OR HOW TO SURVIVE (AND EVEN ENJOY) TRAVELING ALONE
Have you ever watched a movie where the protagonist wanders through an airport, the perfect soundtrack playing behind them, in the perfect outfit, content even among the throngs of people angrily pushing their ways through to their gates?
Yeah, that’s me.
Look, you can call me odd, call me wrong, call me completely naive to the worst frustrations of traveling, but I’ve lived all up and down the east coast. In the past five years, I’ve taken trains all along the northeast corridor, braved a seven-hour bus ride from Philadelphia to Boston, flown two days before christmas, been stuck on the tarmac at an Amsterdam airport for three hours, and road tripped from Richmond, VA to Fairfield CT to St. Augustine, FL and back to Richmond in a two week period. I have seen some awful rides and experienced a few truly just bad moments.
But traveling? It still feels wonderful to me. Even as I write this, I am sitting next to a broken chair in the Philadelphia International Airport, waiting on a budget airline flight to visit my parents for a few days. But I sashayed here all the way from my West Philly apartment, and it’s gonna take something pretty horrible to ruin my mood.
Travel is 85% attitude. So how do I keep positive? Here are a few tips:
Obviously, you want to wear something comfortable. But going even a step further than that, wear something that makes you feel good. I’ve noticed my fair share of pajama-clad patrons trudging their way through the terminals, and it can be really tempting to just put on your rattiest tshirt and call it travelwear. Somehow, it always feels better to be in a nice pair of leggings, a well-fitting top and comfy shoes. When I’m proud of the way I look, I feel less self-conscious being surrounded by the hundreds of other people waiting for their flights.
In a similar vein, wear your hair down. Unless a ponytail is your absolute most comfortable hairstyle, avoid it. They always end up giving me a headache, and no one wants to deal with air cabin pressure or sunlight blaring in from a train window if their head’s about to explode. So if your hair might be a little unruly (or greasy), I suggest investing in a few beanies or baseball caps. And if you’re having a great hair day, then let it fly (literally!)
Park smart. If you’re flying with checked baggage, put as much as you can inside that suitcase (especially any liquids or your laptop, if you can part with it). This will make getting through security easier. And the lighter your carry-ons, the better you’ll feel. Not checking bags? Make sure that whatever is heaviest is in a backpack or something else that distributes weight evenly. Assume you’ll be walking and standing a fair bit, so the more you do to save your shoulders and back, the longer you can do without popping an Advil.
Curate your playlist. I am a big believer in the power music has over your mood, and songs that are calm and contemplative are my go-to for long travel days. I save my playlist down to my phone before I even leave my apartment, and from the moment I lock the door to the moment the plane touches down, I know I have that perfect soundtrack. I especially like to listen to some of the cheesy, uplifting ballads right as the plane takes off, and girl-power, lets-cut-to-the-chase-and-kick-butt songs right as we land. Trust me, there's no harm in imagining your own little world as you fly.
When you get to the airport, get some food. And water. And park yourself as close to an outlet as you can manage (most of the time you won’t be able to, so remember to have everything charged. Pee before you sit down. Get settled- pick an end seat, so that you don’t get squished between two large groups. Have some movies loaded up, or work to dig in and get done.
Remember that no one is out to get you. TSA agents, flight attendants, even other passengers also have good days and bad days. Greeting someone with a smile or a small, innocuous conversation can really make a difference. You get nowhere being grumpy or blaming others, and I can’t even tell you how many of my trips have been saved by someone being kind. And yes, airport security can suck, but they’re just doing their jobs, and if you follow the rules and greet your security agents nicely, you’d be surprised how much more smoothly you get through the line. Kindness breeds kindness.
Be patient- you will get there. There’s no need to push to the front of the line or even to be the first person off the plane. Ask yourself, is it really going to make that much of a difference if you get off the plane before the person across the aisle from you? Hint: it’s not, and you’ll look like a jerk jumping out in front of them. I personally don’t even get out of my seat until the people around four aisles in front of me are leaving. I might get antsy, but I’d rather stare out the window or people watch than stare at the seconds pass by on my watch.
Maybe I was raised to love travel. Maybe I just lucked out that I have the sort of temperament designed for traveling. Or maybe I can survive the worst of it all because I've always found joy in flying.
Despite the pitfalls, the fear, the frustration and annoyance and endless waiting- isn't it amazing how we can travel? Start the day in one place and end it in another?
I have to go. my flight is boarding.