Gratefulness Is a Habit. Kindness Too. And Love—Don’t Forget Love.

This is a great travel story—a great airport story. I’m one of those people who love the opening credits in the film Love, Actually. I, too, find airports to have a special energy, a festiveness you find nowhere else. The anticipatory excitement about the arrival—both the arrivors and those awaiting the arrivors—adds an undeniable frisson to the airport experience.

Not that I find air travel particularly fun, mind you. But even the we’re-all-in-this-slog-together atmosphere is a thing that unifies travelers, yes? That’s the nature of this lovely travel story from 2007, which was reprinted on the website of A Network for Grateful Living a couple years ago. As they noted then, it seemed decidedly relevant.

A woman, Naomi Shihab Nye, a writer (she is a year older than me), is in the Albuquerque airport (I’ve been there), having just learned that her flight has been delayed, and hears on the loudspeaker a plea for an Arabic speaker. There is an older Palestinian woman in distress, and she speaks no English. Nye speaks Arabic, though she is rusty; she learns the woman is simply worried, and is able to comfort her. By the time their flight arrives,

[the woman] had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies—little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts—out of her bag—and was offering them to all the women at the gate. To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same powdered sugar.

I have had those cookies myself, offered to me when I was visiting the local Middle Eastern grocery, baked by the shop proprietor’s wife. (I must stop back in to see him; I haven’t been in a while.)

This is a beautiful story. Nye is a poet, and it shows in these words.

Not everything is lost, y’all.

In the News: The Joy of Flying?

I used to enjoy flying. I love airplanes. I love watching them fly. They remind me of my father, who was, as we’ve discussed, an air force pilot (and a special man altogether). He used to drive us out to the butt-end of the runway, when we were kids, and we’d park and watch the B-52s and KC-135s take off right over our heads.

KC-135s on the flightline, from Wikipedia.

KC-135s on the flightline, from Wikipedia.

Honestly, I have a thing for airplanes.

But I no longer love flying in them, for precisely the reasons cited in this article (which comes as no surprise to me).

Seats were 18 inches wide before airline deregulation in the 1970s and have since been whittled to 16 and a half inches, he said, while seat pitch used to be 35 inches and has decreased to about 31 inches.

Ugh. I have flown across the country all twisted up, trying desperately not to inflict myself on the passenger next to me, but unable to keep from touching. I am a chubby middle-aged woman; it can’t be helped.

Here’s hoping they’ll regulate a better seat situation soon.

Dealing With Jet-Lag

I originally had titled this collection of notes “How to avoid jet-lag” but I’m not sure it can be completely avoided, especially as we age. Couple that with the fact that airports and planes are crowded, flights are late or canceled, everyone’s rushed and stressed … the travel—the getting there—itself is not a pleasant experience.

And then you’re hopping across all those time zones. Heck, I have trouble with the change from standard to daylight savings and back, and that’s just an hour.

So let’s talk about what you can do to minimize the effects of the trip as well as the time change. These are just my personal experiences, nothing scientific.

  • Don’t wear yourself to a frazzle before the trip, getting ready for it. Start fresh and rested. If you live a long way from the airport, travel in to the city the day before and stay in an airport hotel so you don’t have to rush.
  • Drink plenty of water to avoid the effects of dehydration (headache, etc.). I also carry Body Shop hydrating spray, which I spray on face and arms and anything else. Drink water as soon as you hit the ground too—lots.
  • If you’re the sort who can, grab some shut-eye on the plane. Bring and use noise-canceling headphones and remember that blue-spectrum light—from your phone, laptop, iPad, the seat-back movie screen—keeps you awake. Make yourself a little cocoon of quiet, as much as possible. Sleep is usually iffy for me; I read until I get tired and then doze, maybe. Again, it’s that little cocoon of quiet.
  • Bring your own pillow; it helps on the plane and once you arrive too.
  • I stay away from pills; no melatonin, no OTC sleeping pills. I’ve tried both—melatonin didn’t have much effect and sleeping pills didn’t help enough. But that’s just me.
  • Alcohol on the plane is not your friend. Rule of thumb on booze is 1 in air = 2 or 3 on ground. So take a pass unless you want to add a hangover to your jet-lag.
  • Also, stay away from junk food and processed food as much as possible. Eat the good stuff. I know it’s more expensive, but you just don’t want all those preservatives and additives in your system, especially if, like me, you’ve made a concious effort to “eat clean” in your daily life. It’s like taking poison.
  • Wear compression socks if you have trouble with foot swelling on long flights, as I do. It will help. Don’t worry about looking good; stay focused on feeling good.
  • Don’t collapse as soon as you arrive. Stay up and as much as possible go to bed when the locals do. When I go from Middle Tennessee to Dublin, I arrive in the early morning and just stay up all day. Maybe go to bed a little early.
  • Do get some sunlight when you land—a walk outside is not just getting some fresh air, it’s resetting your body clock to local time.
  • Schedule a massage for the day you arrive (or the next day). It will make a world of difference to the way you feel. Do this, obviously, before you leave home.
  • Soak in a hot bathtub before you go to bed. At the very least, soak your feet in Epsom salts.
  • Give yourself time. Don’t jump into a vigorous schedule right away, and don’t expect to recover in one night. If you ease into things, you’ll feel better faster.

