I am a person who loves to travel. I love to travel for work. I love to travel for pleasure. I love the journey. I love the hardships. I love the experience. I love the adventure. There is no part of traveling that I don’t love. No length of trip is too short or too long. I value all of the micro-elements of it. The food, the languages, the architecture, the culture, the flight, the train ride. So, it is always funny to me when people literally gasp and say things like, “I could never go to Europe for a long weekend. If I am going to fly that far, I would need to stay much longer” or “aren’t you afraid?” or “you are so crazy to go to a place like Cambodia”
So, in thinking about it, I realized that most people look at travel as something that must be broken down, as uncomfortably as possible, into it’s parts; piling up it’s challenges into an Everest of challenges. Imagine the 14 hour flight, piled on top of a currency that cannot be recognized, on top of an language that can’t be understood, the time change, people who don’t look familiar, the fear of not figuring out how to get to the hotel, the potential cash machine fraud, the pressure to make sure you go to the right places and do the right things: ALL THE THINGS. That’s a pretty big pile of things to contemplate. In simpler terms, it reminds me of how people say to me how they can’t believe that I can place ice hockey and ice skate at the same time! It’s all one thing. The fantastic sum of its incomparably wonderful parts.
I can’t begin to hope I will change everyone’s approach to how they travel, but at the very least I would love to help a few people enjoy a greater percent of the travel they have to do. Or maybe I can help remove some of the layers of intimidation that many people are encumbered by when they contemplate adventuring somewhere far away. Here are a couple of my personal guidelines for making travel less burdensome; for turning travel into free-education. Get a little bit of adventure out of every trip you take!
My first rule of travel is: Make a point of looking out the window every where you go. Not only are you less likely to get car sick, but you are also more likely to notice something that you have never seen before. Something you can ask about. When you notice things and ask questions about them of your hosts or foreign colleagues, you are showing a level of interest and respect for the place and people you are visiting. In return, people are more likely to be more personable and more welcoming to you. Plus, it gives you something interesting to talk about when you get home. Do you want to be the guy that says “Oh, it was terrible. I had to sit in the car for 4 hours in the middle of China.” Or do you want to the happy guy who “marveled at the tomb-sweeping festival which was evident across the hillsides outside of Ningbo.” Most people enjoy others who demonstrate appreciation for what they have had the good fortune to see or experience.
My second rule of travel: Plan your sleep and take advantage of the wonderful opportunity to relax and catch up on a couple of movies. Let’s take, for example, the fourteen hour flight from LAX to Hong Kong. If you are landing at 8:00 in the morning, here is how I would think about it. First, I back into the appropriate time for sleeping. If you land at 8, they will start the landing prep at 7:00. So, if you want to have 8 hours of sleep, you should plan to start sleeping 5 hours into the flight. That means you can have a cocktail, maybe a light meal and watch 2 movies. Then you sleep. It won’t be easy. I usually make a point of drinking tons of water, doing some lunges and squats and stretches between the 2 movies. And then, after the second movie, I take a prescription sleeping pill, go to the ladies room and then sleep like a king until 7:00. Kicking off a week of work far away is much easier if you entertain yourself strategically on the flight.
My third rule of travel should probably be called my first rule of travel. Awareness Development. Some would say planning, but if it’s a business trip, you may not have any time to set aside for “planned adventure.” The key is to have a clue about what is there. What might be interesting to you at your destination? What are the languages most commonly spoken? What is the exchange rate? How do you say thank you? Is there a World Heritage Site nearby? Spend a couple of hours a few weeks before you travel on TripAdvisor or reading the New York Times travel section’s “3 Days” article about your destination. From my own experience, I can tell you I have regretted my own failures in awareness development. My most egregious fail happened in central China. We took several flights and a very long car ride to arrive in Xi An, China. We were there to visit a factory specializing in small stainless steel and powder coated office supplies. We had an afternoon there with no commitments and we all decided to go to the hotel spa. Had I engaged in awareness development before this work journey to remote China, I might have known that the archeological sites containing the awe-inspiring thousands of life-sized terra-cotta soldiers were a short thirty minute taxi ride from the hotel.
Since that experience, without going out of my way, paying for any tours or suffering the overwhelming exhaustion of a targeted destination flight for tourism purposes, I have visited Iguaçu Falls in Brazil, Borobudur Temple in central Java Island in Indonesia, Golden Buddhas in Thailand, Khajuraho Temple Complex in India, the Tower of Bologna, Jeff Latham’s floral arrangements at George V in Paris, Tian Tan Big Buddha on the mountain near Hong Kong airport, the Jewish Cemetery in Prague and so on and so forth. Each of these sights are wondrous. Their histories intriguing. Their beauty immense. These little nuggets transform what would otherwise be exhaustive business twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Without these epiphanous mini-side trips, my travel could indeed be that which so many dread.
My point in sharing a few of my self-imposed travel rules is to help those who imagine travel to be incredibly burdensome. A little bit of optimism goes a long way to make even the shortest trip worthwhile. Every airport I have ever visited has an art or historical artifacts exhibit. CHOOSE to visit that exhibit! You can learn allot in 10 minutes! Learn something about the history of typewriters at SFO! Check out the skills and products of local craftsmen at ITH. Learn about the lauded traditions of the Philadelphia Eagles in the A terminal at PHL. Enjoy the inlayed bronze crustaceans on the floor at MIA. There is always something to gain on the road. So, rather than looking at what it takes from you, try to celebrate what you can take from travel.