You booked your trip, made your lists, packed your bags and braved three different interstates to dip your toes in the beautiful Port Royal Sound on Hilton Head Island.
But when is the last time your vacation went exactly as planned? Frankly, any number of mishaps could spell disaster.
As a hapless, Washington, D.C.-area transplant, I’ve experienced all of these and more, and I can promise you, they don’t have to ruin your beach getaway. At least not all of it. Here are some tips for navigating calamity and getting back to your happy place in one piece.
1. You got way too much sun, and it hurts to exist
Have you heard? South Carolina is hot. And if you insist on using 15 SPF sunscreen and wearing that trendy, see-through coverup — or no shirt at all, MEN — you might turn a nice lobster red after your first day on the beach.
For relative comfort for the rest of your trip, invest in some better, non-spray sunscreen, and avoid arguments with those SPF-scholars who want everyone to know THEY only use 30 because anything higher is baloney. It’s not. While you’re at it, pick up pure coconut oil and T-shirts you don’t mind ruining after you lather on said coconut oil like a fiend, several times a day.
It soothes like no other, it smells nice, and it’ll give you a nice body-builder sheen.
Also count on renting an umbrella from Shore Beach Services if you don’t have one of your own. They’re as little as $7 for an afternoon and about $100 for a full week, a small price to pay for enjoying the beach without further aggravating your new, angry lizard skin.
2. You’re broke on the toll road and your E-ZPass can’t help you now
If you’re staying on the south end and you want to go shopping at Tanger Outlets, the fastest way from Point A to B is over the Cross Island Parkway.
Turns out, that’s also the fastest way to confusion, panic and regret if you’re not carrying any cash. That’s because here on Hilton Head, we charge you $1.25 each way, or $0.75 if you have the E-ZPass’ beach bum cousin, the Palmetto Pass.
If you’ve never made this mistake before, your kindly toll both operator will probably hand you a slip of paper that explains how to mail in or drop off the toll at their office, which is next to the Cross Island but not actually accessible from the Cross Island without paying a toll, because that would make too much sense.
And if you accidentally go through a Palmetto Pass-only lane, where no operators are there to save you, try calling the parkway folks at 843-342-6718 and begging forgiveness. Results may vary.
3. Nature attacked
One minute you’re reveling in the beauty of the world around you and the next, it’s BETRAYED YOU.
A jellyfish sting in the ocean.
An oyster shell cut in the marsh.
Fire ant bites in the grass.
I sincerely hope you don’t run into any problems on your trip, but if you do, there are a few urgent care clinics on the island where you can get a booster shot and some initial care.
There’s also a CVS MinuteClinic right on Pope Avenue, which I’d recommend because the Bluffton location expertly gave me a tetanus shot after I kicked an oyster bed in the Broad River. And those tasty morsels (or so I’m told, being a vegetarian) will mess you up.
For the record, I kicked the little knife factory after I’d flipped my kayak and was scrambling onto a stranger’s yacht, lest I be carried away by the strong current. I hope the fancy yacht owner noticed the bloodstains later that day and now tells people there was a mysterious murder on their boat.
I also recommend turning any mandatory down-time into a different kind of vacation.
Make your friends pick up pizza from a local joint like Dough Boys, Fat Baby’s, Giuseppi’s or New York City Pizza. Soak your injury in salt water and pretend it’s the ocean (or not.) Watch “Jaws” and plan how to tweak your story for maximum dramatic effect back home.
4. You’ve lost your phone or your wallet or your keys or that one friend ...
I used to be a crime reporter and would sit outside the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office on Hilton Head each Saturday morning to check reports. I say sit outside because the office is closed, and you have to wait for a nice deputy to let you in.
More than once, I was joined by an anxious tourist hoping to find out if a relative or friend they’d lost track of the night before was in jail. MORE THAN ONCE.
I won’t tell you it’s not a major bummer to be in this position, whether searching for a person or your lost or stolen passport, car keys, wallet, or lifesblood AKA cellphone. Hopefully these tips help a little:
- For emergencies, call 911 or dispatch at 843-524-2777.
- The Hilton Head substation is open from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and can be reached at 843-255-3300.
- Avoid problems in the first place. Always use a buddy system on the beach, lock cars and doors, hide valuables in your vehicles and don’t use ATMS in parking lots at night.
And if you really think your buddy was arrested, his name and face will be online for all to see. Breathe a sigh of relief, download the mugshot, then bail him out.
5. The weather rained on your parade
Hopefully, you’re just experiencing the afternoon’s typical 15-minute 4 p.m. downpour, and everything will literally be sunshine and rainbows in no time at all.
But if the bad weather keeps up, we’ve got you covered.
Here’s a list of 15 things to do when rain soaks your vacation, from spots that offer live music under a dry roof to activites that will keep your kids from going stir-crazy.
And honestly, some of the best times I’ve had on Hilton Head have been while ducking under beach-bar tiki huts and Reilley’s Plaza umbrellas as the rain keeps pouring down.
If the bartenders keep serving and the bands keep playing, you can certainly keep the good times going, soggy or not.