I recently returned from an amazing trip (why yes I did make it to the summit of Kilimanjaro, so sweet of you to ask!) and prior to my trip I spent a good deal of time reading travel related articles looking for tips and advice. Because the word travel conjures up such wonderful emotions and memories and elicits an incredible variety of almost universally positive responses from people, you would think that there would be a great variety of different types of helpful travel advice articles. You would be wrong.
There are only two types of travel articles on the entire Internet. The first category focuses solely on tips that will save you money on your trip and the other type of article is arguments over whether it's acceptable to recline your seat on an airplane. So I decided to add a little diversity to the web's collection of travel advice and share four things all travelers should know before embarking on their adventure. We will begin with three travel tips that are not just about saving money and then finally I will answer once and for all the great debate of when it is acceptable to recline your chair on an airplane.
1. Book Direct Flights
Imagine for a second that you are sitting in an airport in Chicago at the beginning of a three hour layover. You are en route to San Francisco from New York and you selected this particular flight because it saved you $81.22 from what you would have paid had you chosen the direct flight. Can you picture yourself in this situation? I'll bet you can because you've probably done something similar in your past travels.
Now imagine that as you are sitting at the gate eating horrible fast food and figuring out what you are going to do with the next few wasted hours of your life a genie suddenly appears. This magic fellow tells you that if you give him $100 right now he will get you on a plane that will leave immediately and will take you directly to your final destination.
My guess is that a lot of people would pay that genie and not think twice about it. Well my fellow traveler, you don't need a genie or any magic to make this dream a reality. 'Past You' could have been that genie by simply considering 'Future You' and choosing the direct flight in the first place but alas, 'Present You' is stuck at O'Hare wallowing in self-pity. Next time be your own genie and if the cost is remotely reasonable please pick the direct flight because layovers are horrible.
2. Stop Buying Gifts for People Back Home
This sounds like I'm advocating for you to save money which would go against the whole premise of this article but that's not the case. The reason you should stop buying gifts for people is not to save money; it's to stop wasting valuable travel time doing something so utterly unenjoyable for everyone.
If you serendipitously happen to stumble upon the perfect gift for a specific person during your travels then by all means buy it and bring it home. What I am advocating for is an end to this idea that just because you traveled somewhere you must bring gifts to those back home. My main problem with this horrible custom is that your vacation and travel time is finite and each moment is precious.
This may sound self-serving because I don't want to spend my time buying you things (which is undoubtedly true) but I assure you this is a two-way street. The idea of any of my friends or family wasting time perusing stores and struggling to find something that I just might find enjoyable is an appalling notion. Going up and down aisles out of necessity is an activity for your day-to-day life, not your adventures.
3. Whether You Like It Or Not, You Are An Ambassador For Your Country
How many stories have you heard from travelers about an 'American' or an 'Aussie' that is then followed by a blanket statement about everyone from that country? This happens all the time when traveling and I think people often forget that they have a unique opportunity while on the road to share their culture and to disabuse others of negative stereotypes.
One positive experience or negative experience can completely change how a person views an entire nation. I'm not saying you have to be fake polite to everyone and host lavish cocktail parties 'Garden of Beasts'-style, but I am saying you should at least be aware of this notion as just one single interaction can change a person's entire perspective.
One Parisian woman helping me find the train station I was looking for when I was obviously lost was enough to remind me that not everyone from Paris hates tourists with a passion (just most of them). One conversation with a group of Italian women about how I've never once seen a gun in my day-to-day life in America completely changed their false notion of what American society is like. Meeting one incredibly entrepreneurial Cuban man changed my perspective of what is possible in a Communist society and meeting one sober Irishman -- ok you caught me, that one didn't happen. But my point still stands.
4. Only Recline Your Chair If The Lights Are Off
As promised, let's finish with some airplane etiquette for you horrible travelers out there. If the lights are off it is a fair expectation that you should be sleeping. If you are sleeping and everyone around you is supposed to be sleeping it is acceptable for you to slightly recline your chair to be more comfortable. Sleep is elusive on a plane so any help you can get such as sleeping pills, three bottles of wine or slightly reclining your seat are all fine by me.
If however the lights are on this means there is no expectation of sleep. Everyone on the flight will probably want to eat, drink, use their laptop or on many planes, watch the TV in the back of the seat in front of them. All of these seemingly easy tasks become remarkably difficult to accomplish with someone reclined into you.
People who recline all the time are also the people I assume are rude to service people, talk loudly on their cell phones on public transit and get featured on this wonderful Instagram account. They will tell you that because everyone has the option to recline then the system must be fair. This is incorrect. You reclining your chair takes you from uncomfortable to mildly uncomfortable and yet it takes the passenger behind you (aka - your fellow man) from uncomfortable to horrifically uncomfortable. This is clearly not a fair trade. The reason this trade off is more fair with the lights off is because an uncomfortable sleep is still better than no sleep at all while on a plane.
Additionally, the last row of the plane cannot recline and because not every passenger has the same leg length it is patently obvious that everyone leaning back is not a zero-sum game; there are clear winners and clear losers. Don't be the loser that proclaims there are no losers.
In regular society, your neighbor does not have the right to any part of your backyard and no man is allowed to purposely block your path to a fire escape in a crowded place. Somehow during air travel all of these agreed upon laws and social customs are completely ignored. My right to liberty and my pursuit of happiness is infringed upon by you reclining your seat into me or by your girth spilling into my seat that I paid for. Basically what you are telling the world when you decide to recline your seat is that you believe that certain rights are actually quite alienable and that the Declaration of Independence simply does not apply to you.
I have so many more travel tips ranging from 'If My Headphones Are On, Please Don't Talk To Me' and 'Don't Pee on the Other Travelers' but for now I will end here and I wish you all a safe journey wherever your travels may take you.