One of my least favorite things is sitting in a cramped airplane seat with the dude in front of me reclined to the max, the woman behind me kicking like it’s a horse she wants to giddyup (why?), and the guy next to me, legs wide like he is riding a horse, manspreading into my space. All the while trying to work on my laptop, which is impossible to keep open at a right angle given the reclining dude.
And don’t even get me started on the T-Rex arm position of elbows pressed to waist, feeling knots form in my shoulders with every word I type.
When I started traveling to teach and speak at events, I thought that sitting on a plane for several hours was the perfect opportunity to do editing work for clients. I’d haul around my laptop, reference materials, and more, enough to keep me busy for days, not hours, in the sky.
I won’t have anything else to do. I can focus and not waste all those hours of travel. Sure, why wouldn’t I want to move through a complex developmental edit of a memoir, midair?
Let me count the ways.
What I’ve realized is that travel is work enough as it is
— from the preparation of packing and making sure everything at home will be taken care of while I’m gone, to navigating the hoop-jumping obstacle course and patience-test of the airport, to managing the discomfort of ever-shrinking personal space on the plane. If I could always afford to fly first class it might be a different story, but as a woman who needs to make the best of the cheap seats, I have found no ease or joy in working in transit.
Making travel days into office days adds hassle to an already stressful experience. It does not doesn’t allow me to do thoughtful, quality work. In reality, I almost never actually save time working on planes. Since my focus is divided between in-flight annoyances and anxiety—Will that tomato juice spill and turn my keyboard into a crime scene? How contagious is that woman who coughed on my arm? How much turbulence before I panic?—I’ve had to go back over whatever “work” I did anyway.
Now I require an emergency to whip out my laptop on an airplane.
I have reconsidered how I want to spend my travel time: Traveling. It’s enough to sit down, close my eyes and take a deep breath. It’s enough to slip on my eye mask and doze off, or just shut out the sensory stimulation. It’s enough to read a novel or do the crossword puzzle in the airline magazines and let someone bring me drinks. It’s enough to pull out my journal, give my left brain a rest and let my right brain play with new ideas—for essays I want to write or workshops I want to facilitate. No-pressure time. Allow-for-a-pause time.
Western culture doesn’t particularly honor the in-between, the time-out, but, wow, do I need those to function. I often feel so much pressure to do something, to make the most of my days, to achieve, to shove myself into some idealized version of a successful woman who runs her own business. And of course, I never fit into that superwoman suit. Maybe some humans can tough it out and go constantly, but I am not that human. I am the human who needs a breather, especially when I’m maneuvering myself away from home and my comfort zones.
What if I didn’t have to do anything when I travel? What if I simply let myself rest and recharge?
To clarify, this is not to say that I expect plane trips to be rejuvenating spa days any more than I want them to be high-powered workdays. I just want them to be plane trips. To focus on making those journeys as peaceful and comfortable as possible.
Perhaps you, too, have learned that the best way to be a road warrior is simply to keep your eyes (and the rest of you) on the road, and perhaps be less of a warrior. (good?) No more. No less. Let travel be travel.
Journey On, Janes!
Have you stopped making travel days into workdays? What do you do or not do to bring ease to your in-flight time? Tell us in the comments!
Jen Violi is the author of Putting Makeup on Dead People, a BCCB Blue Ribbon Book, and finalist for the Oregon Book Awards. Jen is a regular contributor to Sweatpants & Coffee, and her work has been featured in Lady/Liberty/Lit, Nailed Magazine, The Baltimore Review, Annapurna Living and more. As a mentor, editor, and facilitator, Jen helps writers unleash the stories they’re meant to tell, from blogs to websites to award-winning books. Find sanctuary for your story at www.jenvioli.com.