There I was, innocently and casually perusing the petsit website, when I spotted it: A five-night catsit in Santa Rosa, California, the heart of Sonoma Valley Wine Country. Suddenly gripped by the possibility of a fabulous travel experience, I feverishly read through the homeowners’ profile looking for red flags.
🚩🚩Princess is a very demanding and emotional cat with anxiety issues and her therapist says we’re to cater to her every whim. She requires an experienced cat whisperer who will stay at home most of the time. If you insist on exploring the area, we ask that you do so between the hours of 8-9am and/or 2-3pm, which is when Princess likes her “alone” time. Four times per day – at precisely 10:00 am, 12:30pm, 3:25pm, and 6:10pm – she requires organic catnip muddled with Perrier to be hand-administered with a spoon while Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is playing at a volume of not more than “3.” At night, Princess will need to sleep near or on your head, and at least twice overnight will require human-assisted play sessions with her Zippy Mouse lasting not more than 30 minutes each.
Not seeing any, I rushed downstairs to consult with the husband. The location was perfect. The dates were perfect. Their condo (with hot tub!) looked nice. The length of the sit was ideal. Max the Cat seemed adorable. The humans seemed reasonable and sane, and they boasted pages of glowing reviews from past sitters.
I tapped out a quick introductory message to accompany our application and within the hour I received a promising reply requesting a phone call. Later that afternoon we hit if off with Max’s humans (aka “his staff”) and got the sit!
What happened next:
Well aware of the revenge travel that’s taking place right now (and being seized by the urge myself), I knew this last minute-ish trip would not be easy to plan. I spent the next 48 hours frantically trying to find pre- and post-sit accommodations. The first obstacle was trying to find a one-night hotel room for the eve of the sit. The second obstacle was trying to find a reasonably priced hotel room on the coast over a busy, high-season weekend in a post-pandemic travel world. (Hint: such a thing, I now know, does not exist)
What I learned:
I don’t know if “two night minimum” is a wine country standard, but that requirement was everywhere I looked—hotels, inns, B&Bs, AirBnBs, VRBOs. In the end, I simply got lucky. A lovely bed & breakfast in the town of Napa had one room that was booked solid through a Friday, then booked solid again starting two days later on a Sunday, with a lonely little Saturday night in between, free (not “free” as in free, of course—far from it—but rather “free” as in available) and up for grabs.
I grabbed it with both hands.
As for the coast, once I abandoned the “reasonably priced” expectation, things got a little easier and I found a lovely room with views of Bodega Bay and the Pacific Ocean beyond.
And then . . .
At work, I breathlessly related our exciting new petsit plans to one of my travel-loving colleagues, who then dutifully informed me of a recent, dire-sounding Forbes article warning about the current state of affairs in the car rental world. That gist of the article — ominously titled A Car Rental Apocalypse Is Coming — is that the pandemic messed with the car rental agencies, and renters are now paying the price.
I ran home that afternoon, did my best travel architecting, and came up with an 11-day (sedan) rental that is fully double the cost of the 9-day (small SUV) rental we had for our Palm Springs trip less than two months ago. To be exact, we paid $450 for the SoCal rental, which I booked in early March, and are now—less than three months later—paying $900 (!) for two extra days in a less expensive vehicle in Wine Country.
Plus, I prepaid this time, which supposedly saved me $100.
What else I learned:
I knew this already, but sometimes even I forget: it pays to be loyal to an airline, but not unwaveringly loyal. We’re Delta® people for the most part, but at double the price of flying Sun Country® to San Francisco, we chose the latter. Sky Miles™ be damned. I’ll take my savings here and now, thank you very much.
The final word:
Some of the costs on this trip are eye-popping by our usual travel standards, and I haven’t even mentioned wine-tasting fees, but five nights of free accommodation (cuddly cat included) helps assuage any guilt I might (or might not) feel. Further, I got the husband to agree to leave his bike at home (win!) and to fly to California (versus six days of driving round-trip – win!). And as you know, not having summer travel plans was just about killing me. I’m no longer being killed, and instead, have that pre-travel spring in my step.
And that, fellow travel lovers, is priceless.