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Save Your Sanity

A Business Traveler’s Survival Guide to Navigating Summer Vacationers

Banff, Alberta, Canada

Everyone talks about that “aha moment” that brings a sense of calm and clarity. I found mine flying home from a conference in Banff – in seat 34E, surrounded by seniors and massive bags of souvenirs.

Like many, I log a lot of miles on airlines: close to 200K each year. Over the last 12 months, I’ve been commuting weekly from NY to DC as my role with Starwood Hotels transitioned to a new position with Marriott. When I’m not on the commuter route, I’m off to some other destination – some near, and some far-flung: best-suited for a family vacation or couples getaway. Why does this matter? I fancy myself as a savvy traveler and have many tricks to ease through airports: never checking luggage; keeping electronics in one, easy-to-get-to section of my carry-on; subscribing to Clear and participating in the known traveler program; traveling with an external charger to avoid the battle over the two coveted outlets in any given terminal; the list goes on.

Normally, these tricks are pretty successful, but at this time every year, my business routine is thrown into turmoil as the summer travelers take to the skies… With them, they bring strollers, carry-ons in disarray, bags of souvenirs that don’t fit in the overhead bins, and of course – children. Lots! (And with three of my own, some might say I have lots of children!)

And while one may think the best trick to avoiding some of this chaos is to get into the TSA pre-check line, that no longer works as it seems everyone has airline status and TSA clearance. Two weeks ago, I was behind a family of four. The young boy – probably 5 years old – was screaming hysterically because TSA decided the juice-box he had stuffed deep in his back-pack might be suspect and thus were rummaging through his bag. This of course held up the entire line for a good five minutes. A few weeks ago I was coming back from Banff where I attended a senior leadership summit (thanks, Marriott). On my flight home was a tour group of seniors. Probably about 80 of them taking up most of the flight. They had been at the Stampede in Calgary and 90% of them were wearing newly acquired cowboy hats. Clearly some had checked their bags, but many had carry-ons and shopping bags full of treats from the Great White North. Boarding the flight must have taken us 40 minutes; and at some point I felt like the flight attendant’s assistant – helping more than a dozen suitcases find a home in the overhead.

So, the stories will continue as August plays out and business travelers continue to collide with summer vacationers. But there is a way to get through it unscathed…and actually feeling good about it.

It may not surprise you that in a recent global survey by StudyLogic, Westin found 15% of travelers have increased stress levels on vacation – that’s nearly the same percentage as those whose stress increases during business travel. It makes perfect sense as vacation travel usually includes others while business travel is often solo. So, what does that have to do with getting through summer business travel with your sanity?

Take a moment (and a deep breath or five) and change the narrative: from one of frustration, anger or angst to one of empathy and consideration. Think about what those you encounter may be dealing with. I’m positive you can think of a time or two when you forgot about your belt or a bottle of water left in your bag and held up the security line, or a time when you forced one-too-many pairs of shoes into your carry-on and your bag didn’t fit into the overhead bin, holding up the line. Maybe the family in front of you is taking their first trip overseas, and they are under-prepared and over-packed. And that group of seniors blocking the aisles…well, it’s harder to come up for a new narrative for them, but what I did was simply appreciate the fact that they were out still experiencing the world and hoped that I’d do the same at their age. The joy emanating from that group was contagious and the appreciation for the help I gave in loading their bags was genuine and overwhelming. Nothing like the fellow business traveler who pushes by others in the aisle to claim their seat.

So, my survival guide to the summer travel (for the business jet-set crowd) is to re-write the script. Not only will it make August a bit more bearable, it will make you feel good. After all, is getting to the boarding gate or your seat a minute or two earlier meaningful? The plane is not leaving until it wants to, that is for sure. Can we say ground stop at LGA?

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