Secret Recipe For Happy Travels

Taking off out of a cow field and headed the big city - much later than planned!

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!

Meanwhile – I’d love to hear your take on how you manage the frustrations and inconveniences of travel. Personally, I still haven’t figured out how to meditate while en route, have you?

Share your stuff in the comments so we can all travel smarter and happier next time!

32 Responses to Secret Recipe For Happy Travels

  1. Oh, I know this scenario well and have often found myself fuming at airports and borders, and the general idiocy of customs officials! I don’t always remember it’s a choice, but when I do, like you it makes for a much more pleasant adventure.
    And I’m really looking forward to your “Avoid that death warmed over look” guide!

    •  @Sandi Amorim I think anyone who has traveled knows this all to well! And while it may be nearly impossible to avoid fuming at the myriad annoyances or the thickheadedness of officials who insist on following rules at all costs – at least if you change that perspective some of the time things will feel more pleasant. One technique I’ve also used is to imagine how the whole experience will be turned into a funny story in the not too distant future.

  2. This all sounds so familiar!  We have to drive 3.5 hours to get to the Salt Lake airport to fly anywhere.  Travel = inconvenience and/or disruption to the normal routine = awesome adventures and amazing places.  It’s the price you pay to go somewhere.  I agree that TSA has taken a whole lot of fun out of travel and so have the airlines unless you fly international where they still provide customer service. Nonetheless, it beats driving really long distances.
    Have a great visit with your daughter!

  3. Great post Sarah! I have often been delayed at airports and have missed connections due to bad weather, often with my kids in tow. We always adopt a “what is, is” attitude, since it is beyond our control. The only thing we do have control over in these situations is our attitude and whether we will choose to enjoy the time while we wait.
    I particularly remember the time, our flights got re-routed due to winter storms and our luggage did not make it to our connection. We were en route to a cruise and we had just moments to decide whether we risk taking a flight the next day to meet our cruise ship (we were heading down a day early) and risk not making it due to the storm or leave without our luggage which would be forwarded to our first port of call (3days into our 7day cruise). We chose the latter and decided we were going to enjoy our vacation with or without our clothes!!!
    We made a quick trip to Target before getting on the ship for essentials to hold us over until we received our luggage!

    •  @RandiS Good thing you made that trip to Target Randi! Otherwise you might have been rebranding that particular cruise as the Nudist Cruise LOL! Seriously, though, that is awesome you were able to model such an accepting and ‘let’s just roll with it” attitude for your kids. The point is enjoying the whole journey, isn’t it? You gave them a real gift there. But did your clothes ever show up?

  4. Very timely post, and what a gift you’re giving those of us who’ll be traveling this summer to remind us about the choice!I’ll be the one with a bored 9-year-old doing the multiple-plane-swap route from MyTown, Colorado to Denver to Houston to Boston followed by a 3-hour car ride to a small town in New Hampshire. I do have the benefit of having done it with a baby and toddler, shlepping a heavy car seat while pushing a stroller, changing diapers in airplane restrooms with no changing table, and nursing next to strangers who were overflowing onto my seat. Complaints of boredom don’t even come close to the hell that was traveling alone with my son just a few years ago. I remember breaking down in the Denver Airport at 2:00 a.m. while waiting for the van that kept not coming to take us to a hotel we were given by United Airlines so we could sleep for 3 hours before the next morning’s flight home. I was consoled by the only person around at that hour, my son, who had just turned 3. He patted me on the shoulder and told me it was okay and we’d be home soon. Pathetic. I’ll also add that since I had my son at 41, I was not doing all this as an energetic 28-year-old mom! I remember sitting in Denver when my son was about 4 and he was watching another mother play on the moving walkway with her son. They’d jump on, take a short ride, walk back “upstream,” and then jump off. The little boy was howling with delight, and the mom looked like she was having a blast too. My son asked me if we could do that and I said no. We’d been traveling for 12 or 15 hours already, with all the encumbrances mentioned above, and I just didn’t have it in me. Could not muster that kind of energy. My son asked me why that mother could do it and I couldn’t. Ouch. My answer was that she was 25 and I was 45. Even though we middle-aged ladies have plenty of life left in us, the energy is less even on a good day. Travel definitely takes it out of me more now than it ever used to. Now that I’ve written a mini-memoir, I’ll close by saying that I’m going to take along some kind of reminder about having a choice in my response to what happens on our travel “adventure” later this month. The time you need to remember that the most seems to be when you remember it the least. So thanks for giving me the heads-up now so I can be armed with the power of choice once I’m en route!

