One of my favourite aspects about traveling is discovering the vast differences and similarities among every human. But while each of them may have a different set of opinions on what they like or don’t, the more you converse with them, the more you come to recognize patterns with specific topics.
Some of these topics are so clear in their divisiveness: olives, cilantro, pineapple on pizza… people either love them or they hate them!
Airports are certainly one of those topics. There is rarely any grey area here. In fact, you’d struggle to find a place more ripe with whiney people than in an airport.
The long lines; the complacency and blank faces among airport employees; the bewildering navigation to your gate; and UGH… all that walking! Can you really blame them for being grumpy?
Trust me, I understand there are very strong arguments for hating the often haphazard process of boarding a plane but if you can look past the things that can get overwhelming, the airport can become an enjoyable extension of your trip rather than an necessary evil standing between you and your beachside Pina Colada.
There is so much to fall in love with at an airport and if you’re not on the ‘love’ side then you’re looking at this all wrong!
Accept the Challenges
First and foremost, you've got to stop thinking of the airport process as a ridiculous and inconvenient set of confusing steps. Instead, look at it like it’s a game! You’ve got challenges, rules, checkpoints, a budget, and an ultimate objective.
Your mission begins from the moment you start packing your bags: you must do so within a strict guideline of specific weights, dimensions and allowable items. In order to move to the next level, you must first complete this task! Bonus points: reduce your luggage to a minimum and ditch the checked baggage!
Now challenge yourself to complete your objective in the shortest amount of time possible: figure out the quickest route from your drop off point to your gate and be prepared for all obstacles.
Get to know what each interaction will require at each checkpoint and be prepared.
Are you able to check in online? Skip the check in desk altogether (since you also decided to forego the extra luggage)!
Does security require you to remove your shoes? Wear slip ons.
Are your liquids and laptop in an easily accessible area for quick removal and repack at security? These employees are going to love you — maybe even crack a smile or a joke!
Boarding pass and passport ready to be scanned? You’ll be sitting in your seat in no time, with way more time than you’d expected.
Might as well grab some snacks! Challenge accepted.
Airport food is crazy expensive and usually unhealthy but if you’re crafty and budget-savvy, you can piece together an affordable, healthy and satisfying meal. Accepting the price of a combo at your usual fast food joint isn’t always the best strategy. Check out the cost of individual items at various eateries throughout the airport and seek out the items that offer the best value.
Now, when I say seek out the ‘best value’, I don’t necessarily mean find the cheapest thing in the place. You won’t be fooling anyone as you pridefully nibble on your two-bite lettuce wrap. The real challenge is in getting the most bang for your buck.
For example, maybe that means enjoying that $8 venti Starbucks drink because the 100ml orange juice was $6. Dollar for dollar, you’re getting way more value from that coffee.
As you travel more frequently, it gets increasingly easier to navigate and prepare yourself for a successful journey through the airport and eventually you’ll be so good at it, others will look to you for direction.
I dare you to embrace the challenge!
A Sense of Exploration and Discovery
Now that you’re through the gates, you are officially on vacation. All that hard work you’ve put into planning this trip has paid off and you can finally relax.
You’ve got an hour or two until your flight begins boarding. So what now? Time to foster your sense of discovery. You’ve got this giant building just begging to be explored and plenty of time to kill. Now it's just you and a carry on so get on your feet and check some things out!
I love to explore. Venturing down unfamiliar paths makes me feel like a child in a giant world, even if it leads to a bunch of nothing in the end. So you can imagine the fun I have in an airport. The bigger the airport, the more places there are to discover; the happier I am.
And the best part is that even if you’re not directionally-gifted, there is always someone available that can guide you back if you get lost.
Jump on the opportunity to find the unfamiliarities in the things that may seem familiar. Channel your inner child.
Prime People Watching Opportunities
Not only that, but think about how many strangers are around you. I often forget that once you’re past security, every single person is doing the same thing you are. They’re en route to somewhere else. They’re ready to discover. Some are headed home after completing their journey — some were gone a day, some over a year!
Each of these strangers has a story to tell. If you strike up a conversation with any of them, you’re bound to discover something new. Where are they coming from or where are they going?
Even if you’re not eager to chat with someone, there aren’t many places that offer a better opportunity for people watching. Rather than learn their real story, you can use your imagination and make up a story for each one. The businessmen, the moms with kids, the couples, the men in the Hawaiian shirts, the complainers! You could spend an afternoon just observing the way that people move through an airport.
Quit looking at the crowds as an overwhelming hoard of bodies! Consider instead the depth and value in the untold stories that surround you.
Every Airport is Different
Above all else, the coolest thing about airports is that they’re all different. Each country has their own version of what they believe an airport should be. Different architecture, different amenities, different restaurants and shops.
If you’re the type to write off airports then perhaps you’re racing through to your gate so quickly that you never look around long enough to appreciate the thought and effort that has been put into (most) airports. It’s as if each one is a city in and of itself.
To truly enjoy your short time in these magnificent buildings, you’ve got to take a leisurely stroll and read the plaques and observe the structures. Take it all in!
I’ve seen airports with 'wow' factors like ceilings to the heavens; others focused around nature. Some simply have stunningly beautiful decor to inspire you.
But the best versions show off a little bit of their respective country’s culture and traditions. For example, in Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK), you’re greeted by 12 giant Yaksha guardian statues upon check-in. Not only do they keep you curious while you wait in line, they offer a glimpse into the mythology and history of Thailand. Throughout your journey through BKK, you’ll find a handful of other similar exhibits that will provide you with some additional background information.
In Toronto, there is no shortage of references to Canadian life around the entirety of the airport.
In Vancouver and Hong Kong, it’s all about those mountain views.
In Iceland, they’ve paired fantastic sculptures with lovely wooden accents.
In Bangladesh, the aged decor juxtaposed with the clean-cut uniformed officers make for a charming experience. If you can ignore the mosquitos, anyway.
In Chicago… well, okay, some airports are just bogus. No free wifi in one the biggest travel hubs in the USA? Puh-lease!
Learn to Love Airports.
I’m telling you — once you embrace the airport-love, your trips are going to be so much more fulfilling! Anything you approach with a positive mentality is bound to have positive results.
In this case, as soon as you go positive, you’ll start to recognize how uncomplicated the process really is. You’ll reminisce about the old days when you were a flustered traveler and wonder why you troubled yourself with such thoughts.
Push yourself to see past the hurdles and learn to get the most out of your airport experience.