Is the journey as important as the destination?
More often than not the car ride to the hotel, the train to the city, or the plane that gets us to our cruise, is seen as a means to an end. The goal is to get to your vacation. But, what if that car ride or the airport was actually where your vacation started? What if, instead of having two days of travel and 4 days of vacation, you had a full 6 days? That sounds better, right?
If you have to drive for 7 hours, such as our trip to Maine, why not set up some fun sight seeing on the way? Roberto and I love hunting down used book stores, so we got out a map (made by Google) and plotted a couple stops on the way. If you have to take a couple hour train ride, bring something fun just for yourself, and don’t forget your favorite sweet. There are many ways to change you travel days into a vacation days.
For this article we are going to focus on air travel since it is a huge part of most trips we take and it is always at least a whole day lost. Dealing with airports, baggage check, security, take off, landing, airport food, and so on, is not what most people look forward to when taking a vacation. I am challenging you to think differently about the airport and air travel. I want you to take air travel and turn it into part of your vacation.
Step One: Get to the airport early.
Everyone knows the rules of three hours for international and two hours for domestic flights, but what if you actually went a little earlier? Try getting to the airport and through security with two hours to spare. That means arriving at the airport earlier. I add 30-45 minutes to my time at the airport. Getting to the airport this early means that when you hit traffic, you don’t start cursing your head off. In the parking lot you’re not trying to fit your SUV into a spot for a Smart Car. And you don’t have a panic attack when see the long line for security. Everyone is more relaxed and happy when they are not rushing.
So when you are arriving at the airport really early it means that you don’t need to reenact the scene from Home Alone and look like a crazy person sprinting for your gate. You also stand a much lower chance of forgetting a child at home.
Step Two: Carry on.
If you only travel with carry on luggage, you can skip bag check. How amazing is that right off the bat? You also get to skip baggage claim on the other side. All your stuff is with you on the plane, never to be lost. If you practice only doing carry on, your packing becomes more efficient, lighter and travel becomes easier.
Step Three: Have a meal at the airport.
Familiarizing yourself with the airport you’ll be traveling from is very important. Some airports and terminals now have really nice restaurants in them and even the quick service cafeteria can be really great. There is nothing like getting to the airport, going through security and then sitting down for a nice meal. I have been doing this since I was 20 years old and traveling from London to NY. I was very stressed about traveling back to the states and being by myself, so I went to the airport several hours early. I sat in Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 and decided that I had enough time to eat (I had not eaten all day due to the stress of traveling). I found my way to one of their restaurants and had breakfast. That is when I discovered the calming effect of eating. Not just the consumption of food, I am sure you know how to do that, but sitting, relaxing, and having some time to enjoy a meal is important. That experience changed the way I saw airports.
Not all airports are equal. Anyone who has ever been to Laguardia can confirm that. One morning when you are thinking about your trip or laying in bed going over your social media for the day, jump over to your airport’s website and look up the terminal that you will be departing from. They will tell you what is available in that terminal and you’ll be able to plan ahead. If there is no food offered, bring your own. You can bring a picnic with you and as long as you don’t bring liquids through security.
Step Four: People watch.
You can people watch anywhere, but the airport is one of the best spots. While eating your meal or walking around, people watch. See how many different cultures, religions, ages, couples, hairstyles, dogs in bags and such you can find. Admire that traveler’s bag, contemplate that teenager’s clothing choice, decide if its worth getting a small dog so that you can take it on a plane with you, and appreciate the diversity in our world. Rate babies as they go by on how cute or ugly they are. I have an endless list of games that I play when people watching, but it’s surprising how much you start to notice and how entertaining it becomes.
Step Five: Shop.
I don’t mean going to those high end places and buying perfume or a fancy bag (unless you’re into that sort of thing). I mean grab a goodie for the plane- a new book or magazine, forgotten toiletries, or just a bottle of water. Airport newsstands are always carrying top sellers, big hits, and some really good books. It is sometimes worth it to just look at their selection. Shopping also allows you to move around the airport, which I advise doing because you are about to be sitting for a very long time.
