Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Importance of Being on Time

As I sit in the terminal of Chicago's O'hare Airport with hours to kill, I almost look like a genius. This is a strange feeling because hours ago I felt like a tremendous idiot. Again, like many times before, luck pulled me out by the skin of my teeth. Just 12 hours ago I was quite the opposite, frantic, no sleep, driving much too far to catch a plane that I've known about for months.

This is not my first time, it probably won't be my last. But lets look at what happened today, and see how we can learn from it.


I get cocky sometimes. Well actually its just laziness covered with the veil of cockiness. Three months ago I bought this plane ticket: A trip to northern Minnesota and Wisconsin for some fantastic winter birding. But two days ago, my indecisiveness got the better of me. I was slated to fly out from Fayetteville, AR Thursday 11am. Without doing any traveling calculations, I promised a friend I'd spend Wednesday night with him in Dallas.

    'I've got this, it'll be fine', I kept telling myself.

I knew the the times were a little off, but I figured it'd be fine. Most of my plans are various forms of 'winging it', and they always turn out ok. They're sometimes not very pretty, but I make it work.

5pm Wednesday night (18hrs before departure)- I land at my friends house later than I planned and commit myself to spend as much time as I can with him before I go back to Delaware.

11:30pm (~12hrs before departure)- Already groggy, I start to google maps my drive to Fayetteville, and do my infamous tired time math.

    'Uh-oh, buddy I gotta go to sleep, like right now', I announce suddenly.

With my fuzzy math I've just realized I've got to get up at 4:00am to drive 5.5 hours to navigate an airport I've never been to. 

    'It's ok, I can just sleep on the plane' I lie to myself. I know I can't sleep on planes.

4:00am(~7hrs before departure)- I get up groggly, much too early, get to the car, forget my keys in the house, come back. Fail to navigate to the correct airport on my gps. Manage to find the right airport. Punch it in the GPS. And then handily get myself lost in Dallas. With a GPS. I take the 3 different wheels in a multiple highway interchange, before managing to get going in the right direction.

    'I should have slept more', I grumble to myself. Three hours before the sun even comes up.

That's when I realize all of that fuzzy math last night was using Dallas toll roads. I'm not taking Dallas toll roads. More fumbling, grumbling, and I'm out of Dallas and one hour later than I expected.

5:00am(~6hrs before departure)-I'm 5 hours away. If literally nothing goes wrong I will make it with just enough time to park, walk from the economy lot to the terminal, check in, get through security, and board the plane. In an airport I've never been too. What a stupid thing to happen. Every gas station, coffee stop, bathroom break I watch 5 minutes tick down.

    'I knew better than to not factor in those stops' I chastise myself.

9:30am(1.5hr before departure)- After a very uncomfortable drive watching the google maps ETA ticking up I receive a phone call.

A snowstorm in the midwest has delayed my flight by 2 hours.

And suddenly it's all Ok, I'm saved. I went from late to early. At the ticket counter I reschedule my flights for later times in the day, get on the plane, and land in Chicago only 2 hours later than anticipated.


6:30pm- Here I sit now, in the middle of a 6-hour layover in Chicago, feeling the opposite of how I felt 12 hours ago. I'm surrounded by many angry people. This storm coupled with some impressive lake effect snow, has thousands of people in the airport angry. Delayed flights, canceled flights, everyone seems angry. But not me.

Auriel and I's propensity for open end planning lead this rather large climactic event to effect us very little. I called her after I rescheduled the first plane ticket, asking if a 7 hour delay was ok. She was fine with it. We talked about the possibility of being stranded overnight in O'hare (still a possibility), not a big deal.

The Journey is the Adventure applies at every step of the process here. Being a very maleable traveler, spending the night in an airport won't effect me that much. I just keep my expectations muted. Even this is highly comical. Whatelse would I be doing right now? Probably sitting in bed doing the same thing I am now. Except I wouldn't be in Chicago, I'd be the same place I usually am, and probably bored.

Auriel's planning for this trip is really open ended. Birding in winter can be very unpredictable, and as such expectations are more of an unknown than anything else. We can change hotels if we want, we can make it to any part of the trip whenever we need to. We'll just shift plans as the come. Where life dictates we go, we'll go, because that's pretty much the only thing you can do. You need to remember there's always a plan B. It may not be close to what Plan A was, but there is another way.

Murphy's law moves our lives around in tumultuous ways. I think that's why the journey is the adventure works. It makes hurdles into turns, you just have to mute your expectations. Expectations are what every angry passenger in this airport has. No, I'm not saying they should all live like this. Many of them have kids, business to attend to, other peoples lives to deal with. Just something to think about when your planning your next trip.


The next lesson to learn is the flip side to this argument. The importance of knowledge and giving yourself plenty of time to deal with the problems that may arise.

My fuzzy night time math has hurt me more than once. Making important decisions while your sleepy tends one towards shaving time too close. This creates the travel stress we're all looking to avoid. The reason many of my trips have worked out, despite the complete lack of planning, is how I didn't have a strong schedule to adhere too.

If you couple that with proper planning, calling ahead, seeing when things open, where things are, and thinking properly about what the real life time costs are, then you'll be winning the travel game.

It's something you probably know you should do, but expect thing to not go as they should. Add extra time to your calculations, and don't allow yourself to cut things too close. The stress is almost never worth it. There is a limit on trying to do too much versus your own happiness. Would you rather do 1,000 things crappily or 1 thing really well? While listing lends itself too doing 1,000 things half-assed, we should normally tend towards the latter.

Trust me, that frantic feeling sucks, but for now it's all landed in the realm of 'manageable'.


Update-7:44pm, and I've been delayed again 3 hours. Hopefully I'll make it out of this frozen airport by tonight. I've got some birds to see.

10:50pm-ive been delayed further till 1150 now. Perhaps I should start finding a nice corner?


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