This past Thursday I woke up to some really sad travel news. WOW Airlines, one of my favorite airlines, went out of business. WOW was often criticized for their business model. Critics would often say “they nickel and dime you for everything.”
I, on the other hand, saw this as a blessing and an opportunity. I was (and am) on an incredibly limited budget that does not allow me to purchase traditional flights, but just by forfeiting my option to select where I sat and limiting how much I packed, the world became accessible to me (and so many others) in a way it never had been.
The first time I traveled with WOW Airlines, I paid $280 round trip to fly from Baltimore Washington International to London in October of 2016. I drove from New Jersey to just outside Baltimore, left my car at a friend’s and had her drop me at the airport. I have to admit, the first trip with WOW did not go very smoothly. There were delays and mechanical issues, and I ended up having to surrender my seat, along with about 20 more passengers, but they took care of us in a way I’ve never seen other airlines do. They gave us drink vouchers to go relax at the bar while they made lodging arrangements for us; then they transported us to a Marriott, covered our meals for the next day, booked me a direct flight for the following evening on British Airways, and gave me a voucher for a free flight to anywhere in the world that WOW Air flew.
I spent the next three weeks exploring England and Scotland and was even able to obtain standby tickets to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (the not so secret #1 reason I had planned the trip). And, on the way home, I arranged with WOW to have an extended layover in Iceland where I spent two days exploring Reykjavik and one full day soaking in the Blue Lagoon.
A year later, in September 2017, I used my free flight voucher on my ultimate dream trip to Italy. Even with WOW’s great deals, I wouldn’t have been able to afford that flight at the time, but because of that little hiccup in my London trip, I was able to spend 26 days exploring Italy — walking ancient Roman roads, touring the colosseum, hiking along the coast, stuffing myself with gelato and pastries, learning how to make homemade pasta, making new friends, and writing stories that would become some of the first Her Bags Were Packed content.
Also on that trip, I got to spend two full days in Iceland (as layovers on each end of the trip). While many people think of layovers as annoying wastes of time (a thought I normally agree with), I saw those two 12-hour days as an opportunity to see and do as much as I could in Iceland without spending money on lodging and dining (two of the most expensive parts of visiting Iceland). I rented a car and drove all over for ten hours. I saw waterfalls, hot springs, geysers, horses, sheep, craters, black sand beaches, and more waterfalls.
And then there was Amsterdam in April 2018. This was a trip that came about in a surprising way. Just days before Christmas, I saw a bunch of crazy good deals advertised on the WOW website. And, as I always do, despite no one ever taking me up on it, I sent it to a group of friends. Only this time one of my really good friends surprised me by announcing, “I’m in.” Within 2 hours we picked a date and destination: we’d be spending a long weekend in Amsterdam for $291 round trip. In those three days, we ate our way around the little city by exploring markets and food halls. We visited the Anne Frank House, toured the Van Gogh Museum, took boat rides, saw windmills, sipped wine at what was once the East India Trading Company, sampled cheeses, biked the tulip fields, and so much more.
And just a month later, I was able to book a last minute flight to Iceland for $261 round trip when one of my favorite people, Ruth McNulty, asked me to meet up with her over there. Ruth lives in New Zealand so despite being one of my favorite travel partners and best friends, I rarely get to see or chat with her due to the distance and time difference. Ruth and I spent 5 days driving all over the northern part of Iceland, catching up and searching for hot springs.
When I heard WOW Air had “collapsed,” I posted that I was heartbroken — not because I can no longer take advantage of their great deals, but because of the role they have played in my life. Some of my most cherished memories and experiences were made possible by their existence, and I’m deeply saddened they were not rewarded in the same way I was. I’m sorry that with the loss of WOW airlines, limited income individuals will no longer have access to the world in the incredible ways I have.
Thank you to everyone at WOW who worked so hard to give us the world. I am forever grateful for the role you’ve played in my story.