You can find all sorts of advice online, some of it contradictory, so use caution with unsolicited advice. The best thing is to use your head, be kind to yourself, and take it easy.

Wrapping It Up: Venturing Further Afield

If you have time to venture a little further afield from Middle Tennessee, here are some ideas.

Memphis: We’ve covered Nashville pretty thoroughly, and I discussed Chattanooga here. But I think Memphis is an interesting place. This is a very brief list of my Memphis tourism must-sees.

There’s lots more, of course—not least of which is the barbeque. We’re partial to the Germantown Commissary. Central’s midtown (original) location is near enough the highway to stop for lunch if you’re headed west.

Small towns: Tennessee’s full of ’em, of course. But here are four that might delight you—perhaps paired with a night in a B&B …

Mississippi Blues Trail: I have never done this, but, man, I think it would be a fun vacation. This article mentions the “list of markers and locations was developed by a panel of blues scholars and historians”—one of whom was a graduate student at MTSU that I interviewed nearly a decade ago for the alumni magazine. Fascinating stuff.

Tennessee Whiskey Trail: Another interesting drive, I think, if you’re into whiskey. 🙂

Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky: Here’s the thing—it’s the longest cave system known in the world. And it’s just a two-hour drive from Murfreesboro.

Finally, A Personal Itinerary

We had some family coming in from Ireland who wanted to “sample” the South. They thought about driving to New Orleans, but that’s eight hours in a car (one way, before breaks) and I don’t find it a particularly interesting eight hours. This is the alternate itinerary I suggested for them.

  1. Drive from here to Chattanooga (“Bluff City”).

It’s an hour and a half. They have a beautiful arts district (galleries, arts&crafts, called Bluff View Art District) near downtown, historic buildings; and a gorgeous pedestrian bridge that takes you over the Tennessee River from the bluff, and a fabulous world-famous aquarium. There’s also Lookout Mountain, which played an important role in the Civil War, and you can take an incline railway up (rather than drive) to “see seven states” (or at least four). Seriously spectacular scenery. Spend all day, have dinner, then drive on to Atlanta, which would be another 3 hours. Arrive late.

  1. Atlanta, Georgia.

This is a gorgeous city with great nightlife, lots of history, shopping … There’s the whole Atlanta History Center complex, the High Museum of Art, the Margaret Mitchell House (Gone With the Wind!), Coca-Cola museum, botanical garden and park, Fernbank Museum of Natural History, Stone Mountain Park, and so much more. You could spend days. But maybe spend two nights.

  1. Asheville, North Carolina.

Drive up through the Blue Ridge Mountains to Asheville; it’s about four hours. It is a little hippie-ish town (let’s say it has a vibe like Cork) in the mountains. It is a foodie paradise—so many wonderful places to eat! But beautiful scenery, the North Carolina Arboretum (gardens), the Biltmore Estate (go for afternoon tea), great nightlife. Spend a night or two here, then head back to Nashville (four hours) after lunch.

  1. Nashville.

I know you’ll want to experience some Nashville nightlife. So check in to your hotel, have a little rest, then hit the honky-tonks on lower Broad.

• • •

This concludes (for now, anyway) my series for Tennessee visitors.

 

Did You Miss That Flight? Here’s What to Do About It.

These days it is not uncommon to miss a flight or a connection. Airports are bigger, flights routinely run late, and the minimum recommended connection time between flights seems to get shorter and shorter. Add travel in winter, and, well, it’s possible you could miss a flight. And gone are the days when the airlines will put you up in a hotel if you’re grounded for bad weather or because their own flight ran late.

If you miss your flight, do you know what to do?

Other than cry, that is. Or curse. 🙂

I recently happened upon this longish article from a travel blogger, read it (the whole thing), and decided to pass it on. Yes, this woman, Snigdha, flies out of Asia, and yes, this is based on her experience only. It still seems to be very thorough and wise.

Here’s just a little snippet:

>As far as possible try to book direct flights. If that is not possible, then keep at least a 2-hour difference between connecting flights. No matter what the airlines or travel agents say, never book a flight with less than a 2-hour lay-over. Also keep in mind that in some countries you may have to commute between different domestic and international terminals and airports (such as in India) so please be sure to consult someone before booking in that case.

>Add another 30–45 minutes if you are transiting through ultra-busy airports such as London Heathrow, JFK New York.

>In case you are traveling with a possibility of bad weather conditions, such as fog, snow, then do plan for a longer transit time (anywhere between 4–6 hours).

My husband likes to have the shortest possible connection time, but I can’t take the stress. I’m with Snigdha on this one. Give yourself some time.

And take some time to read and bookmark this article. You may need it.