My vocation as a keynote speaker and live sand artist has taken me to 45 States and 27 foreign countries. So, I've travelled a lot. And in that time I've learned the best travel tips that keep me happy on the road. A current Harris Poll shows that 2 out of 3 Americans are not particularly happy. Travelers -- whether they travel for work or pleasure -- seem to be a little bit happier as a rule. They still only clock in at about 50/50. Half of the people traveling are not content. I'm well into my Delta diamond, million-miler status. I have found in my own unofficial survey, that statistic is about right. With very few exceptions, I enjoy being on the road.
I crossed two epic bridges last weekend. First was the massive, sturdy utilitarian, Verrazano bridge. It's a double-decked suspension bridge that connects Brooklyn and Staten Island. Named for the Italian seaman and explorer, Giovanni da Verrazzano. In 1524, he became the first documented European explorer to enter New York Harbor. Hard-working immigrants build the bridge to make the city more functional. Located so people, like them, could get back and forth to work.
After my flight to Jacksonville Florida, I drove my rental car across a soaring, gossamer arch. This second bridge, dedicated to poet and musician Sydney Lanier, is a work of art. It was likely built to get wealthy home owners and vacation travelers to the beach.
Two very different bridges. As different as my experiences for the two events that took me across them. In New York, I performed at the the Center of Performing Arts of College of Staten Island. The school had a vibrant performing arts department. They hosted approximately 2300 small and large events last year. The staff, tech people and venue, were great. But schools mean smaller audiences and smaller budgets. That required a stay in the elderly airport Fairfield Inn. The rooms were small, a bit worn with hard beds and lumpy pillows. I carried my own bags. Earplugs were necessary. Eating was of the fast food variety. It was OK. I was content.
The next day, I crossed the Sydney Lanier bridge. I drove down a winding road surrounded by hibiscus plants, palm trees and oaks. The trees were dripping with Spanish moss as I pulled into the The Sea island resort. Remodeled in 2010, it has the luxurious flavor of a Kings Spanish Hacienda. Massive, open beam ceilings, fluffy feather pillows. Every amenity I could dream of. They parked my car, made sure I had extra water and carried my bags to my room. At turndown time they set out velvet slippers and put chocolate on my pillow. I was content there too. Twelve years of travel, an average of 180 days on the road per year, I have learned how to be content on the road.
Do you find yourself, like me, pulled away by business? Or does family or pleasure take you away from home? Here are five tips on how to travel well.
Travel Tip 1: Don’t make big things out of little things.
Most of what steals our contentment are the little things. A delayed flight, a cold meal, traffic, surly help. In my situation, I don’t get to pick where I spend the night. The hotel is almost always booked by the event planners way ahead of time. Once booked, that's where I stay. Hotels quality can vary -- even with the same chain. Some are well-managed, some are not.
Travel tips when dealing with hotels.
There are some things you can request when you check in. I ask for a non smoking room, not too close to the elevator or ice machine, and as high up as I can get. The higher you are, the less noise you hear. You have no guarantee that a girls high school soccer team won’t check into the sixteen rooms on your floor. Or that people in the next room are going to check in at a decent hour and go right to sleep. I always bring ear plugs. When something is a small thing, recognize it as a small thing and don’t let it irritate you.
Travel Tip 2: Make big things out of interesting things.
If you are traveling for business, it's very easy to zone out. Particularly if you have been somewhere before. When I travel, I often fixate on getting from point A to point B. Move over and let me through.
Getting down the airport concourse is very much like a kayaker shooting the rapids. Eyes locked on the areas of clear water, I steer clear of boulders -- stationary travelers with large bags. I paddle around eddies with floating debris -- slow moving travelers with kids. I aim for the smooth water -- clear areas where I can move fast.
Sometimes you should slow down.
Most airports, hotels and tourist-destinations feature interesting displays, artwork and sculpture. The baggage claim at the Orlando airport has beautiful flowing artwork made from postage stamps. LA Airport has “Elevate” by Joyce Dallas. It's made of paper planes printed with the Universal Declarations of Human Rights, from the Geneva Convention. Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International airport invested in the poverty stricken country of Zimbabwe. They commissioned almost twenty sculptors to create art from huge stones. Philadelphia International has a working clock made from 300 recycled beer bottles.