  5. Very timely post, and what a gift you’re giving those of us who’ll be traveling this summer to remind us about the choice! I’ll be the one with a bored 9-year-old doing the multiple-plane-swap route from MyTown, Colorado to Denver to Houston to Boston followed by a 3-hour car ride to a small town in New Hampshire. The time you most need to remember about having a choice of response seems to be when you remember it the least. So thanks for giving me the heads-up now so I can be armed with the power of choice once I’m en route!

    •  @Sue_Mitchell So glad the timing is so perfect for you Sue! And I know it can be that much more challenging to maintain your serenity with a 9-year-old whining at you. Here’s hoping that these flights unfold smoothly for you. And just be sure to load up with the snacks and kid-friendly activities. And get him or her turned on to the joys of people watching – and making up the accompanying stories (speaking softly of course…LOL)It’s true that this type of ‘choosing to choose’ can be most elusive right at those times we need to remember it most. But, l like anything, practice makes perfect.

  6. Hey Sarah, this is a great post because it’s all about my favorite topic – resilience! And you used some resilience skills to their fullest, like acceptance (there’s nothing you can do about the situation so you might as well enjoy it), perspective (other travelers had it worse than you), and mindfulness (being in the moment as you watched the other travelers.)
    For me, I find the mindfulness part of travel the most relaxing. I like to just sit and notice what is going on around me: the hum of the busy terminal, the young families straggling by with 5-year-olds proudly pulling their brightly animated suitcases, the random artwork here and there . . . it’s lovely just to notice, isn’t it?
    Looking forward to your “death warmed over” post!

    •  @BobbiEmel Thanks for this. I never thought of it as ‘resilience’ – but of course that’s exactly what it is. And good practice for when such resilience might be needed even more. I agree that the noticing is what can turn it all around. There’s always something funny or interesting to check out at airports, train stations, and even while on board. Some airports do a better job than others with the artwork and displays – but it’s always interesting to notice what’s highlighted. I also like to note what, if anything, makes this airport different from another. How can I tell where I actually am? Usually it’s from what they are selling in the little shops, but sometimes the photography and art. Fun.

  7. Sarah,
    this is a topic near and dear to my heart. We’ve travelled so much over the last 4 years with kids in tow. I feel like i could write a book on travelling.
    Just as you said, it’s best to just roll with the punches and be resiliant, take a chill pill once in a while.
    Other things i do is I actually think about a worse case scenario. I anticipate missing a flight due to delays. Or imagine my kids running wild. Then if it arises it somehow doesn’t seem so bad because i’ve already gone through it in my head. It only takes a few seconds to imagine all the scenarios. I never imagine best case scenarios at airports because they never happen but in a blue moon. 
    The other thing is i give myself plenty of time on the front end. give my kids some money to buy something or buy them something it must be the dopines that make them happy and tolerable during the flight.   Over all, we love going to the airport. the kids included. My kids hope we get delayed because unexpected fun things happen.. 
    Oh, and i take melatonin on the plane with me and a hand stitched sleeping mask. I have been doing this routine for over 2o years. (not the hand stitched sleeping mask part, just the melatonin part. )done so for over 20 years. It’s my secret weapon

    •  @AnnieAndreHacks  Great ideas here Annie! I actually do the opposite: imagine everything going as smoothly as it possibly can, my little nod to Law of Attraction I guess (although I never called it that. It’s interesting, but more often than not I seem to create that smooth experience. But when those bumps pop up, I just start to think about what could be fun or interesting about this (At least I try like hell to do that!)
      Love the sleep mask for overnight flights, and I’ve considered melatonin for years, but never actually tried. it. Might have been a good idea this time around. I’m always afraid of taking anything in case something goes wrong while in the air. I’d hate to be all groggy while trying to figure out how to actually put on that oxygen mask! But I don’t think melatonin makes you groggy, so it might be the perfect solution!

