After three days in the Italian countryside, we left Santa Maria del Molise with no specific plan. A stop at an internet cafe was in order (there was no internet access at the villa) and we needed to reconnect with John’s sister Julie to sort out our arrangements for flying home.
Our plan to get home was to take advantage of Julie’s Buddy Passes (she works for an airline) and fly standby back to the US. We had originally anticipated flying home the last few days of July, but when we connected with her it became clear that the flights were simply too full. July is the height of busy season for flights to and from Europe, and it was possible we would have to bide our time for another week (or more) in Italy in order to catch a seat on a flight.
Perhaps most people would be happy to have an extra week to bum around the Italian countryside, but I assure you we were very much ready to come home at this point. Adding another week to our itinerary felt overwhelming and exhausting. There was a slim chance we might catch a flight the next day out of Rome, and both John and I perked up at the thought of getting home so soon. While we waited for word from Julie as to whether or not that flight might have space for us, I spent a good 30 minutes scheming ways to cash in frequent flier miles to get us on a plane over the weekend as a backup plan. We couldn’t handle another week of transit, and if Julie couldn’t get us home within a few days I was willing to take matters into my own hands. With hope that something would come through in the next few days, we drove our SmartCar up to Rome.
Fortunately, we got the call from Julie late Wednesday night that if we were really lucky we just might get on the Thursday morning flight from Rome to Detroit. It didn’t look promising (a family of four needed to not show up for their place on the standby list in order to make space for us), but it was our best option. She made us a reservation, and we headed to the airport the following morning.
After returning our rental car, doing the dance through check-in, immigrations and security, John and I sat outside the gate and waited. Standby passengers are called as the last people to board a flight, and as we watched groups of people boarding the plane we began calculating what to do if we didn’t get on. If only one of us could make this flight, we planned for John to take the standby seat to Detroit while I would spend another night in Rome by myself and cash in miles for a flight home the next day. If neither of us could get on, we’d take a cab to a hotel and I’d figure out a way to transfer miles from my sister so we could book two flights home.
We continued to wait as the gate agent started calling the names of standby passengers ahead of us on the list. When the family of four was called to the desk for their boarding passes, we were pretty certain it was over. There couldn’t possibly be space on this flight for us. We continued to wait, but I began thinking more seriously about how to find a hotel in Rome. Apparently we racked up a lot of good karma around the world, however, because fortune smiled down upon us. When the gate agent called our names and handed both of us boarding passes, we were elated. So elated, in fact, that we didn’t notice that not only were we sitting together on the plane, but we had scored two seats in Business Class Elite. (Julie assured us this never happens. Especially when you are trying to fly home from Italy during the busiest travel season in Europe. We had seriously good karma.)
As we settled into our gratuitously comfortable seats and received our glasses of pre-takeoff sparkling wine, we toasted to Julie for providing us with such an incredible end to our spectacular journey. (Business Class Elite is absurdly awesome. Five course dinners, full duvets and pillows, seats that recline 180 degrees, endless cocktail service…there were perks we didn’t even know to take advantage of until Julie told us about them later. It’s a completely different experience up there.)
10 hours later we arrived in Detroit and maneuvered ourselves to an airport vicinity hotel where we would crash for an overnight layover. We spent more time than you would expect appreciating the potable tap water, plugs that didn’t require a converter, and being able to speak English to every friendly person at the hotel. Suffice it to say, we were thrilled to be back in the US. The following morning fortune smiled down on us once more as we scored the last two standby seats on a flight to Denver (despite being told by Julie later that we shouldn’t have gotten on the flight.) Serious thanks go out to Julie for scoring us such amazing flights home during such a hectic travel season (and for so cheap!)
In total we spent just 5 days in Italy. We didn’t make it to the Amalfi Coast or to Tuscany, as we had planned, but that was okay with us. Italy will be there for another time when our desire to travel is a little higher and we can appreciate it fully. For now, we’re just happy to be back in the US visiting family and friends and beginning to recreate our lives in Denver. Without intending to, we flew home to Denver exactly one year after we left – arriving home one year to the day and nearly to the hour later. We couldn’t have planned it more perfectly if we’d tried.
This marks the last post from the road, but upcoming recap posts are in the works. Stay tuned for the best photos of World Tour and a recount of the winners and losers from our trip!