We'll See: A Zen Nightmare Travel Day
The other day I had the worst travel day I’ve ever had. Highlights include (but are not limited to) a two hour delay on my first flight, the plane getting hit out of nowhere by lightning, having to run through the airport to try to make it to my connecting flight, making it to the second flight only to have the plane return back after take-off due to a maintenance issue, having to spend way too much time with customer service, and more!
I know all of that sounds super stressful, but believe it or not, I was able to keep my calm throughout the whole experience. The thing is, in that moment, on that travel day, I was completely free. I just finished a big event I was working on, and I had absolutely nothing to do and nowhere to go.
When I told a good friend Chris Britt about my day and my ability to keep completely calm, he pointed me to a Chinese Proverb “We’ll See”. I won’t copy and paste the entire story behind this proverb, but please do read it! Instead I’ll write my own version based on my travel day:
The Two Hour Delay
I said goodbye to my friends - it was time to head to the airport. I usually forget to do this, but I checked my flight information that day. My plane was delayed by an hour. Most people would feel unlucky in this situation, but I didn’t mind. I didn’t get to eat lunch, so now I had the time to grab healthy food in a restaurant I liked vs being stuck with bad airport food.
After I finished eating and left the restaurant, I found out that the flight was delayed by another hour. Most people might be more annoyed - but I just sat in a nice park and enjoyed the sun and people-watching until I had to head to the airport at last.
It turned out to be a very small airport (I never flew out of it before) with very limited food (and especially healthy food!) options. I felt lucky that my flight was in fact delayed - I got to eat well.
Striked by Lightning
Up in the air, the plane got hit by lightning out of nowhere. We were flying through Seattle clouds and bam - a giant flash! That was a bit terrifying… I thought it was lightning, but since there was no other lightning in the sky, it seemed plausible that it was some type of explosion as well.
Everyone sat quietly, holding our breath, waiting for the plane to go down… A few minutes later (what seemed like an eternity), the pilot announced that it was in fact lightning and (the good news!) planes are made for this use-case, so nothing bad will happen. Everyone suddenly started chatting in relief.
Although this was terrifying and very “unlucky”, I think it’s good to be reminded of our own mortality once in a while. At that moment, I was just calmly waiting to see what will happen. I didn’t have any panic or regrets or anything I had to do. That felt good.
The Airport Running Scene
Since my first flight was delayed, we arrived with only 30 minutes left before my connecting flight. I made peace with not making the flight… It was already on the late side and I didn’t mind staying in Seattle for the night at the airline’s expense. I was not in a hurry to get to my final destination.
But as we were landing, they made a big announcement asking everyone to stay seated so I can get my bags and be the first to leave the airplane. The flight attendants explained that I have to get to the other concourse via a train. With everyone being so nice and encouraging, I felt the need to at least try to make it to my next flight. I made the flight.
At this point I felt both lucky - I barely made the flight! If the plane was late by only a few more minutes, I wouldn’t have made it. And unlucky - it was getting late and I had a long day. I also don’t like arriving to a new long-term destination at night. I like to jump in and explore. It would have been nicer to just stay the night in Seattle and fly the next day. But I made it…. and it was only a 1.5 hour flight from Seattle to Ketchikan, so I was fine with the outcome. Lucky me.
The Big Return
Once we got into the stable part of the flight, there was an announcement. Due to a maintenance issue, our flight would turn around and return to Seattle. While some people got very upset at this, I felt calm once again.
There was one guy who was very loudly upset - mockingly pointing out the airline’s “best customer service” award they told us about and how they’re not delivering in this case. I simply felt bad for him - he was getting worked up and angry at a situation that was going to happen whether he liked it or not. After all, if the airline deemed the issue to be so bad we had to turn around, I didn’t exactly want to finish the flight.
The airline promised to have another plane ready to board in 20 minutes (lucky us!), but at this point I had enough bad experiences for the day to negotiate staying in Seattle for the night - with the airline paying of course. They agreed to let me stay. And instead of taking the first flight the next day, I asked to be on an afternoon flight, with enough time to reach out to a friend who already contacted me when I landed in Seattle.
While some may see the situation as unlucky. I felt very lucky - waiting for “20 minutes” (you know it’s going to be longer…) to board and do yet another flight this late at night seemed a lot harder for me.
A Friend and a Surprise Wish Come True!
The next day, I got to meet up with my good friend for free - thanks airline for giving me a free hotel! I felt so lucky!
While we were catching up, I mentioned that I’m mostly vegan, and to my surprise, my friend knew a vegan ice cream shop nearby - Frankie & Jo’s.
I don’t mention it often, but one of the only things that I feel like “I’ve given up” to be mostly vegan is ice cream.
Just the other day, I was walking on Santana Row - a fancy shopping neighborhood in San Jose, California - when I spotted a Smitten Ice Cream stand. That used to be MY FAVORITE ice cream in the San Francisco area. I used to go out of the way to get it. And now it was in front of me, and I couldn’t get it. Being healthy and feeling good is more important to me than instant gratification. I ended up getting a good vegan ice cream brand from Whole Foods that week, but that’s definitely not the same as going to real ice cream shop.
At Frankie & Jo’s, I got that ice cream experience I’ve been craving without feeling super guilty about it. They had bright yellow turmeric + ginger ice cream, one of my favorite health combinations! Oh, and they had gluten-free cones! The ice cream was mind-blowing! Even my friend mentioned that it’s one of the best ice cream shops she’s been in, despite it being vegan. I felt like my wish came true!
I said goodbye to my friend, jumped into a cab, and got back to the airport just in time for my onward flight. I checked my email - in addition to free hotel and airport meal vouchers, the airline gave me a $100 credit for my next flight. How lucky!
The moral of this story is summarized very well in the “We’ll See” proverb:
“There’s no use in overreacting to the events and circumstances of our everyday lives. Many times what looks like a setback, may actually be a gift in disguise. And when our hearts are in the right place, all events and circumstances are gifts that we can learn valuable lessons from.” ~ Inspiration Peak
My friend mentioned that my not overreacting to the horrible travel day I had might be what makes me a good nomad. I think this might be true. But also the reverse might be true - maybe this attitude is what made me a nomad in the first place.
As a nomad, I have nowhere to be and nowhere to go. My whole life is a journey, an adventure. An unplanned layover is simply a great chance to get ice cream with an amazing friend. I don’t mind being late - there is no late. Only now matters.