  8. I’m actually incredibly perky traveller 😉 My husband finds that annoying!  As long as there are no obvious, main discomforts (such as a crying child in a nearby sit) or incredibly smell person around me….the general flight stuff, including airport delays don’t generally bug me. 
    Well, they bug me if I am trying to get to a nice vacation spot, because it takes away my time, but on the whole, I don’t really mind it. There is usually some entertainment to be had. I always have my journal. I also like people watching. Depending on who I am around, I also talk to strangers! It’s all about perspective. The way I look at it is that there is nothing I can do about the delays, so instead of getting all worked up about it, I might as well enjoy the time.

    •  @dollygarland  So true Dolly. I have to admit I HAVE gotten annoyed when the delays cut deeply into my plans. Well, at least this one time when I was only going to have about 56 hours to spend visiting my family (and seeing my daughter star in a big production of Wizard of Oz). When we ended up having to spend the night in Salt Lake City, and then they couldn’t get me on an early morning flight, I broke down in tears! But I soon dried my eyes and calmed down. And fortunately ended up arriving just in time to see my daughter’s performance!

  9. Ah, for the good old days when travel was an adventure of the good kind.  Perhaps today’s travel nightmares are a gift to remind us that we are really not the ones in control about — well — anything.  And that maybe, just maybe we need to take ourselves and our plans less seriously.  Yeah, I know — easier said than done.  I hardly every err on the side of “Oh well” and a shrug of the shoulders, at least not immediately.I for one am glad you had the time in Newark to fire off this blog post.  And I hope by now you are safe and sound in Boston (just a couple of hours away from me — next time you visit, we have to figure out a way to get together!!!!) and enjoying your visit with Rosie.  And don’t you even dare think about what might be awaiting you for the trip home.  LOL

    •  @Carol Hess O Carol – that would have been great to meet up! Did not realize you were so close to Boston. Actually only here for about 3 days and then off to NYC though… On the Mega-Bus (and I WON’T even think about bus breakdowns!) Such a good point about how travel is a reminder about how we’re not really the ones in control on this journey through life. I do believe that’s another reason I love travel so much! I’m one who definitely needs those reminders!

  10. I love the description of your airport and the wisdom behind building it, you sure have picked a spot to learn about surrender!  In all my travels, once I set foot over my home doorstep, I let go and surrender to whatever is going to happen knowing that I’m in limbo.  I love that limbo time as I have no responsibility whatsoever (other than giving myself plenty of time to be at the first designated check point).  Last year I left my wee sheep village in Scotland to head to another sheep village, in New Zealand!  It was right in the middle of the volcanic ash debacle which hit Australia and New Zealand air traffic.  Somehow, my plane was the only one which was permitted to fly to NZ on the day and my journey was completely effortless, I’m positive it had to be my surrendered attitude which allowed it 🙂

    •  @jackiewalker That’s an awesome story Jackie! I absolutely agree that our own attitude has a role in creating the exterior events we end up experiencing! How amazing that your plane flew through all that. I thought everything got grounded. A friend’s son was a junior in high school at the time and his whole school choir was over in Italy performing. They ended up having to stay over in Italy for an extra week! What treat for those kids! (although perhaps not so much for the chaperones.) Instead of racing around from gig to gig for a few days and then flying straight home, they got to relax a little and experience Italy. So…just goes to show even debacles can have some positive outcomes.

  11. Hi Sarah,
    Great that you were able to reframe & choose serenity.  And I’m really looking forward to the ‘avoiding the death warmed over look’.  Living in Australia, when we travel overseas, the flights are LONG and often you are travelling for 24-36 hrs.  I still love to travel though & your tips are great reminders

    •  @clairekerslake1  Hope to get that post up within the next day or two Claire! Having too much fun here with my daughter, at the expense of writing. That has got to be challenging to do those uber long flights out of Australia! You start to feel like you’ve always lived on a plane! Never gone to Australia, but flew to Bali last year, and that was some serious long-term traveling! At least you can get to that beautiful island in only a few hours! (My trip home involved no less than THREE red-eye flights, the second one was like ‘Groundhog Day’ due to the time change. I landed a the exact same time and day that I had landed the ‘day’ before! Gained an entire day on that one.) 

