Is there a golden rule of travel? Some swear by a window seat, others insist on the aisle. A colleague and mentor of mine tries to sit as close to the front of the plane as possible because she wants to be able to exit quickly. Personally, I prefer the back of the plane, where it seems quieter, and it’s easier to sneak into the kitchen and convince the attendants to give me extra drinks. My partner, who flies internationally multiple times a year, refuses to eat airplane food, wears an eye mask, and will sleep through any flight, no matter where, what time of day, or how long. Last year I flew across the United States at least twice a month. Flying became one of my most productive times. I love to work, read, catch up on movies I missed, and do research on my flights–often all at the same time. When we are all so wedded to our own travel habits, is it even possible to describe a universal “rule” that would make travel better for all?
My colleague who wants to be the first person off the plane doesn’t hate flying, or airports. One of her top travel tips is staying at an airport hotel the night before a flight in order to get to the gate as early and easily as possible. She books rooms for almost any flight she takes out of LAX, even though the airport is only 20 or 25 minutes from her home. The confidence of knowing she is basically guaranteed not to miss her flight, the assurance she will not get stuck in traffic, are worth the cost and effort of effectively starting her trips the night before her departure. Another colleague insists that the only way to fly is by arriving at the gate just before they close the gangway. Her risky style has the reward of a wait-free trip. What could possibly be the golden rule of travel that unifies these polar opposites? The answer is whatever makes your travel easier for you and for everyone else.
The golden rule of travel is not so different than the golden rule of life: Do unto other travelers, as you would have other travelers do unto you. In other words, when planning your trip, your outfit, the amount of luggage you will bring, when crafting your arrival time, seating plan, attitude, and security process–don’t just think about yourself, think of the person behind you. Waiting in line at security is the perfect example. Sure, it would be nice for you if this time they didn’t make you take off your shoes, or fish your laptop out of your bag. But how will the person behind you feel when they do ask you to remove your electronics and you’re not prepared? Sure your sloppy packing got you out of the house faster, but it’s potentially ruining the trip of the poor traveler behind you. Here’s a golden rule of travel: figure out the most seamless way to get yourself through the security line and follow it (have electronics handy, wear slip-on shoes, keep your stuff organized, etc.) Sure it might be nice to fly with a big old pillow. But if you struggle to get it through the machine, or take too long filling rubber bins with your belongings, it’s not going to be very relaxing for anyone.
Consider your behavior on the flight. When it comes to leaning your seat back, feel free to do it, as long as you’re comfortable with the person in front of you doing it to you. That’s the golden rule of travel in a nutshell. Don’t want to eat airplane food but still afraid you might get peckish? Only whip out that spicy beef burrito you got from the lounge if you’re prepared for the person sitting next to you to serve themselves a heap of tikka masala. Think you absolutely must carry on your hard-shell rollie bag that’s too big to fit into half of the overhead containers? Well, don’t be upset when everyone else on the flight does the same thing and your bag gets checked–the golden rule of travel says to carry on a flexible bag that can easily fit in all overheads so you can feel comfortably confident you’re only taking as much space as you deserve. Flying is like surfing, endurance training, or learning academic figure drawing–the more you resist, the more pain you feel. Instead, you should give in to the topsy-turvy world of travel, and sacrifice your ego to become the zen master of skies. The most important golden rule of travel of all is to make sure you’re still smiling at the baggage claim.