What I Learned From 300,000 Miles of Travel in One Year

For someone who never really traveled much in her life, this past year spent traveling as the National Teacher of the Year has been a huge learning curve and “growth opportunity” for me. In short, I think travel made me a better human being. That’s certainly what Pico Iyer believes and writes about here.I’m not sure if travel made me richer or sexier, but it definitely taught me to think practically.

After reflecting on my year, I put together a list of stuff I learned for any of you who may be traveling a lot this summer (or year). Some of them may seem dumb, but I assure you, I learned each of them the hard way.

What I’ve Learned:

  1. Always pack flats or other comfortable shoes.
  2. Window seats let you see some cool stuff.
  3. Be nice to airport staff — you might do something really stupid like leave your carry on bag on the plane in Philadelphia and need their help.
  4. Stay calm and be nice to TSA agents — even if they are rude and yell at you like the ones in Newark. Don’t let that kind of behavior ruin your day or your trip. And often, TSA agents are kind and respond to kindness (and it would be hard to beat the sweetness of those in Manchester, NH).
  5. Be adventurous — use TripAdvisor, Yelp or other apps to find interesting things to see, to do and places to eat. Google Maps walking directions have taken me all over big cities and made me feel like a native.
  6. Be nice to fellow travelers — they feel the same as you. Many are flying for sad reasons. Little kindnesses, I’ve learned, have the biggest impact when you’re alone and vulnerable.
  7. Be nice to all hotel staff. You might get things like champagne and macaroons in your room, or chocolate covered strawberries.
  8. Drink lots of water — it makes a huge difference in your mood and energy level.
  9. Don’t drink booze on the plane. Just trust me on this.
  10. Exercise! Even if you can’t hit the gym, walk in the airports. You’ll feel 100% better, I promise. And stand as much as possible in the airport. Sitting makes you sad and tired.
  11. Pack a small Bluetooth speaker to make yourself feel at home in hotel rooms. Hearing my jazz music helped ground me on those nights when I suddenly awoke from a nightmare in a generic room and didn’t know where I was for a few minutes.
  12. Pack headphones and download your favorite music. I don’t think I could fly without it. Once, when my plane hit a vicious wind shear in Denver, I decided that if I were going to crash, Ella Fitzgerald would be the voice carrying me to the other side.
  13. Dress nicely to fly and smile at everyone, especially the crew. I’ve been surprised by the change in my treatment when I quit wearing sweat pants and frowning.
  14. Travel apps I love (for iPhone/Mac): TripIt (many times, it texted me flight updates before the pilot announced them or flight attendants knew what was happening), Signal, (which I use to text my family for free on international trips), Gate Guru (which always helps me find food in airports, and once helped me find a place that sells MacBook Air accessories when I left my power cord at a venue), Boingo (because I need stable, accessible wi-fi and this is the best, but a little pricey, option), CamScanner (a free app that turns receipts into pdfs for expense reports and then exports them to email — amazing), and Day One (a journaling app where I keep notes about this year along with pictures that spark my memory)
  15. Tweeting positive travel experiences at the businesses is a nice thing to do — especially if you get great service. One flight crew gave me free food and vodka (which I didn’t drink, but just collected in my back pack only to have it fall out in front of a community leader when I went to find my glasses).
  16. Sign up for reward programs — they’re worth it. Using a reward program got me the last seat on a flight home, a hotel room that magically appeared at a “no vacancy” hotel, and discounts on food.
  17. Life really does begin right outside your comfort zone. Take the risk of introducing yourself to someone new. Everyone knows something you don’t and what they know is often exactly what you need to learn. I’m an introvert, so I’ve had to push myself to interact with those I find seated next to me on various transportations or dinners. By doing one small thing and asking: What are you excited about right now? I’ve met fascinating writers who shared books with me, a man who’s spent his entire adult life traveling all over the world, a nice couple who showed me how to maneuver in the Beijing security line (who knew there were “secret security lines that magically open up?), speakers who shared their best pro tips with me (that’s for another post), and so on.

Image credit: Yimeng Wang, my host for a tour of Shandong Province, China in March, 2016. I’m with the Zhangqiu Middle School Journalism Club

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  1. Shanna~I love reading anything you write! Traveling can be daunting especially if it is for work and it is frequent. I loved your story of the vodka falling out of your bag at the most inopportune moment. It reminded me of pulling out a tampon when looking for a pen…and it made me laugh. Thank you! I look forward to your next writing!

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