Michael Schottey | September 29, 2016 12:00 PM ET
Put the Magic Back in Travel
I never got the young man’s name, but I’ll hopefully never forget the lesson he taught me.
Pulling back from the gate at the Montego Bay, Jamaica airport was an interesting emotional experience for me. It had been a fantastic adventure where I’d met new friends, experienced plenty of new things and overall felt I’d acquitted myself well on my first major business trip for my new company here at TravelPulse.
However, I also had a host of work to do and my phone had been blowing up with notifications from work. I knew I was flying back to reality, and I also knew that the cold I’d been fighting for about a week was coming back to haunt me. The next couple of days would not be easy, and all I really wanted to do was get this plane up to 10,000 feet so I could plug back into Wi-Fi.
Then, the tap on my shoulder.
I wasn’t sure how to feel about the two men sitting next to me. I had paid to upgrade my boarding position on Southwest and had been the third person on the plane. These two guys had gotten on the plane shortly thereafter and filled my row eschewing the rest of the empty plane. Then again, they were both slight men who didn’t smell unpleasant and who didn’t seem intent on hogging my armrest or leg room, so I’d made peace with their self-boarding faux pas.
“How does the Wi-Fiwork?”
It was the older of the two companions.
“I saw something about Wi-Fi. My friend wants to know how this works.”
I pulled out my earbuds and explained how the service worked, but also made sure to let him know that it’s a shorter flight and Wi-Fi speeds aren’t always the greatest so caveat emptor and all that.
“But…” the young man started, looking as if I’d just explained alchemy, “this works…up there?”
I realized this wasn’t another experienced traveler sitting in the window to my aisle. Over the din of the airplane taxiing, I asked him if it was his first flight. His friend replied that it was his first time off of the island. They were headed to Florida to visit their aunt, and although the older of the two had flown a couple of times, it was the young man’s first trip of any substance more than a drive across the small island country.
The look in this young man’s eyes as we pulled up from the runway reminded me of my 4 and 6-year-old sons. He gripped the armrests tight, but his face showed unparalleled joy as he saw his home from a new angle he’d never even imagined.
My own personal cynicism about flying this particular flight melted away, and I stashed my headphones just to enjoy the company of the two men and to share in the wonder of the young man’s first flight.
We laughed together at the humorous flight attendant's antics, and I shared some fun flying stories. Later, the three of us would look out the window together, sharing amazement over the mysterious expanse that is the island of Cuba.
Yet, nothing —no single moment on this or any flight I’ve experienced—was more filled with spontaneous joy than when the man in his late teens or early 20s looked over at us and said with all of the disbelief in the world: “We’re above the clouds?!”
From there, I checked into some NFL games thanks to Southwest’s partnership with the NFL Redzone Channel, but periodically pulled up the flight tracker on my phone for the young man. He was as immersed in our height, speed, location and distance from various landmarks as I was with my fantasy football team—OK, definitely more so.
When he got up to use the restroom, the look back he gave upon seeing what an airplane restroom held in store was straight out of central casting for a “Not another…” parody of a horror movie: one part sheer terror and ten parts incredulity.
We talked more as we made our descent into Orlando. I pointed out some landmarks, and laughed as they both asked where all of our hills went, remembering my own personal astonishment at all of the cliffs I saw driving around my first day in their country. I gave them some tips of what they might experience through customs and into an airport infinitely bigger than the one we’d flown out of, and then we said our goodbyes after I helped them get their luggage down (an aisle seat courtesy I sincerely believe everyone should follow).
I haven’t been able to shake this young man’s memory in the week since my trip.
Think about everything that goes into strapping you into an airplane (or a bus, train, car, horse-and-buggy) and sending you across town, state, country or planet. Think of how interconnected our world is compared to the world of our parents and grandparents. Can you even remember the ecstasy of being above the clouds for the first time? Do you remember what it was like the first time your own personal world expanded from the town you grew up in to include new places, new faces and wide open spaces?
We travel for so many reasons — good, bad, neutral and everywhere in between — and our travel experiences run the incredible gamut from budget staycations and overnight business jaunts to round-the-world, all-inclusive fantasies.
Yet, every single time you travel is a miracle.
It’s a miracle that we live in a time and in a place where our world is more open to us than ever before. We sit on the shoulders of giants and look out into a time where “Oregon Trail” is a piece of nostalgia and not in any way correlative to the next time you need to get to the opposing coast.
We have our own fears and trepidations when we travel, sure, but don’t let those dim the bright, shining truth that the last trip you took —large or small— could only be experienced by a small fraction of the world’s population in an even smaller fraction of the world’s recordable history.
Take a moment and plan your next trip if it isn’t already on the calendar. Don’t make an excuse and don’t give me any reasons why you think you can’t. I don’t care if you’re going overseas or just to the next town over. Take vacation days or run away for the weekend. Stay in a five-star resort or in a friend's spare bedroom. Hop in a plane or just get behind the wheel and start driving.
More importantly, when you’re on that trip, stop. Stop stressing about what the trip is supposed to be or what it can be. Don’t live in anticipation for the next moment or in regret of the previous one. Simply stop, and remember how lucky you are to travel. Live in the absolute wonder of where you are right now.
Get above your own personal cloud and stay there for as long as you can. Then, go home and plan to do it all again.
More by Michael Schottey
Get Travel Deals and Travel News
Latest Travel News
Features & Advice
Hotel & Resort