Use travel as a learning experience.
Find out about the artists, the architects and the history of the places where you travel, visit and work. It can change your outlook. One of my favorites is the water timed fountain in the Detroit rotunda. It is almost silent and calms the nerves of even the most jittery traveler. All you need is to sit and watch for about 10 minutes. These little things can improve your state of mind, calm you down, and improve your Contentment Quotient.
Travel Tip 3: Don’t whine. Make recommendations.
One of the best travel tips is don’t be a whiner. When something is wrong in your room, restaurant or travel arrangements, be nice. With kindness, let whoever is the decision maker know that it would be nice if they would correct your problem. If there are many issues, get the little notepad that is available in most hotel rooms and make a list. Burned out light bulbs, loose toilet seats, dripping faucets. Most of those are things that I can put up with for the one or two nights I am there and then I hand in my list. For instance, not enough plugs to charge up my devices is one of my regular comments. I have seen a wonderful simple invention that is a compact, clamp-on power cube. Every hotel room should have at least two.
Napkin dust can cramp your style.
I wear a black shirt and slacks on stage. In the middle of dinner at the Seaside restaurant in the Sea Island resort, I looked down into my lap. White flakes were all down the front of my shirt and slacks. I thought they were crumbs from the croissants I was enjoying with my almond encrusted swordfish and Caesar Salad. When I tried to dust them off with my napkin, it got worse. Ack! I was going to walk on stage with dandruff lap!
It turned out the napkin was shedding what looked like starch flakes. Rather than make a ruckus, I finished my meal and while settling up, I pointed out to the server what was going on. She was mortified. My recommendation was they switch to Head and Shoulders laundry soap and we had a good laugh over it. With the help of a damp cloth, I cleaned up and went on with the show. It was not a big thing.
Travel Tip 4. Talk to other travelers.
Of my five travel tips, this is the one people resist the most. “What!? Interrupt someone else's travel and talk to them!?” I understand your hesitance. After a big event I have spoken for an hour and told my story to individuals about twenty times. I am not motivated to have a chat with the guy in the seat next to mine.
But, what happens when I do open a conversation? Is there a benefit in slowing down the kayak and engaging a fellow traveler? Most of the time, if I am willing to ask the right questions, I am astounded at the stories I hear.
What to ask.
"Are you headed home or away? What sort of work do you do? Do you have a family? What tips would you offer to a regular traveler? What is the most exciting travel adventure you have ever had?"
For example, Steve was a VP of sales rep for a medical device company. Oh no. This was going to be a boring one. It turned out he had lost a limb in Iraq and designed his own prosthetic. He manufactured it in his garage and sold it to the company for which he was now working. As a result, they also hired him to be a spokesman for the company and he now was one of their top execs. Fabulous! Almost always you will hear stories of hard work, struggle, overcoming and success. It is so energizing! Inspirational. Motivational. Fun. You should try it. It is well worth it.
Travel Tip 5. Choose gratitude.
This is one of the travel tips that often eludes people. Travelers are often people who are the haves rather than the have-nots. If you include the entire world, the average American traveler is in the top 2% financial bracket. Most Americans have indoor plumbing, get at least one meal per day and get to travel. Americans are richer, more comfortable and more fortunate than 98% of the world. This alone should make you grateful. Being grateful and showing it is not hard. Thank the people that serve you. Flight attendants, baggage handlers, desk clerks, taxi drivers, servers and janitors. Grateful people are always more content.
The crowded but clean bathroom.
One time, I was in a restroom crowded with travelers in a large international airport. I noticed that it was spotless. It was one of the cleanest restrooms I had ever seen -- a universal rarity! The waiting line was long. The room almost full. I looked around to find the reason for its sparkling condition.
Weaving his way through the throng was an elderly man with a mop in hand. He had a cleaning bottle strapped to his belt and a wad of cleaning towels in the pocket of his apron. Smiling and greeting everyone, he moved from one sink or stall to the next. Next, he guided travelers into the cleaned ones while stepping forward to wipe down used ones. Wow! I caught up to him and thanked him for doing such a good job. He smiled big and said, “No sir, thank you for coming to visit.” His tip jar was packed. And I added something to it.
I hope these travel tips serve you as well as they have me. Happy travels!