January 2011

How to make your trip last longer

by Steve Brock on January 27, 2011

Your trip can start long before and last long after you walk through your front door...

Trips can last much longer than the time we’re away from home. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Think of your trip as a three act play with a beginning, middle and end.

With travel, the beginning doesn’t start when you board that plane, train or automobile. It starts with a dream, an explosive vision of clarity or a subtle whisper of an idea as to where you might go. You take the next step and move into the planning stages where you wrestle with logistical details and get yourself ready (on multiple levels).

Then, amidst all the reservations and decisions, you find a childlike excitement blossoming in you regarding your upcoming journey. Suddenly, you just can’t wait for your trip to start. But in a way, it already has.

The travel itself is the second act, the middle. Experientially, this is the meat and potatoes phase, the core that bridges your looking forward with your looking back in a short period where you realize you’re living almost entirely in the present.

The third act finds you walking through your front door as you return. That, however, is not the end of your trip. That is only the beginning of the end.

Your trip actually continues for days, weeks, months and even years after your return as you share your journey with others, remember key moments, reflect on what happened, learn from those reflections, and apply those learnings to your life at home. It’s a long ending and would make for a very boring play. But it provides us with journeys that literally can last a lifetime.

That’s the good news. In fact, as most travelers will attest, the anticipation and reflection phases of the trip can be as or more meaningful than the actual journey itself.

But there is one small little detail to contend with: reality.

As we lengthen our perspectives on travel, particularly as we include within our understanding of “the trip” the whole pre-travel phase, we extend or increase not only the number of “ups” along the way but also the number of “downs.” Thus, making our trips last longer benefits us only if we learn to maximizes the ups and minimize the downs.

One place where we are likely to run into unexpected snags is before we ever leave home during the anticipation phase. I prefer “anticipation phase” to “planning phase” because the actual planning is where many of us get the most stressed out about a trip. Dealing with myriad details before our trip can overwhelm us with choices and fill us with angst: Am I making the best decisions on hotels? Visiting the right locations? Getting the lowest airfare? 

Sometimes, you get so frustrated with the planning stage you want to walk away from your whole trip like you would from an obnoxious street vendor who questions your intelligence, judgment and lineage (not to mention who wears the pants in your family) simply because you won’t buy an ugly souvenir from him.

But have no fear. Over the next several entries, we will explore the wonder of anticipation and how to find meaning in even the stress-inducing aspects of planning. As we’ll see, the anticipation phase – or at least the planning part of it – isn’t always fun. But if we do it right, it can be meaningful and can set the tone for the rest of our trip: beginning, middle and end.

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Traveling incompetently

by Steve Brock on January 24, 2011

Okay, so how hard can it be to open one of these? We all have areas of incompetency. Approach them the right way and you might just turn a trip into a meaningful journey...

I cannot open new lotion bottles. Those ones where you push down on the little spout and the lotion comes out? I’m virtually incapable of twisting the top in a way that unlocks the spout.

Why tell you this? In part so that you don’t ask me about other common skills I lack. This one may be pathetic – most five-year-olds can open these bottles – but at least it’s inocuous.

But mostly I share my inadequacy with lotion bottles because it reflects a truth about me and about you which is this: In some area of our lives, we are all totally and completely incompetent.

I’ve seen this with CEOs and leaders of great organizations or with others we look up to and respect. In some aspect of their lives, they lack the skills to perform some basic activity.

Now here’s the fun part: When you travel, you are often called upon to use skills you rarely employ at home. Thus, you increase the likelihood of coming face to face with one of your areas of incompetency, often when least expected. The question is, what will you do?

Will you bluster your way through? Blame someone else? Try to fake it (or ignore it)? Get exasperated? Or will you own up to it and invite others into your area of weakness?

I remember my aunt telling me about visiting relatives in Sicily many years ago. On that trip, she got a bug bite of some kind or a pimple right at the entrance to her ear canal. Her area of incompetency wasn’t just in diagnosing the proper treatment, but in her language skills (and her belief that they were stronger than they actually were). She knew enough Italian to be dangerous – literally.

She went into a pharmacy in the small town where she was staying and told the pharmacist and his assistant what she thought was, “Can you help me? I have a pimple in my ear that is very painful.” When the two men looked quizzically at each other and then began to laugh hysterically, my aunt’s first reaction was to be incensed. But she checked that response and asked them again, calmly, but this time with gestures. That brought even more laughter.

