Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Tammy Smith
How I Ended Up Stranded Alone In Jamaica During Hurricane Harvey
Written by: Tammy Smith
Every once in a while life starts “lifing” and you just need a quick trip with your friends to de-stress. That was the motivation behind the 4-day getaway to Jamaica that my friends and I planned 2 years ago. We originally chose to travel the weekend of Jamaica’s Independence but due to scheduling conflicts, we moved the trip to the last weekend of August, the 25th – 28th to be exact.
Days before the trip, the news began reporting lots of activity in the Gulf of Mexico, predicting the likelihood of a tropical storm. That tropical storm would eventually become Hurricane Harvey.
At the time, I had been living in Houston, TX for 12 years and had seen my fair share of tropical storms and hurricanes. I’d also seen meteorologists exaggerate their predictions of storms that never formed or made it to the city. In a nutshell, the weather in Houston is pretty unpredictable, so I thought to myself, “It won’t be that bad. At least I’ll be enjoying Jamaica with the girls”. That thought came to an abrupt end when I was reminded that one friend had unexpectedly canceled 3 days prior to our departure and on the Friday morning of our departure, my other friend, who is a flight attendant and usually flies standby, could not get on a flight due to the weather causing flights to be oversold.
Here I am with stress up to my eyebrows from work, a paid trip to Jamaica, and no friends to enjoy it with. What do I do? I board my flight as normal and set off for what I expected to be a much-needed escape from reality. After all, I’d traveled internationally alone before. This was not something that was foreign to me.
Once in Montego Bay, Jamaica, my driver picked me up at the airport and brought me to my AirBnB where I met my host, Rachel. She was lovely and so was the apartment. Luckily for me, it was brand new and I was the first guest to stay in it. I got settled in and planned to enjoy paradise but that was easier said than done. There was something about Jamaica that made me feel… uncomfortable. Walking through the neighborhood felt like an extreme sport, the vibe wasn’t as friendly as I expected, and prices were hiked because I was a tourist. But what it really boiled down to was, I planned a group trip and this wasn’t that. I was a young woman all alone with men everywhere, in a place that I would never plan a solo trip to. I didn’t do any excursions. I didn’t stay out after dark. I didn’t plan or research how to do any of these things alone in Montego Bay. I learned then how spontaneous I was not. For the majority of my trip, I’d have my driver take me to Doctor’s Cave beach in the morning and pick me up in the evenings. While at the beach, I’d lay on my chair under my umbrella, order food from the kitchen, and float in the ocean until I was ready to leave.
That was my routine every single day for about 3 days. The rest of my trip was spent watching the news and checking in with family and friends back home while praying for their safety. Two days into my trip, I started receiving notifications from Southwest Airlines saying that my flights back home were canceled due to the hurricane. Originally I was supposed to leave Jamaica on August 28th. Due to the storm, I wouldn’t actually make it back to Houston until September 1st.
My flights were canceled and rerouted countless times. Since I wouldn’t be able to leave Jamaica until Thursday, my Airbnb host took me to the local supermarket to buy groceries so I that I could cook instead of going out. Rachel and the Airbnb team were absolutely amazing throughout my whole ordeal. They were able to confirm that I was a resident of Houston so they covered the additional 4 nights that I had to spend in Jamaica.
What happened next is the most dramatic chain of events I’ve ever experienced in my travels. Although Southwest Airlines got me back to the U.S., they still could not get me back to Texas. I left Jamaica, had a layover in Ft. Lauderdale, and ended up in Atlanta. I stayed with a friend until Sunday. The night before I was scheduled to leave Atlanta, Southwest canceled my flight to Houston and rerouted me to San Antonio. I arrived at the airport on Sunday morning and after checking my bags, I hear that they reinstated the Houston flight. The gate agent was literally yelling, “Last call for flight XYZ to Houston!”
I ran to the gate and explained my situation and the agent gave me the last seat on that flight. That evening, I finally arrived in Houston to a partially flooded car and no bags since they were on the flight to San Antonio. Southwest’s customer service was so apologetic and sympathetic to my experience, they got my bags back to Houston and gave me a flight voucher for a future flight.
My overall trip was so stressful and anxiety-filled that I’ve vowed to never return to Jamaica. I am an advocate for solo travel however, it may not be the best idea to do so while your city is experiencing a natural disaster.
My advice to travelers: When traveling away from home, always plan your trip around your local forecast as well as the weather at your destination. If you don’t, coming home can become a huge inconvenience that could ruin your entire experience.