This week I travel lightly
In the next two weeks I have to travel to Africa, Perth, the Gold Coast and Melbourne for work and a wedding. My feet are already puffy and my olfactory bulb awash with the carby stench of inflight fruit buns in dreaded anticipation.
I hate travelling. Years ago I loved the world of complimentary acrylic travel socks and miniature soaps. And I once cited “playing Tetris on long-haul flights” as one of my favourite pastimes. But novelty fades. And now I find being in transit unnerving; my whole system (my bowels, my sleep) grinds to a halt in protest. However, given this is a travel issue and my brief with this column is to come up with better ways to do life, I was compelled this week to find a cheery slant to the caper.
Making travel as efficient as possible is one approach. In blogland, countless sites are dedicated to this pursuit. Onebag.com shares tips on the best way to pack a Samsonite. Airlinemeals.net meal-spots plane food so you can plan your airborne dining. You’ll never be caught off guard by creamy cauliflower again! Tripit.com gets most travel pundits totally frothing. Email through all your pesky flight, hotel and car hire confirmations and – whoosh! – Tripit magically consolidates them into one itinerary. Go one snazzy step further and have it fed to you via iphone app FlightTrack. George Clooney’s character Ryan Bingham in Up in the Air is the big-screen manifestation of this growing movement. His myopic aim is to shave off transit inefficiencies. Wear slip-on shoes, he says, never queue behind old people at security (their hips set off the beepers) and don’t pack shampoo (use the hotel’s; it’s good for your hair to experience different brands, says one zealous blogger).
Overwhelmingly the advice is to travel carry-on. It allows you to check in online (time saved: 15 minutes). Which means you can go straight to the gate, which means you can arrive at the airport 15 minutes before boarding (time saved: 30 minutes). Online check-in also means you can choose your own seat (priceless). Which one? There’s online consensus: the aisle seat in a row with one person already seated at the window and the middle seat empty. The risky rationale: there’s a low chance someone will choose the middle seat. If you choose an empty row, however, there’s a high chance a couple will be plonked next to you. Alternatively, have seatguru.com make the call for you.
Other tips I’d add to the Make Travel Flyby Faster manual would be: always wear thongs (for ease at security), fly budget airlines that don’t dole out meals (if, like me, you eat everything in front of you, including creamy cauliflower), snack on 35g packs of macadamias ($2.50) instead from those Australiana shops at gate lounges (they’re the only nutritionally sound option in the joint), locate the Prayer Room when your flight’s delayed (they’re empty and don’t have gum on the armrests) and if you arrive late at night and the hotel gym’s shut, ward of post-flight leg twitching by running the firestairs.
Now, the other approach to all this, of course, is to give in and go with the flow; to step into the confined, compromised space that is 24F and embrace the great-unwashed humanity that sits pretty much on your lap. Resisting and controlling things with efficient shortcuts can only get you so far.
This week I found inflight meditating a great way to experiment with this idea. As it turns out, planes are my favourite places to meditate. The rhubarb-rhubarb of strangers talking and the cabin’s vibration helps me tune out, in part because there’s nothing I can do about such distractions (in the same way I can get up and turn off a dripping tap at home). Indeed, the fact I’m that strapped in, confined, unable to engage in email etc is liberating and I can shut off almost completely.
Which is where my Robert Frost-like travel metaphor takes flight: when you can’t control things, all that’s left is to sit back, relax and enjoy the flight. Such is the gift that is cruddy, sweaty, herd-em-in-herd-em-out travel.
You might not be a meditator, but you can still try this next time you fly: simply sit, don’t move (hello, you can’t anyway) and ride out the imperfections with a resigned smile, on the plane, in the cab to the conference centre, in the hotel when the air-con hums all night. It’s the road less travelled. And we all know where they lead.