I travel a lot for business. I spend plenty of time in in-between places sharing space and conversation with strangers I will probably never see again. When I tell people that I don’t mind the travel, I am generally met with a response that suggests what I actually said was, “I don’t mind being mauled by lions.” People generally look upon me with a combination of confusion, pity, and horror at the idea that anyone could actually tolerate modern travel. In fact, travel is full of opportunity to practice human decency, work without interruption, and become more flexible. I actually enjoy it far more than commuting for hours a week in a car – a thing that I could never do.
Business travel, extensive business travel could be one of those adventure survival shows on the Discovery Channel. Swap the jungle for an urban terrain, replace animals with people, and you’ve got Darwin’s survival of the fittest as its best.
I am a road warrior. I am that person with six bins who has to take out her projector and laptop as well as remove her shoes and coat like everyone else. The difference is that I can break it all down in the time it takes the casual traveler to take off one shoe and figure out that he has to dump that extra large coffee he just purchased. This kind of regular travel has taught me to get comfortable with the unexpected and learn to live with that which is beyond my control.
I have a million important things I can tell you about traveling to make your experience more pleasant. For instance I carry a cashmere blanket regardless of the time of year that I’m traveling because sometimes the temperature in the plane is more appropriate to keep dairy products from going bad than keeping people comfortable. Drink lots of water, always take more reading material and work than you need so your time is filled. If you want to spend less time collecting your luggage buy any color in the world other than black. My luggage is blue and has elephants on it – no I’m not kidding. Everyone asks me where I got it and I claim that it was discontinued so that I continue to be the only person that owns this luggage. Keep your phone charged and bring both a wall and car charger on your trip and if you have back problems a tennis ball can alleviate back pain in a seat that was probably designed for a 4 foot, hundred pound contortionist.
I could go on, but none of those tips will help you tolerate or enjoy travel more than changing your attitude and learning to be more resilient. Modern travel is about managing discomfort, planning for the unexpected and understanding that all of your planning may result in situations beyond your control. Finding peace and perspective will train you to be more flexible, resilient, and calm not just in an airport, but in life.
Your luggage may indeed get lost so don’t pack anything too valuable, carry what you covet and if in the rare instance your luggage is lost forever, remember that it’s just stuff and stuff can be replaced. Be grateful that you’re safe and delight in a shopping trip courtesy of your airline. In the tens of thousands of miles I have traveled, an airline has never lost my luggage, at worse it has been misplaced for a very short time.
You cannot predict how long it will take to go through TSA. Play it safe and get to the airport early. You can read, or work or take the time to write someone a handwritten note or call your mother or your best friend or anyone you’ve been neglecting. It doesn’t have to be wasted time. That’s entirely up to you. And there’s endless opportunity to watch people go by while you drink a glass of wine or enjoy a cup of coffee. You can learn a lot just watching people.
If I get grounded due to weather or some mechanical issue I am grateful that I’ll probably make it there the next day in one piece and that beats the hell out of getting somewhere on time in many pieces. I am astonished by those who raise their voice to a powerless, undervalued gate agent and say, “I HAVE to get to Arizona.” Oh really? The rest of us just bought a ticket to see if the plane would take off but we don’t have to actually go anywhere. I make sure I get to every job a day early and in all my years of travel I have not missed one single speaking engagement or program and if I did, there really isn’t a damn thing I can do about it but to exhaust all logical options like whether I can drive if I’m half way there, but once those options are eliminated I surrender to my circumstance and find what humor I can, and settle down and settle in to where ever I am for the moment.
Every trip I take, I know there is a possibility that things will go wrong, take longer than I would like and I will have to manage some discomfort. For every trip I take I work at being kinder, more patient and tolerant of others because everyone is exhausted, anxious, bored and uncomfortable in a small space. I know that the mother who is rocking her screaming baby is filled with stress for her baby and all the passengers being disturbed by him. No one in the world can control the healthy lungs of a baby who does not want to be on a flight. I have headphones and music and a heart full of compassion for that mother. Not so long ago I was on a plane with one such mother. Her family was at the very back of the plane with their baby and two year old. The two year old had a really serious melt down at the beginning of the flight that went on for a very long time and another one as we landed. I fly a lot and this was extreme. It was really bad and she was incredibly stressed as two years can get. The mother asked the flight attendant if she could please make an announcement to allow her to get off the plane first which the flight attendant did as people made snide comments like, “GLADLY!” Their tone was filled with disgust. The mother was holding her child and I could see all her anxiety and embarrassment. I smiled at her and she nodded. And as she passed this older man placed his hand on her back and said, “You hang in there. You’re doing a great job.” And then he clapped for the little girl and the whole plane followed him and clapped her off of the plane comforting her and telling her it was going to be okay. I was surprised because I started tearing up and I realized 1) How unkind and unsympathetic people can be 2) How extraordinarily kind and compassionate others can be. 3) How very little it takes to extend kindness and patience 4) How much we all need it when we’re fragile 5) How important it is to set an example and rise above the din of low expectations and express humanity in small spaces where it seems to shrink.
As dramatic as it sounds the millions of conversations and challenges that travel has offered has made me more patient, more thoughtful, more productive, and more grateful.