Why It Pays to Plan…


Sara and I had been together for almost two years when my stepfather gave us a wonderful Christmas present. He offered to take the two of us and my daughter, Mackenzie, along with my mother and the rest of his family to the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas for Spring Break. Needless to say, we were very excited. We had been on several trips together up to this point, but nothing this luxurious. Normally we get very involved in the planning of the trip, but both Sara and I were busy with work and everything here was already planned for us. All we had to do was to show up, play in the pools, bask in the sun and eat in the many fine restaurants at the resort. Living in San Diego, we had been to Mexico several times for camping, or just a nice lobster dinner, so we were very familiar with traveling so close to the U.S. and not really concerned with anything more than packing the night before we left.

Our flight to the Bahamas was a red-eye from San Diego, with a layover in Atlanta, departing at 10 pm and arriving in sunny Atlantis around noon. This was my then four year old daughter's first trip out of the country and I was nervous as to how she would handle the long flight. To help her sleep and to prevent any potential air sickness, we decided to give her Dramamine.

We arrived at the airline counter in San Diego with plenty of time to spare and proceeded to check in. Both of our jaws dropped when the airline attendant asked for our passports. "But we go to Mexico all the time without passports. Surely we can go to the Bahamas." Alas, no. This was post 9/11, and they were very strict about requiring a passport both to get into the Bahamas and to return to the U.S.

The biggest mistake we made, however, was one that occurred a few years earlier. I was in the Navy when my ex and I had my daughter Mackenzie. We were living in Virginia Beach, Virginia at the time and when she was born, the Naval Hospital in Portsmouth issued us a 'Record of Birth' in lieu of a Birth Certificate. We were told that we would need to write to the office in Richmond that handled Birth Certificates in order to get a copy of Mackenzie's. Of course, that never happened. Not very important, until it was made clear to us that Mackenzie needed either a passport or a Birth Certificate to get back into the country. We had neither.

Our passports were back at home and our car was parked in off-site parking, a bus ride from the airport. We now had about an hour until our flight left, no car and no passports. We discussed our options quickly and decided that I would stay with MacKenzie while Sara took a taxi back to the house to get our passports. Our house was a 20 minute car ride, so it was possible, but time was ticking. We would deal with the Birth Certificate issue in Atlanta.

While I waited, I spoke with the agent and changed our connecting flight in Atlanta to later in the day. Our hope was that there was a passport office in Atlanta and we could get a rush passport for Mackenzie that day. I also checked our bags through to the Bahamas so we did not have to deal with them in Atlanta, or so I thought.

Luckily, this was the age of cell phones and I was in constant contact with Sara through her 100 mph taxi ride home and back. The agent held the flight for us and we piled on the plane ten minutes late, already tired from a full day of work, and stressed about our passports and more importantly, Mackenzie's lack of one. We gave Mackenzie her Dramamine and tried to get some sleep before our impending long day in Atlanta.

We arrived in Atlanta at 5am, worried and not at all rested. I had decided that we were going to rent a car and just go to Disney World, but Sara, reluctant to let down her potential future in-laws, was not going to give up so easily. Her first action after disembarking the plane was to locate an Internet Cafe. I think I should point out that Sara is a master of Internet searches and can find virtually anything within minutes on the web. Unfortunately, in record time she determined that the closest passport office was Miami and even that was no guarantee without a Birth Certificate.

Our only option was to get the actual Birth Certificate. Sara found the office responsible online and discovered that we could have one rushed to us within 24 to 48 hours. The biggest problem here was that we were only going to be in the Bahamas for four days, so that dramatically cut into our vacation time. It was then that Sara was inspired with 'Plan B'. She did a quick flight search and determined that one of us (me) could fly to Richmond, go to the Office of Records and get the Birth Certificate and be back in time for our flight to the Bahamas.

These days, Sara and I are not wealthy people, but back then, we counted pennies, clipped coupons for everything and generally struggled over every major purchase we needed to make. The flight to Richmond cost $1192. Keep in mind that this all occurred in April, 2002 and I am writing this in February, 2009. I have never written that figure down, but it still sticks with me to this day. That is the impact that this had.

If it was up to me, Mom would've gotten a phone call and Mackenzie would've met some of my long lost friends in Atlanta for the weekend, but as most men have come to realize, these things really aren't up to us to decide. I found myself on a flight to Richmond.

Upon arrival, I sprinted to the Taxi stand, sped across town to the Office of Records and luckily found myself to be first in line. I plunked down my eight dollars and received a fresh Birth Certificate, hot off the printer. I made it back to the airport in time for the return flight and met up with my future wife and my daughter in Atlanta. The three of us successfully made it the rest of the way to the Bahamas, while our luggage remained in Atlanta. (Not to worry, it arrived the night before we returned home, just in time for us to pack.)

I now have a $1200 Birth Certificate that I have locked away in a fire proof safe. A few years ago, my ex called and needed it for something school related. I told her the story and offered to let her borrow it for $600. I guess she didn't really need it that badly.

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  • Larry Braga

    Phil…great story! You have a fan here who will be checking out your site often! Best, Larry Braga

    • Flip

      Thanks, Larry. Good to hear from you. Sara and I hope all is well. We are planning a trip to Egypt for my 40th birthday, so I hope to have some good stories. I have been learning lots about the pharaohs and just the basics of Egyptian history. It is pretty fascinating…even learned how to make a mummy!!

      Hope to talk to you soon.