  12. I dread flying anymore and we also plan one driving vacation each year (two flying trips).   It used to be a “special” event that people dressed up for and felt special by the experience.  Now the airlines have “cheapened” the experience to one of feeling like a cattle in a holding pen.  To make the experience bearable – I always  upload a new book on my kindle and read, read, read.   Vacations and get-aways are always a great time to catch on some new fiction.  No business books – no serious stuff…just good ol fiction.  This makes the journey fun and I look forward to the downtime and just read for pleasure.

    •  @JaneRobinson  I’m so with you on that Jane! I used to carry 2-3 books on the plane with me and read the entire time. Now that I have a kindle, my bag just got a lot lighter! Had to throw in a magazine though so I’d have something to read while they wouldn’t let me have the Kindle on.

  13. Air travel is something I never do, but I love that you essentially got a nearly-free trip by using your credit card! I have two daughters living on the east coast too, so I know how inconvenient that can be. I told my daughter that she moved, not me, so she can travel back to CA anytime to see me. Maybe one of these days I’ll go see her, but it won’t be by plane.

    •  @lindajm Driving cross-country would be so fun! And I’ve heard the train ride is absolutely beautiful. I would love to do that sometime. Better than driving really because you don’t have to be behind the wheel. I WAS pretty pleased that I was able to make this trip on such a low budget though.
      Thanks for visiting the blog, Linda, and for your comment.

  14. I agree, Sarah. In those situations, especially in airports, is always easier to just take a deep breath and remember that there’s nothing I can do to expedite the situation. Usually, I just focus on keeping myself calm and reassuring myself that I’m their customer; I’ll get where I need to go eventually. Thankfully, I haven’t had any completely horrible travel experiences yet, but I imagine they’ll happen eventually. 

    •  @annedreshfield Well, let’s hope not Anne! It’s possible your travel experiences will only involve minor inconveniences. But, no matter what, it’s so true that a few deep breaths and a shifting of perspective can hep you through.
      Thanks for visiting the blog, and thanks for your comment! So glad you enjoyed this.

      •  @saraho Yes, I’ve got my fingers crossed for hassle-free flying in the future. 🙂 The worst I’ve had is delays that almost made me miss my connecting flight…thankfully, I was able to sprint across the airport, and they were holding the plane for me. If that’s the worst, I can certainly handle it! 

        •  @annedreshfield  Oh, this is funny – I thought I had commented already, but couldn’t find it. So now I’ve replied to your first comment twice! Those springs across the airport can be challenging for sure! Especially when you’re lugging rolling bags! Good exercise though I guess.

    •  @annedreshfield   Well, I hope you don’t have the dubious pleasure of dealing with a horrible travel experience – but I guess the more you travel the more the likelihood increases. Deep breathing is one of the most helpful ways to process the irritation! And yes, that reassurance that you will get there eventually! Thanks for your comment!

  15. I know all too well how frustrating travel can be. Back when I was in consulting, monday morning at 3 or 4 I’m up to go to the airport; every thursday at night I’m on my way back. It was worse because I was usually expected to throw in a little sleep deprived work. I finally dealt with it all by deciding travel time was my time. I would do 0 work during travel, and more importantly, I would play. I used my corporate phone to buy some fun games, and then started wishing for delays – they meant I had more guilt-free time to play 🙂 

    •  @HappierHuman  What a great solution! It’s easy to plan to get lots of work done during travel time – but then also easy to get frustrated when inevitably you don’t get as much done as planned. I like the idea of just reserving that time for nice, fun stuff. I like catching up on fiction. Games on the phone sound like a plan too!

  16. Being calm and enjoying what the travel itself gives you is the best way to have a happy travel. I learned a lot from this blog. I would love to travel and still be on schedule though, but when my plane or ferry isn’t I might as well make a few friends and enjoy the time I have on the airport and excite myself on the new place I’ll be visiting.

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