Playing destination roulette

Destination roulette

Play destination roulette by showing up at the airport with nowhere in mind. (Chicago Tribune)

Brittany Smith was ready for a vacation when she showed up at Indianapolis International Airport in early June. The only thing she needed was a destination.

Smith, 25, a community manager for Yelp, was launching an experiment she had long considered: She and a friend would show up at the airport early on a Friday for a weekend vacation not knowing where they were going. Instead, they would be guided by a few simple rules: No advance research about potential flights. Round-trip airfare would cost no more than $300. They would travel only with light bags (and pack not knowing where they were headed).

Smith and her friend, Joanna Brenneman, also 25, split up when arriving at the airport about 5:30 a.m. and checked with multiple airlines. Smith found a flight to Denver leaving within the hour. The desk agent argued that the women didn't have enough time to get through security and on the plane and wouldn't sell them tickets. An undeterred Smith instead called Frontier's toll-free number and bought the tickets over the phone.

They rushed through security and were on a plane to Denver less than an hour after arriving at the airport.

"We were excited about Denver," Smith said. "We were excited about some fresh air. We probably would have ended up anywhere and found reason to be excited about it."

Other than a dress, bathing suit and a jacket, Smith had little more than the clothes she was wearing — shorts, a tank top and Birkenstocks. But that was the point.

"I've always been a fan of traveling in different ways and trying different things," Smith said. "I don't know anyone who has ever tried this."

The women hit a roadblock almost immediately after landing. They tried booking a rental car on their phones but were unable to do so on such short notice and that early in the day. They spent a couple of hours of traveling between rental agencies to find one open and with cars available.

Once they got a car, they drove immediately to Rocky Mountain National Park, where they explored and took short hikes, then headed to Cheyenne, in southern Wyoming, where neither had been. After dinner at a bison ranch, they discovered there were no available hotel rooms in Cheyenne; they drove almost an hour to Laramie, Wyo., and found themselves at a Super 8, in a room with a door that didn't latch properly.

"It was gross," Smith said. "But we were on a Super 8 budget."

All part of the adventure.

The next day they drove to the farmers market in Boulder, Colo., then to Manitou Springs, northwest of Colorado Springs, where they hiked (and Smith wished she had brought hiking boots) and found "a cute roadside hotel that made up for the Super 8."

On Sunday they "ate a feast" at a Denver restaurant, tooled around Denver, then flew home. The friends were in their own beds by 1 a.m. Monday morning.

While the concept of traveling somewhere random is admirable, it's the sentiment behind the concept that wowed me. I asked Smith, "What if you had ended up somewhere you didn't much want to go?"

Her answer was perfect: "If we ended up in Cleveland, it would have been an opportunity to check out Cleveland. I think any place can be interesting to visit. There's good in every place."

(No offense, Cleveland.)

Smith said she has inspired two of her friends to undertake a similar trip. Who would she recommend try her game of "travel roulette"?

"Someone who has traveled a little bit — you have to be savvy and flexible and can't get easily flustered," she said. "Someone who doesn't need luxury."

She paused.

"This is not a vacation," Smith said. "You're going for the adventure."

jbnoel@tribune.com

Twitter @joshbnoel

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