Step Six: Enjoy the wait.
Go find your gate when you are done moving around and do some of the important things, like use the bathroom, charge your phone or iPad, organize your stuff so that you have what you want at your seat. Put everything else in your carry on that goes over your head. Once you reach your gate, sit. This is a cool time to put on your headphones and watch everyone move to the beat of your music, watch the planes land and take off, take some selfies and let your family know that you are about to board the plane. This is not the time to sleep, you will miss your plane.
Step Seven: Do not rush the gate.
I hate those people. If you are one of the people that storms the gate and makes it difficult for all the special needs passengers and the people who rightfully get to board ahead of you, please stop it. You annoy me and increase the stress of the people around you. Your anxiety about getting on the plane first can leak into other people. The plane usually does not leave without you if you are there at the gate.
Step Eight: Fly comfortably.
This is one of those things that is completely optional. I am going to explain the benefits of flying comfortably although for the money you spend on the seats it is not always worth it. If you travel any more than 5 hours by plane, that is a huge chunk of your day. Not only a huge chunk, but I bet you are actually losing a day of your vacation. So, if you treat yourself to a first class seat, you can elevate your flight experience. Imagine your flight being part of your resort. Each airline has their own thing.
Sometimes you are allowed into special lounges at the airports before you even board the plane. I remember one flight we were taking to Scotland required a lot of plane time plus a layover at Heathrow in London. We purchased business class tickets and had access to the lounges. These lounges included complimentary food and drinks, comfy furniture and access to amenities, as well as really nice bathrooms equipped with amazing lotions.
Even if your tickets don’t get you into a special lounge, they will make your plane ride more pleasurable. Depending on your airline and the tickets you purchase, the benefits will vary. Some tickets allow you to go through a special security gate, sometimes spotting celebrities. First class always boards the plane first and often comes with champagne. Many long flights now have the seats with a bed setting that allows you to lay completely flat and you can rest up. On a flight to LA we flew Jet Blue Mint and it was a lot of fun. We got specialty cocktails, a packet of toiletries and then some cookies and a brownie as a parting gift. You get served almost anything you ask for that they have on hand and the people were very nice. You also have access to better food. By the time you get off the plane you are happy, fed, have gifts, and have made the travel experience part of your vacation.
Step Nine: Enjoy the flight!
No matter where you sit on the plane, you can make your trip comfortable and fun. Pay attention to what you eat and drink before the flight so that you are not sick or uncomfortable with stomach cramps, headaches or the most horrible thing on the flight, gas. Wear very comfortable clothing and layers so that you can take off or put on a sweatshirt depending on the airplane’s conditions which never seem to be consistent. Bring your own favorite snack or a sandwich so that if you are not served food you like, you have a back up. You may be surprised to discover what you are allowed to bring on the plane.
Find things that will really make you happy. I found out that I can bring my knitting. So I have my knitting and an audiobook on my iPhone and can really enjoy that time to myself. Roberto puts movies on his iPad and is in his glory watching movies for 6 hours. Basically, time on the plane is your time. If you start looking at traveling differently, you may enjoy it more. As a final note about the plane, please make sure you ask for help if you need it. The flight attendants are there for you, so if you start feeling sick, weak, dizzy, headaches, or anything, you can alert your flight attendant and they will help you. I did not discover this until after several years of flying when I had such a headache that I broke down and asked for some Tylenol. Not only did I learn that they were there to help me, but they offered me all kinds of things to try to make my flight more comfortable.
Travel, it seems to be what we all want, but how many of us love the plane ride? The airport? The traffic? The long drives? Is there a way you can change that? Let’s be completely honest. If you are flying somewhere, you have just spent a lot of money on some tickets no matter your seat is. You have packed, planned and looked forward to this trip. You are devoting part of the day, the whole day or several days to reaching your destination. You have taken off from work and are finally getting to take that vacation. Don’t waste that time, don’t dread the airport, and don’t make the airport miserable for everyone else with your grouchy attitude. Figure out how to make the best of this situation and have a good time. I hope the next time you fly it will be amazing! Happy travels!