Somehow – I was never clear on the details of how they discovered the correct translation – they made it known to her that what she had actually said was, “I have a large pickle in my ear.” When she found this out, she laughed with them and apparently they all became good friends from that point on.

Some of us can’t pack well. Others are horrible with directions. Some slaughter foreign languages while most don’t even try. Maybe you can’t do foreign currency conversions in your head. Some people can’t figure out how to open doors in foreign telephone booths or bathroom stalls. Perhaps you have no clue on tipping or how to buy a metro ticket or how to fill up the gas tank in a rental car. The reality is that in some area, you simply won’t be competent.

Guess what? That’s a good thing. Particularly for Americans, acting out of our assured competence all the time in a foreign country isn’t always so positive. In many cases, we reinforce stereotypes and create barriers between us and others.

When you demonstrate some area of weakness or incompetency, you’re basically revealing your own humanity. And that can be very inviting because it reveals our need for others. People respond to our humanity far more than they do to our competency.

So next time you’re on a trip and you can’t figure something out, don’t get frustrated. Ask for help. It may initially be embarrassing, but if you approach it with the right attitude, you might just solve your problem…and even make a new friend.

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Querencias and the comfort of the familiar

by Steve Brock on January 21, 2011

My friend Brian and my wife (shown here at a Starbucks in Edinburgh) both tend to seek out the comfort of the familiar (or maybe just the caffeine) on a trip away from home.

Let’s take one last look at this issue of querencia, a place of safety or comfort that we seek out on our trips much as the bull in a bullfight finds his querencia in a given spot in the bullring.

Most of us travel for the novelty of it, to experience new sights and even emotions. But for some who travel for a living, the novelty quickly wears off and becomes as welcome as the phrase, “I think we need to run a few more tests” is when coming from your doctor.

For those road warriors who are on a first name basis with the airline staff and who know the number on their Hilton Honors card better than that of their home phone, the last thing they want is more novelty or stress. They just want a familiar spot amidst all the unfamiliarity around them.

They want a querencia.

My friend Brian is one such traveler. He routinely travels the world, often alone, to assist pastors and churches overseas. On one long trip to Asia, he found himself in Jakarta, Indonesia and was feeling particularly homesick.

Those who don’t travel much somehow think that those who do become immune to a longing for family and home, but that’s not the case. You do learn ways to cope with the distance and absence, but it never fully goes away.

One of Brian’s coping skills was that he had long since discovered a place that served to some degree as a querencia for him while traveling: the local Starbucks. Because the menus, atmosphere and access to wi-fi are fairly similar in any Starbucks around the world, Brian knew he could always go there to find his own reconnection to home emotionally, and in this case, digitally.

An avid New York Yankees fan, Brian was in Jakarta during the playoffs. While he could have gone to the Starbucks in Jakarta (and there are many) and connected to the Internet to get the scores or details of the game, that wouldn’t have sufficed.

Instead, he took his laptop computer, connected to the Internet through Starbucks’ wi-fi, and through Skype (an Internet video phone service available worldwide), he called up a close friend at home…all for the price of a cup of coffee.

They talked a few minutes via the laptop’s built-in web cam and microphone, but then his friend did something that converted this coffee shop in Jakarta into a true querencia for Brian. Brian’s friend took his own computer’s web cam at his home back in the States and turned it around to face the television behind him. On the TV was the Yankee’s game.

Half a world away, Brian sat in a Starbuck’s, talking through the mike on his computer to his friend as they watched the game together. Sure, the clarity of the TV image through Skype may not have been great, but it didn’t matter.

Brian had found his querencia.

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Querencias, Creativity and Meaningful Travel

by Steve Brock January 18, 2011

Travel both feeds and undermines the creative process. Understanding how travel affects our creativity and the role that querencia (a place of safety) plays can help you travel in a more open and creative manner.

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A personal place of safety on a trip

by Steve Brock January 13, 2011

We travel to get out of our comfort zones and yet we find on many trips – particularly hard ones – the need for our own “querencias” or places of safety along the way.

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The danger of fear

by Steve Brock January 10, 2011

Too often what holds us back and prevents us from taking the kinds of trips that we know will prove most meaningful are not the big fears about personal safety, but the little fears about how we will be perceived or how we might feel. Moving beyond such fears opens us to a world of discovery we’ll never know otherwise.

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The most dangerous places on earth

by Steve Brock January 7, 2011

Traveling to war-torn areas or places of great suffering can be very dangerous but not necessarily for the reasons you think.

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