Two Travel Lessons from an Armchair Pilgrim

3815667944_e5fae3532e_zTravel can be so romanticized on the big screen, especially when a story unfolds in the hands of a talented filmmaker. The truth is, though, travel comes with some pain.

This week I watched a quiet movie called The Way, about a man walking the Camino del Santiago pilgrimage route in France and Spain. It’s a movie I was surprised to like very much, and for several days I’ve revisited the film in my head–always a sign of a story well told. I keep thinking about the gorgeous Spanish countryside, the four characters’ interactions as they journeyed, the dinners and conversations with strangers, all further romanticized with lots of wine. I even found myself thinking momentarily that perhaps I’d walk the Camino some day.

Then, reality check. I thought about what the journey on the Camino del Santiago must really be like. Long. Arduous. Painful. That’s kind of the point of a pilgrimage, right? Suffering required. The beautiful travel experience of the Camino I was drawn to from the movie (while I sat on a sofa for two hours in a warm home) would feel quite different in real life, when hiking eight hours a day for thirty days, never being sure where the next meal or bathroom would be, and sleeping dormitory-style.

Ah, yes, travel can involve suffering.

A couple of lessons from The Way, though, are ones I want to keep top-of-mind during my own business-trip pilgrimages this year.

First, say yes. When an opportunity presents itself, jump on it. Even if it means rescheduling a flight. Even if it’s unbudgeted. Too often I find myself just wanting to get home or to proceed with the trip. Instead, say yes.

Second, resist the temptation to make it all about ease. Some of the best opportunities, some of the best surprises, some of the best learning, come about not in the comfortable, romanticized travel, but in the grind or in the disruption.

Upon further reflection, I doubt I’ll be walking the Camino del Santiago (or the PCT, in Wild, which I also saw recently) any time soon. But I have to admit, I thoroughly enjoyed being an armchair pilgrim this week.

Photo: Flickr/Jose Antonio Gil Martinez

When Travel Diversion Did Not Require Headphones

7953202532_85954dfb46_zI inherited a travel-sized cribbage board from my parents, and it still evokes memories from the ’60s of early evenings at motels during childhood vacations. My brothers and I would cannonball into the hotel pool, as my parents “supervised” (a term used only loosely then) while engaged in a friendly game of cribbage. Usually next to the cribbage board sat the travel flask, which appeared precisely at five o’clock, and two hotel glasses with doses of Scotch over rocks. (With four kids on a road trip, who could blame them?)

Travel requires–or perhaps invites–hours of diversion, and today that diversion is mostly digital consumption. We stream movies, we play games, we shop online, we read books on tablets. It’s even packaged for us in our seat backs or we preload it on our devices before a long flight. Now, power management is an essential skill set for travelers.

At the risk of sounding ancient, I bemoan this. When we’re playing old-fashioned games, sans headphones, there’s room for conversation and shared experience. That cannot happen when we’re plugged into our own little worlds.

I’m certainly no analog saint. I binge-watch movies on international flights as often as the person in the next seat. And I have said literal prayers of thanks for digital entertainment when my kids were little and could be occupied for hours on a transcon flight with movies on a laptop. Today, the iPad has transformed the travel experience for parents, never mind their kids.

Maybe I get too much digital entertainment at home, but even for business trips these days I like to unplug. I like having the time to read an actual book. I can’t remember the last time I turned on a TV in a hotel room. And, honestly, my favorite flight activity is looking out the window. This all feels a little shameful to admit. So very unproductive.

Yet, travel is the perfect time to go analog, at least for a little while. What’s in your carry-on? There’s a simple beauty in pulling out a deck of cards. Or a pencil and paper (Hangman, anyone?). Or a magnetic chess board. When all else fails, word games can be pulled from thin air. Or daydreaming, the ultimate diversion. (If you’re stumped, check out The Simple Dollar, which has lots of suggestions for non-digital games and pleasant ways to pass time the old-fashioned way.)

My husband and I have been playing a lot of cribbage this holiday season with my kids. We play on my inherited cribbage board, with all my ghosts and memories. And it’s just perfect that our favored deck of cards sports a photo of the Dreamliner aircraft. In my mind, travel and cribbage–they’re inexorably linked.

What do you like to do without headphones to unwind when you travel?

Photo: Flickr/Bruce Guetner

 

IGI Seeks Hotel That Understands

6841555155_5e5b2590dc_zDon’t get in my way. Sometimes, that’s all you ask from a hotel.

