Let’s face it: air travel nowadays is not anyone’s idea of a ‘fun’ adventure.
Even if you don’t mind the dehydrated atmosphere and recycled air in the plane itself, navigating long lines while burdened with bags – and juggling your shoes and laptop while holding your ID between your teeth as you fill up trays – has just turned the whole thing into a chore.
And it doesn’t get any easier as we age.
The above-mentioned dehydration seems to create new wrinkles while enroute, and creaky knees don’t much appreciate extended hours of cramped sitting.
However – shaking up our routines is one pathway to feeling younger and excited about life. I think that’s a reason I crave travel.
I’m in the midst of such a trip now. In fact, it’s my first travel-hacking journey. My ticket from rural Northern California to Boston was only $10.
Well, that and 25,000 miles. I earned the miles by using a mileage credit card for my everyday purchases, and then paying the card off every month. Not a strategy that can work for everyone I know, but I’m feeling pretty tickled at the results.
Living on opposite coasts from your grown children is a challenge – a heart breaker really, especially when you are as close as I am with my daughter, Rosie. When she decided to stay in the city for the summer, and earn some city wages, I knew I had to find a way to get there for a visit.
Getting Out Of Dodge
One of the downsides of living in a remote area (even if it happens to be one of the most beautiful spots on the planet) is the challenge of actually getting somewhere else. In my case visiting any semblance of a real city involves either A) half a day of driving, or B) forking out big bucks for a flight that may or may not take off on time, or at all.
See, they built our airport during World War II as a sort of experiment. They wanted to see just how much fog was too much to fly through. How thick must the fog bank be before the pilot can no longer land the plane?
Hence, they chose to build an airport in the foggiest spot of one of the foggiest counties in California.
Delayed and rerouted flights are the norm, and since we are currently held hostage by just one airline, that company has a monopoly on our wallets.
To avoid sticker shock and flight delays, the first leg of most journeys involves the round trip car ride to San Francisco – adding at least a day, if not two, to the total itinerary.
But, much to my delight, I discovered that tickets purchased with miles are the same cost (in miles) whether they leave from Arcata or San Francisco!
Since I could only spare about a week for this trip, this meant more days with my daughter, friends and family on the East Coast. I’d take a chance on the fog.
Because I was going for the ‘Saver’ miles, I had to book a less than convenient itinerary for the trip out. Three planes. Five-hour layover in San Francisco. An overnight flight with plane change at 3:30 a.m., and an early morning arrival in Boston.
Or so went the best-laid plans.
Dealing With Delays
The first inkling of trouble in paradise came in the form of an email from the airline as I raced around getting my last minute shit together. Apparently my flight was delayed more than two hours. But, the email advised, be at the airport at the original fight time in case of a change.
Hmmph! The internal griping started instantly.
Not my idea of a good time – hanging out in cow town airport for several hours. I’d already created a scenario of an enjoyable time spent in San Francisco browsing the airport shops and catching up on my writing.
I tend to get attached to such plans that I lay out in my head – and disgruntled when they are disrupted. A habit that I’m learning (slowly, oh so slowly) to break.
As I prepared to head out the door another email arrived. Now the plane was even more behind, scheduled to leave at 7:40 instead of 4:03! Same admonition to be at the airport anyway. Geez! Frantic scenarios of all flights being cancelled began to play out in my mind.
Trying hard not to freak out, I headed up to the airport.
And waited. And waited. And waited some more.
Instead of those leisurely hours I now anticipated a frenzied dash through SF airport, my rolley bag bouncing behind me.
Again, the urge to feel sorry for myself rose up. I even sent a griping text to my husband.
Then I caught myself.
I’ve come to realize that an essential key to looking and feeling good is how we choose to deal with the curve balls we are thrown.
So in these situations, I try to breathe and move on (okay after the brief stint of internal bitching).
I could have spent these hours fuming about the inconvenience and railing at those idiots that decided to build an airport in a fog bank (although it was actually rain today that was causing the problems).
Instead I decided to look at this as an opportunity to get some much-needed ‘Sarah time.’
The past weekend has been packed with parties and activities with visiting in-laws, and the week before involved long nights at the computer launching this blog.
I decided it felt pretty good just to sit and stare into space at the airport (and, yes I caught up on some emails and reading too.) Somehow being at the airport gave me permission to relinquish my usual need to be ‘productive.’
As I sat, I watched the glum faces and the crowds queue up at the counters and felt thankful that I could find a sense of inner peace around it all.
San Francisco airport brought even more angst-ridden, worried faces. Packed boarding gates spilling over with bodies, stressed out employees announcing full flights with no more room for carry-on bags. Again I had to make a choice: get stressed and bummed – or go have a beer.
Can you guess what I chose?
The final challenge to my serenity came once we boarded the red-eye. It was already 10 minutes later than the scheduled take off time. My stomach began to clench. I didn’t know Newark airport, and now I would have mere minutes to catch my connection to Boston.
To calm down I started looking around at all the people who had it worse than me – notably parents with antsy young children or babies – and decided to take a figurative ‘chill pill’ once again.
After all, it’s only me to worry about now. If I miss the flight, I miss the flight. Consider it part of the people-watching adventure, I told myself.
As we sat there on that cramped jet, and sat some more, I watched the minute hand tick by and realized that particular adventure was indeed in my future.
Two hours behind schedule we finally hit the midnight skies. I closed my eyes and attempted sleep.
And see? Here’s the gift.
Even though I had to schlep my luggage clear from one end of the airport to another – only to be directed elsewhere to actually get ticketed to the next flight to Boston – I ended up with a clear couple of hours to sit here at Newark Airport and write this blog post.
Now, this is a pretty mild travel snafu adventure compared to the nightmares that can happen while jetting around in this post-modern world.
But, what dawned on me as again and again I faced the choice to freak out and get upset, or to find my little eye of calm amidst the swirling crowds of exhausted and out-of-sorts travelers – is that it is, in fact, a choice.
And that in a nutshell is the secret to recipe for happy travels. Simply choose.
I’ve got some more tips up my sleeve to handling the stress of travel without feeling and looking like shit for the rest of the trip. But this is already long enough, so I’ll post them here in a couple of days. Be sure to check back for Sarah’s “Avoid that death warmed over look despite only 3 hours of sleep” travel guide!