Ask any full time trip director at TFT, and people will often tell you that people tell us that ‘we have the best job ever’ but at the same time some of those people are intimidated by layovers in foreign airports, overnight flights in economy and public transport from the airport to their destination. The major difference between a tourist and a traveler? A traveler even embraces the mode of transportation as part of the authentic experience.
One of the things Travel For Teens exposes is the value in taking the most authentic means of transportation possible. I am sure that you and I have both found ourselves in that position of boarding the plane longing to be seated in the comforts of first class travel, but there is nothing more authentic than the economy section of a flight whether it is a long haul international flight or a short domestic flight.
When flying, I feel good when I get to the first security check point and use the ‘expert traveler’ line. (You know the one with the silhouette of a no-nonsense business woman whose cartooned body language already tells you that she can take off her shoes, remove her laptop and empty her pockets faster than you.) I plan my outfits for flights around minimal garment disruptions and always dress belt free. In my laptop case, you’ll always find a pair of ear plugs, and eye patch mask, chap stick, a stack of business cards, an extra blackberry battery, a fully charged iPod, two pens, a mead note book and some sort of travel related reading material.
Traveling as often as I do, I consider myself an authority on who to fly, when to fly, where to sit and how to make the experience of traveling to your destination an enjoyable part of the sum total travel experience. I am by definition, a frequent flier. 75,000+ miles a year on dozens of different airlines, through airports of every imaginable size and shape, new and old, departing and arriving at almost every hour of the day even crossing the International Date Line at times. I’ve made my flight, missed my flight, had my flight delayed, re-routed and even cancelled but no travel delay has made me less excited to reach my destination. I have had extra pages added to my passport, twice. I know hundreds of airport codes by heart, which carriers service what airports, between which cities and with whom they are in airline alliances. I enjoy knowing the ins and outs of not just flying but how the flights around the world work together. I am also a frequent flier point junkie.
I love travel and I really enjoy flying. I know some people bemoan the new security measures imposed over the past decade of travel. Most people my age or older remember the good old days of flying with liquids, sharp objects and upon take off hearing the flight attendant asking you to turn off your Discman or walkman. I take the new security measures in stride as just part of keeping flying safe. Once I am beyond security, I really enjoy people watching in the waiting areas of the terminals; international airports are even more awesome for this.
Once beyond security, some people want to be really chatty, other people want to just spend some time uninterrupted; I fall into the latter category. Flying is a perfect chance to be uninterrupted; you may have a crying baby near your seat but your cell phone won’t ring and unless you elect to purchase wi-fi on the plane, you aren’t going to get any emails. It is a perfect chance to disconnect.
I am a foodie and I enjoy airline food. Flying provides a great chance to try some local food. Yep, read that line again if you don’t believe me. Not all (airline) food is created equal but unlike most people I know, I really enjoy airline food. If you are on a domestic or international flight outside of the USA, it’s more than likely you are going to be offered a snack or meal which is the airlines attempt at providing a meal which would please the greatest population of that airlines country of origin. Airline food is the chance to the airline to offer you something authentic from their home country. I love that when I peel back that aluminum cover on a hot dinner dish, it rarely resembles anything I would expect to find on the menu of an American chain restaurant (think TGIFridays). On a flight within Malaysia, I looked at the menu (all in Malay) and pointed to what looked like chicken satay with rice. Perfect, I thought to myself. When the airline attendant put it down in front of me, there were dozens of sardines mixed into the rice. Upon a more careful examination of the image, sure enough, I saw sardines in the rice. Had I not been really hungry, I surely would have passed on this dish but to my surprise it wound up being pretty good. Without trying some airline food, I would never have elected to have tried such a ‘scary’ looking dish.
Flying is a great chance to watch movies & read. My personal favorite airline to fly internationally is the one with the personal entertainment system where I can watch different movies & gives you a free newspaper (in English) as you board the plane. Conversely my least favorite airline to fly internationally is the one which has just the single screen dangling from the ceiling. I don’t watch many movies at home but when I am traveling, I love it!  The airline I have found to have this most consistently would be Lufthansa (another perk of TFT!).  The best airline I have ever flown was Emirates: they had 50 movies on demand! Additionally, the camaraderie amongst passengers to share reading material and newspapers is unprecedented. When people are finished with a newspaper or a magazine, people are almost always willing to share the reading materials with you.
The people who work on planes are interesting. Pilots often have a dry sense of humor during their announcements can provide levity during layovers and delayed departures. Recently while I was waiting to take off from Charlotte to Philadelphia on a delayed flight, the pilot finished his short greeting to the passengers with the line “so we’re going to fly this thing like it’s a rental and see if we can get you home a little sooner.” Flight attendants are often some of the best sources of good insider tips for your destination and if asked properly are often willing to make hilarious (good humored) mock announcements over the PA which makes a group flight all the more enjoyable.
Planes are the closest thing to a time travel machine. When you were a kid, you may have dreamed of transporting instantly from one place to another. The planes that most of us fly aren’t exactly time travel machines but they can definitely set up of one of my favorite sensations: culture shock. Go back to what it was like to be a kid for a second, you wanted to have this time travel machine because you wanted to escape where you were and go to a place that was completely different. Flying to a new place whether it is in your country or not can bring you to a dramatically different landscape, people, language, climate and time zone. Varying combinations of these factors create culture shock. I actively seek out experiences to put myself outside of my comfort zone and I enjoy being culture shocked when I visit a new place for the first time. Each time I get on a plane, I get excited because I know I am going to a new place, different from my home.
So next time when you are going through security, and you have to take off your shoes, watch, hat, sweatshirt, belt and empty your pockets – take a deep breath – on the other side of that metal detector is a great travel experience just waiting to happen.