Hate Air Travel? Try This Thought Exercise to Make it Less Painful

I've been traveling a little too much these days. So much that it has become a chore, something I need to do but don't want to do. This is not a great point-of-view, given that most of my clients reside outside of New York. I quickly realized that I needed to think about travel differently. In other words, I needed to redesign the travel I loved.

To me this is a design problem: what are my constraints and how can I think about them differently? So I approached the problem like a design project, starting with the step of deconstructing the concept of travel (the first step of my design process, Deconstruction:Reconstruction) to help break my own preconceptions.

Here is my deconstruction of travel across four quadrants--physical, emotion, intellect and spirit--and how it helped me shift my perspective from problem to opportunity.

Physical

Airports have lost their charm. They're what French anthropologist Marc Augé called non-places, transient spaces where people pass by in almost complete anonymity.

Shift in POV: As I write this, I realize therein lies also the beauty of airports--a passage way where you can watch all the people of the world pass through. Seen in this light, airports are rivers and I can sit at my gate and watch the river pass by--all the people with their weird haircuts, incredible tattoos; people who travel in their pj's with pillows alongside, in their saris, military uniforms, high heels and sandals; big people, tall people, little people, tired people, excited people; people who cry and wrench your heart at departures, and those who cry with happiness at arrivals.

Emotion

The hardest thing about travel is leaving my family. Therein lies the disruption. As Paul Auster put so well, "Whenever I travel, I get thrown off completely. If I'm gone for two weeks, it takes me a good week to get back into the rhythm of what I was doing before." It doesn't help that airplane service is at a new low--any gate announcements looking for people to take the next plane due to full flights makes my hair stand on end.

Shift in POV: How do you get beyond all the negative emotions and anxiety? I complained to my friend Marshall Goldsmith that I travel too much. Goldsmith, who travels non-stop, didn't have much sympathy for me but shared his 2 travel tricks which I have since internalized--sleep anywhere at the drop of a hat, and be happy doing what you love doing anywhere. In other words, stop whining about travel if it lets you do what you love. Now when I travel, I do so with minimum complaining and a box my daughters made for me with little notes to make me laugh along the way.

Intellectual

This is the quadrant that surprised me because I realized that the moment of travel for me is intellectually very rich. I love the bookstores at the airports and pass my time browsing through their books, trying to choose something I'd like. Half of the books I read are bought at an airport and often finished on airplanes.

Shift in POV: Suddenly moving through space in the company of my books doesn't seem bad at all. In fact, this is the time I am free of distractions to indulge in my favorite pass time, reading. Current book bought at an airport: Siddhartha Mukherjee's The Gene.

Spiritual

This is the quadrant that tripped me up because air travel seems soulless. What can I find spiritually redeeming here?

Shift in POV: I love thinking about this quadrant because it helps me to think of universal truths I might neglect otherwise. The spirit of travel is the people who are waiting for me at the other end, at my destination. Some are clients, some are friends who live where my clients are, some are clients who have become friends, some are people I don't know but who've accepted my invitation to visit while I am in their city. We are face to face, building trust, learning from each other and about each other, solving problems, laughing and talking about our life. They make the whole experience worth while.

This is design thinking or thinking like a designer, holistically and with empathy (in this case empathy for myself) applied to travel. It is intentionally shifting my point of view to turn constraints into opportunities when I can, and working around them when I cannot. With the hope the it will help you think about your travels differently too.

Design the travel you love.