of runway.
  • Captain:  “Hello folks.  Since one of the Westjet 737’s was parked in our path of reaching Runway 9 from the usual direction, we will be required to cross a runway.  There are a number of planes in line to land [see veritable string of airborne landing lights to left] and we need to wait until they land before proceeding.  You’ll, uh, well, you’ll know when we do.”
  • Engines fire up to what feels like full throttle –with brakes applied– before last plane even lands at the other end of the runway and…
  • brakes are released
  • plane crosses first runway at full speed
  • plane turns left without slowing, defying rules of cornering physics
  • Note: scratch that…corners apparently are a part of takeoff
  • plane departs 60 minutes late
  • Planeload of people converts to Catholicism.

Land in San Francisco with 1 hour til next flight departs


Marathon (a.k.a. Flight Connection) Training pays off

  • go through Immigration
  • wait for & pick up checked luggage
  • get waved through Customs, recheck bag for next flight
  • jog to domestic terminal
  • advise security officer at start of line of our departure time and get waved into standard security lineup
  • wait in line
  • wait in line (Note:  sanity not-so-gradually compromised)
  • wait in line (no cursing — I’m now converted)
  • at next snaking line turn, advise same security guard now 15 minutes to takeoff and get waved to expedited security line
  • clear security
  • leave husband putting shoes back on & sprint towards Gate 78 (LONG way & at end of terminal) as announced on previous flight.
  • stop mid-way to re-check Gate on monitor. All good: 78.
  • arrive at an empty Gate 78.
  • yell for help
  • United Airlines attendant advises our plane departing in next Terminal spoke (at end, of course) at Gate 87A
  • While reversing, call to attendant request for her to advise flight that 2 passengers, B-E-A-R-D, enroute & hold plane (as if that’s a commonly exercised standard protocol that I have the authority to invoke and she should carry out).  She agrees. ?!?! Or at least says she does.
  • Meet and redirect husband mid-way in concourse
  • Sprint.
  • Sprint.
  • Note:  Half marathon training does NOT involve extended sprints with luggage.
  • Arrive at Gate 87A.  Get pointed down 2 flights of stairs to tarmac.
  • Run across tarmac.
  • Climb stairs, board plane, door closes, depart 3 minutes late.  I take full personal responsibility for the delay and suffering of fellow passengers (but quietly and privately given the glares and palpable threat of bodily harm…).

Arrive as planned in Santa Barbara

  • Stand at Budget car rental desk with reservation number in hand to hear clerk telling customer that there are no cars for them as they have no reservation, for indeed there are 5 more people with reservations tonight, and only 3 of them will get cars.
  • I’m next in line. With a reservation. Evidence of which is balled in my sweaty fist shoved deep into my right pocket.
  • Note:  Catholicism works.

Arrive at home exchange

Stylized photo of wine glass filled with red wine

Life’s sweet rewards

Friends arrive –with wine– as we’re parking our (reserved and available) car around 9pm.

The house is great. Can’t see the beach yet, but hear the waves.

Go to bed at midnight, still coughing like a choking cheetah from SFO sprint, but here & happy. Thanks for the wonderful Christmas, everyone. Goodnight!

My Take

We woke to this:

Ventura California Home Exchange View

Waking to a view like this? Life is good. Very good. ~Ventura, California

And life was so very, very good.

Maybe a home swap is the best PTSD cure after all.

Your Take

Do have a great Holiday travel story (or nightmare) to share? Or have you sworn off Holiday Travel all together?

Author: Nola

Nola is passionate about travel and a home exchange diva. She shares how you can travel in comfort, save money while you do it, and splurge on travel treats with the savings. She is a travel writer, speaker and trainer.


  1. What an incredible story!!!

    Your first pilot was determined to get out of there no matter what. He pulled some interesting stunts. Thank goodness it worked!!

    I’ve never heard of the 90 minute rule. Sounds ridiculous. I once sat on a plane on a runway in the UK for 3 hours waiting for snow to melt because they didn’t have the proper gear to de-ice the wings.

    • Too funny! Me too! Only I sat on the tarmac for 3 hours at JFK in New York, because they ran out of de-icing fluid when a freak storm hit!

      You’re right – the first pilot was hilarious, and if I hadn’t been within earshot of the cockpit it wouldn’t have been as much fun either. But oh my goodness it was well worth the trip!

      Thanks for checking in, Sicorra!

  2. LOVE this story! Good travel writing makes you feel like you were there and/or makes you wish you were there.
    Yours does both… felt like I was there on the plane (but glad I wasn’t), wish I was there on that kind of home exchange.

    • Thanks for checking in and for your kind comments, Ed – very appreciated! I love sharing great travel experiences almost as much as being there myself and I’m glad you enjoyed it, too!

      I can’t deny my travel passion and I can travel so much more with home exchanging. A view like that and the comforts of a home are huge bonuses. In fact, we’re leaving Monday for Florida — on a home swap!

  3. Very funny…afterward. I boarded a plane from Reno, NV. to San Francisco once just after the pilot got on. This was many, many years ago (25?) and I was sure at the time he was absolutely s$%tface loaded. There’s no way they would have let him pilot the plane today.

    But, we took off. There was a huge, football-lineman looking guy sitting next to me, and my mom on the other side. We hit turbulence over the Sierra Nevada mountains, and from second to second we’d see mountains out one window then out the other as the place jerked violently.

    I looked over at my mom who was laughing hysterically like it was a roller coaster, then I looked at the football player who’d grabbed the bag and was losing his lunch, dinner, and tomorrow’s lunch.

    I was sure we were going down and I was already in some weird place.

    • Are you sure there was turbulence? Maybe it was the pilot ‘flying’ to the best of his ability that day (or invoking an evil sense of humor)!

      You’ve gotta love the stories that come out of our so-called less sophisticated decades. Life’s no fun without a little risk and adventure, right? My grandmother used to provide some medical services to remote communities in northern Canada. She told of climbing into a plane only to have the pilot secure the door with hay-baling wire!

      Thanks for sharing that AverageJoe. Better luck with your next flight!