Sunday, December 7, 2014

Getting the Most Out of Your Flight

Who’s seen “Up in the Air” with George Clooney (who makes Nina’s heart go pitter patter)? It’s about a man whose business has him constantly travelling and living his life out of a suitcase in apparent bliss.

All in all, it’s a cynical man’s take on travelling. Sure, it served as a good metaphor for the journey of life, and as such made some good commentary on life-values (though I’m not sure how much Nina got out of the story—she watched the entire film on the plane without any sound. She didn’t care; she got what she wanted…). And lots of what Clooney’s character shared with his apprentice made sense for efficient travel. But, travelling doesn’t have to be so hard-boiled. So mechanically efficient.

And, if you’ve seen the movie and how it ends, this is not the most satisfactory way to travel. When it comes to travel, efficiency shouldn’t take precedence over fun. Remember, fun is always at the root of a favorably memorable trip. I’m the cool travel cat, after all, the wizard of travelling. The master of the journey. So, let me share with you what I’ve learned…

Nina and I travel a lot, whizzing from one side of the country to the other or to exotic places abroad, by plane by car by boat or even on tender foot and paw…We’ve caught flights from the airport at totally uncivilized hours, when nothing—not even the Starbucks—was open. We’ve weathered day-long delays—and not just because of weather. One flight in Tanzania didn’t go until enough people signed up to fully populate the plane! Ok… just kidding, well, sort of. We’ve slept on airport benches using Nina’s carry-on as a foot stool. We’ve gotten lost going from one terminal to another and then back again, when the plane decided to dock at another gate—just for the heck of it (I’m sure they have hidden cameras broadcasting the mad scurry of harried travelers to some planet in the Omega system). We’ve been searched and scanned while the officials laughed (ok, Nina was telling them a joke; she was rejecting rule number one again—never smile or cavort with officials who have power over you. At the age of 50+ she’s still amazingly naïve—maybe that’s why I like her so much… :-3 ).
Ok, I promised you some tips on how to enjoy your travels to the fullest, from airport to airport—what you do after you get to your destination is up to you. Well, actually, I have something to say about that too, but that’s a whole other post.

Getting the most out of your travels is a little like magic. It combines safety and security-smarts with having fun. The magic comes in how you mix these, so you don’t sink into the sweaty doldrums of paranoia on the one hand or get into trouble with security and miss your flight altogether on the other (I have stories about that too, actually—not the end of the world…). Here are some “Toulouse Rules” (well, “Toulouse Guidelines”, then): 

  •           Dress comfortably so your body can relax. Leave those two-inch stilettos at home or in your checked baggage. Wear loose clothing and comfortable shoes, in case the unmentionable happens and you find yourself racing down the hallway to catch a tight connection. When your body is relaxed then your mind relaxes too. You’re less likely to get flustered and piss off airport officials this way. There is such a thing as being too relaxed, though. On a flight to Halifax from Dulls Washington, Nina lost track of time over a lively breakfast chat and missed her flight by 2 minutes. The up-side was that she wasn’t penalized and was able to rebook a flight next day, relaxed in a wonderful hotel and had one of the best experiences in what became a leisurely trip.
  •       Travel safe and travel smart. Be aware of your stuff. Be smart about keeping your stuff near you, with you and on you at all times. Part of having the freedom of having fun is to make sure you and your stuff are safe. Once they are safe, you can relax and enjoy your surroundings. Part of this is to be organized about where your various important items are housed. Keep your precious things close to you, preferably on you, and your travel documents (like passport, boarding pass) even closer. Have a designated place for each of these and preferably use the same traveling bag. This will establish an inner-safety net for you so that you can be smart, safe and relax at the same time. It’s a little like Tai-Chi: achieving a fine balance of relaxed-tension that lets you focus outward and enjoy the road ahead. :-3
  •       Give yourself enough time to check in, get your bags checked and go through security, but also to relax at the airport bar. Now, you might laugh at the last part, but I’m not kidding. Airports are places too and each one has character (usually associated with the place). I enjoy lingering at airports. They serve as true gateways to world travelers and provide wonderful opportunities to meet interesting people in a relaxed setting. Sometimes this is only the bartender or waitress, but they are people too, and locals who can often share some information gems you’d never find in the local travel brochure. Nina really knows how to work a place. She usually parks at the bar, where people are more likely to chat, and brings her “cute” tools: her highly popular notebook computer and ME, both of which are guaranteed to elicit conversation. :-3  So, come early and enjoy the airport. It’s a place too. For instance, Nina has her favorite airports and so do I. Nina really likes O’Hare Airport in Chicago and John F. Kennedy in New York City. She tells me that they scintillate with energy and the bustle of world travelers. I’m partial to the cosmopolitan energy of Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, and the spacious and more relaxed airports of Orlando, FL and Phoenix, Arizona.
  •       Pay attention to airport layout and practice. When you do, you soon recognize familiar paradigms and systems that most airports share. This can range from terminal location for airlines to dining places, signage to bathrooms. Knowing your way around an airport—even if you’ve never been there—is not just the mark of a seasoned traveler but the sign of someone who is truly enjoying every aspect of their journey.
  •       Enjoy the ride, every part of it. A wise man in India once told me that the key to happiness is simple: “choose to be happy.” Yup. That simple. Choose to enjoy every aspect of the journey, even the “humdrum” part of it; and I mean the security line ups and searches, body scans, delays, gate changes, etc. By adopting this attitude, you tend to relax, focus on the adventure and open yourself to experience. Ironically, people will react differently to you. They will treat you as an explorer and respect you as a person, because you’ve compelled them to see you as one. Believe me, this works. I’ve seen Nina in action time and again. I don’t know how she gets away with it all, but next thing I knew, one customs official was singing her a song he’d written; at the body scan, she attracted a whole pod of security people and even held up the line, as they eagerly shared her pictures, her writing and me! Now, I happen to know that it was partly because she chose not to see their rifling through her stuff as an invasion but an opportunity to share. :-3 … Which leads me to…
  •      Take it all as it comes and open yourself to the experience. Here are my last two cents—well two dollars, then—on Toulouse’s Zen of Travelling. You might call me an existentialist. I’m the cool travel cat and I believe that everything has a purpose and what happens to us—how we react and what we create—is all part of our realizable path. So, when you miss that critical flight or get lost in a strange city or end up stranded in some foreign airport or ferry terminal, open yourself to the experience that you weren’t expecting. The likelihood is that you are about to have the adventure of a lifetime, the one you were meant to have. On our last trip through Detroit, we ended up “stranded” at the bar of the Westin Hotel at the airport (sad, but true :-3). One over-coiffed lady swept in like a winter storm, wailing, “They’ve got snow-hurricanes in Pennsylvania!” (her home). She was beside herself (well, I could practically see her twin there) and paced the bar, looking for sympathy—and, I think, on some level enjoying the attention . Next thing you know the whole bar was buzzing with what a “snow-hurricane” was. Another time Nina and I were stranded at the Halifax Airport due to Hurricane Bill. We just hunkered down at a hotel and enjoyed the fierce winds from our comfortable sanctuary inside, drinking the local beer. “Accidents” are often moments of opportunity. If you see them that way, you are a true explorer of the strange and new. And isn’t that what every traveler ultimately strives for?

 Okay… so go out there and travel! And tell them that Toulouse sent you! :-3

Tags: Toulouse LeTrek, travelling, travel, world travel, flying, traveling by plane, jet-travel, travel safety, travel tips, fun travel

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