I was talking with a writer this week about a trends piece for business travelers, and she mentioned a conversation she had with Langham Hotels about a certain type of traveler Langham calls the IGI  or “I got it” guest. This traveler is highly experienced, knows what they’re doing and doesn’t want the hotel to slow them down. For certain trips, I am definitely an IGI (could this be the Myers-Briggs of travel?), and there are some crucial touchpoints when I’m in IGI mode.

Check-in:

Don’t make me wait in line and please, please, please don’t insist on carrying my bag to my room. Do offer online check-in and have flexible staffing at the front desk. Plus, a pet peeve of mine: If you have a dedicated line for loyalty program members, actually staff it (or remove the sign).

Wi-Fi:

Don’t make me pay, don’t make me log in every day, and don’t disconnect me. Do make Wi-Fi free, fast and seamless. This affects my opinion of the hotel as much as anything.

Breakfast:

Don’t make me sit for an hour-long meal. Do offer options for a quick breakfast. I’d love a place in the lobby where I can stop after my run and pick up some oatmeal or a hard-boiled egg, fruit and tea. Or add a self-serve or buffet option in the restaurant, so I can control the length of time my breakfast will take.

Parking:

Don’t make me wait 15 minutes while you disappear and hunt for my rental car. Do offer self-park. Or ramp up your valet services so I receive my car in a timely manner. At the very least, let me know how long it will take. What happens outside the hotel affects my review just as much as what happens in my room.

The very smartest hotels, like Langham, are thinking about where they can add value to IGI travelers without slowing them down. Those are the offerings that surprise and delight, the little touches that matter to me. Are you an IGI? Which hotel brands “get it” that you’ve “got it”?

Hey, This Room Is Occupé

351206750_c2e1f9862d_zHave you ever been in a hotel room and had someone else enter (or try to) because they were assigned the room at check-in? I have, with the discomfort compounded by being in the middle of the night and the person trying to enter only speaking French. Most business travelers I know have been in a scenario like this (minus the French), on one side of the door or the other.

This week I was working on a project that addressed the evolution and automation of hotel check-in. Here technology is moving towards web check-in and eventually keyless entry to your room via smartphone. As I thought about this I realized I am a little uncomfortable with it, precisely because of the situation I described above. Somehow, I trust the technology less than a human to be sure I’m given an unoccupied room. Silly, I know, but it’s my instinct.

I’m curious now to learn more about the technology behind smartphone keys and how the digital safeguards will prevent this uncomfortable (at best) and unsafe (at worst) rare-but-real snafu of sending a guest to an already-occupied room.

In the meantime, maybe I’ll remember to resume an old-fashioned practice I’ve gotten away from: I’ll put out the Do Not Disturb door hanger. That should be clue enough, even for the exhausted guest just off an Air France flight from Paris, that the room is occupé

Have you ever checked into a room that was already occupied, or vice versa?

Photo: Flickr/JoeShlabotnik

The Stranger in the Next Seat: Rock-Star or Bore?

80531426_4f2b17ed88_oLast week I sat in the San Francisco Chinese consulate office amid a large crowd, and I did something unusual. I asked the man next to me a question. Serendipity struck: He was a United Airlines flight attendant and I was there on United business, too, for an upcoming trip. For the next hour we chatted, and I learned more interesting information in that hour about a flight attendant’s life and his airline than I had in the previous year. Before I knew it, my number was called and I headed to Window #8 to apply for my visa.

This led me to wonder how many opportunities I may have missed with extraordinary strangers sitting right next to me. Nowhere could that be more true than in travel.

As an introvert, I tend to keep to myself. My conversation is often with a book, not the person in the aisle seat. But I’m surprised at how often a random conversation can turn into something extremely useful. On a recent trip, I met the most interesting seatmate ever, and he gave me invaluable tips on how my son could craft an engineering degree that would jumpstart a career. Didn’t expect that when I boarded.

My seatmate strategy is to notice clues that we may have something in common (e.g. reading material), signs the person may be open to conversation (body language), and that he/she has some social acumen (will be able to pick up signals when it’s time to stop talking). It’s good to have a couple of openers at the ready (the classic: Are you starting a trip or coming home?), as well as a closer (Well, I need to get some work done). The key is to maximize the chance of talking with a rock-star, and minimize the risk of talking with a total bore.

So I’m interested in being a little more social on the road. How about you? Do you talk to seatmates when you travel? And if so, what strategies do you use to keep it “safe”?

Photo Credit: Flickr/Doug