Airports are among the best places to practice Stoicism. Patience is always tested during travel, especially at the airport.
People are always in a hurry. Someone feels the need to cut the line. No one likes waiting. And there’s always one person panicking because their flight is delayed.
You don’t want to be one of those people.
I’ve traveled a lot in the last few years. More than I’d like to admit when it comes to my carbon footprint.
Here are some things I’ve learned that make traveling better for me, and (I hope) those around me.
1. The second you leave your home, stop rushing.
Before you leave home, you’re allowed to do whatever rushing you want. Throw your things in a bag, scream at your kids and spouse (just kidding), do whatever you want. But the minute you leave for the airport, you’re no longer allowed. Your fate is determined. Outside your home, your actions influence others, and you are obligated not to rush.
Dangerous driving harms others. And it doesn’t usually get you there faster anyway.
Running through the airport stresses people out, punishes the people next to you on the plane (when you sweat and smell), and causes you stress. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb has said “Missing a train is only painful if you run after it!”.
If you miss a flight, learn your lesson. Leave earlier next time. Accept responsibility. But don’t rush.
2. Check-in ahead of time.
Ryan Holiday likes using a paper ticket. I prefer an e-ticket ahead of time, because if you’re not checking a bag - which you should try to avoid - you can head straight to security.
3. Never take a checked bag.
Okay, sometimes take a checked bag. But you’d be surprised how long and in how many different climates you can travel with just a carry-on. Here’s what I pack (which is suitable for work too).
I’ve traveled to Europe for weeks, gone to the Caribbean, gone out West skiing, and done so without taking a checked bag.
If you get your boarding pass ahead of time, and never check a bag, you’ve just skipped two lines at the airport.
4. Pack with security in mind.
You don’t want to be the person unpacking all their clothes to get to the tiny bottle of liquid in the bottom.
Make sure you have the things you need to get out - laptops, tablets, liquids, etc. - near the top of your bags. No one likes the person who has to dig to the bottom of your bag to get things out.
That said, you can often leave the liquids in your bag, and your belt OR watch on, and nothing will happen. Be ready in case though.
5. Never complain while traveling.
In the security line, at the gate, on the airplane, at the taxi stand - wherever - there just isn’t any point in complaining.
Most of the time, the people you’re complaining to don’t have any power anyway. And is the problem really that bad? Stop complaining. Make it a challenge if you want - don’t complain once during your trip.
If you have a problem, call customer service later. No one at the airport has authority to do anything for you. You can ask politely, but that’s it.
If you manage to do it well, you’ll actually be surprised at how much more positive your overall experience is. Complaining often just causes more stress than brushing it off and taking it in stride.
6. Take advantage of delays.
You can’t change the outcome, so there’s no point complaining. And how often are your options as limited as in the airport when your plane is delayed? Take advantage of it! Being constrained can be a good thing.
Use that time to read, catch up on work, or to call home and chat with your family. There are a lot of benefits to positive constraints.
7. Get Global Entry, or Pre-Check, or whatever the equivalent is in your country.
They usually aren’t expensive, and they will make your airport experience much, much better.
8. Stop lining up to board before your turn.
Why do people insist on standing near the ticketing counter for the duration of boarding? No one is going to take your seat.
By standing there, you crowd others, make it confusing as to where the line is, and slow things down.
Why would you want to get on quickly anyway? You’re going to be sitting in a metal tube for the duration of your flight, enjoy the time you have with more space.
If you’re concerned about not having room for your bag, just check it. Plus, the staff will always find somewhere for your bag if that’s not possible, so stop worrying. Just another reason to travel with as little luggage as possible.
9. Wheels in first on bottom, push straight in, and then pivot the bag 90 degrees.
If you’re a wheeled carry-on person, that’s how you get it in the overhead bin.
10. Bring earphones or headphones - they’re lifesavers.
My personal favourites are Etymotic earphones, because they’re so small, don’t require batteries, and in my opinion, block as much or more noise than noise-canceling headphones. If you prefer headphones, I’ve heard good things about the Bose Quietcomfort headphones.
They make your in-flight experience far better, but they also let you tune out the noise whenever you want. Great for a quiet moment in the airport or blocking out the weird conversation your neighbors are having.
11. Don’t eat food on the plane.
Yes, even on long flights. It just won’t make you feel good. Bring a snack if you like, but I’d recommend just fasting.
There’s been some anecdotal reports of fasting helping with jet lag. I just feel better. You can eat when you arrive at your destination, but fasting + exercise is the best way I’ve found to beat jet lag and fatigue associated with long plane travel.
The other benefit is you can focus on getting some sleep, instead of waiting for your meal.
12. Bring your own cup.
The waste from planes is crazy. Aluminum cans are better (don’t bother getting the tiny plastic cup), but bringing your own mug and having some coffee or tea is even better, especially since most airlines don’t distinguish between recycling and garbage.
The other benefit? You won’t have to pay a stupid price for a bottle of water. You can just re-use your cup for water in the airport too.
13. Don’t tilt your chair back.
There are exceptions here, but in general, you should not be tilting your seat. Economy seats are just too small to do so, and it unfairly imposes on the person’s space behind you.
The exceptions: if you’re in business/first class and there’s enough space, or if there’s no one behind you.
What if the person behind you is tilted back? Well, show them how it should be, and remain upright.
14. Be quiet.
Daytime flights? Still quiet.
In general, you should treat a plane like a library - you can talk, but keep your voice low, and respect that others might not be in the same chatty mood as you.
Planes and airports are the perfect place for reading. Take advantage of it! I personally like to catch up on my Pocket queue on short flights, and read books on longer flights.
16. Avoid airplane bathrooms.
I aim to be as hydrated as possible when I board the plane, and then drink the minimum possible while on board, so that I don’t have to get up and disturb fellow passengers.
Plus, airplane bathrooms get gross fast. Another benefit of not eating on the plane.
17. Disembarking a plane should not be difficult.
It should work like this: the person in the aisle gets up and gets their bag down. They can help get the others in the row down too, if they want.
Don’t pop up, grab your bag, and run to the front of the plane as soon as the plane stops. Once the row ahead of you has gone, it’s your turn to go.
If there are people ahead of you who clearly want to get out, but haven’t been given the opportunity, stop and wait.
And yes, everyone has connections. You’ll be fine.
18. When you get out of the gangway, move to the side.
The number of people who exit the gangway and then stand in the middle of the walkway is...far too high.
You should not be pausing in the middle of anywhere in airports. Nor should you be walking in the middle.
Walk to the right, like every other mode of transport in North America, and if you need to stop and pause, do so off to the side, out of the way.
You know how annoying it is when you’re in a hurry and there are people in the way in an airport. Don’t be one of those people.
19. Wait for your baggage off to the side.
You know what crowding the baggage carousel does? Nothing, except make it hard to see for everyone else.
Here’s how a baggage carousel should work: everyone stands back so that all those waiting have a clear view of the carousel.
When a person spots their bag, they wait patiently until it’s near, then they walk up, grab it, and leave the baggage area. Simple.
Does that happen in practice? No, but you don’t have to be part of the problem. Stand back and wait, quickly grab your bag and get out of the way.
20. Enjoy it!
Traveling is a modern luxury that we take for granted.
You get to travel across the world in hours!
Look out the window and enjoy the sunset above the clouds.
Embrace the white noise to help you focus.
Think about travel and new places and new experiences, and just be grateful.