The Importance of Being Silly

At one point, at New York’s JFK airport when uncertainties about making home from Italy on Monday were highest, I suggested we turn this into “Airport: The Musical.”  The crowds of travelers around the airport would start dancing, we’d sing “Well Delta come Through Again?,” and imagined who would play each of us in the musical.  As we were talking about this a heavy set airport lady came out to call people to another flight, “Chicago, Chicago,” she called out.   “Hmpf.  Wrong musical, she thinks she’s Queen Latifah.”

In other words, the more the stress grew, the sillier our humor became and the more we laughed.  That’s the key to traveling, I’ve learned, especially in a group.  Go with what happens and have fun despite the stress.   And usually things manage to work out, like they did for us last night.   I think for some of us the standing in the entry way packed train from Venice to Milan Sunday was the most fun train ride of the trip — we didn’t have seats, but were laughing and having fun the whole way.    Just being silly.

Leaving Italy was a breeze.  Hotel Serena had pastries and juice for us since we had to miss the breakfast, and the Airport bus express from the Milan’s central station to Malpensa airport was excellent.   Then our flight to New York was half full, meaning people could spread out and not be cramped for the nearly nine hour flight.  At JFK we learned our flight to Portland was delayed until after 6:00.  Great.  I e-mailed the van drivers to give them notice, and at about 4:30 got an e-mail that said thanks to a storm that had dumped 28 inches of snow on Farmington, the vans had not been plowed out and we couldn’t get a ride back until morning.

We tried to see if they couldn’t at least get two vans out, and were making calls and e-mails (nice to have my “Eee” along, though after ten days on that my normal computer feels luxurious).   That was still up in the air when we boarded, and the flight didn’t have room for us all.  I was on board with seven students while Sarah and nine others were waiting for tickets.  Then a Delta rep named Rachel came in and said “there is an educational group of ten that need seats, and we only have seven.”  Delta then offered a very nice deal with three people would give up their seats…and three people did!   We all got on, and arrived just as the vans pulled up — they made it too!   In fact, if our flight hadn’t been delayed we’d have needed to wait all those hours for the vans anyway.  The flight attendant, Mike, did a bit of a comedy routine as he gave the usual talk about seatbelts, facemasks, and the like, and our group laughed and applauded — we were traveling and having fun.

Of course, the fun wasn’t done yet.   We got back to the parking lot and found that our cars were covered by three feet of snow (two storms had hit while we were gone) and surrounded by piles of snow.  We hadn’t slept for nearly 24 hours, had on jackets not appropriate for 15 degree weather, and as one student said bluntly, “this ain’t happening tonight.”   We put aside our thoughts of digging ourselves out and the van drivers, who had sacrificed their evenings, graciously took the students to the dorms, and faculty to our respective houses.

Today I did shovel out the car, amazed by the mountains of snow that fell while we were gone.  Ski season should at least last a little longer!

This was a memorable travel group for a number of reasons.   We did a lot together, we had a nice mix of personality types (and a few personality clashes), and people were really curious, engaged, and involved in all the activities.    People were almost always in bed pretty early and up ready to go, a very well behaved group too!  Most importantly, though, we laughed a lot, especially in times where we were tired or things weren’t going right.  That’s when humor is needed, and it’s amazing how much a little laughter can accomplish.

That is something we try to foster in these courses.   The key to travel is to take things in stride, keep a positive attitude, and find ways to laugh even when stress is high or things are going wrong.   Obviously there are some real tragedies where that’s impossible, but 98% of the time travel problems are minor and not worth the stress that people get when they worry and complain.   Yeah, you might miss an important meeting or pay an extra night at an hotel, but what’s better — to miss an important meeting and be miserable, or to miss an important meeting and be cheerful?   If the meeting is going to be missed anyway, then why compound the problem by dwelling on the negative side, find something to laugh about and things get better!

I always say that a person who travels well lives well.  It’s all there in a microcosm — can you take changes in plans, unexpected problems, disappointments, and mistakes made by others that cause you extra stress and yet take them in stride and still be positive?   If you can learn to do that traveling, it’s easier to apply in life, and we work hard in the course to add that little life lesson to the more academic aspects of the class.

And the piece that makes it easy is laughter.  Humor trumps grumpiness, laughter overcomes anger.  It helps one regain perspective, and realize that as serious as something seems now, it’s really just part of the drama and problems of a trip, or of life.   And last night, as we joked about “Airport: the Musical” a student gave me the highest compliment I can get.   “Gee, I always thought you were serious, but you’re really really silly.”

Yup.  That’s the key to staying sane.

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  1. #1 by henitsirk on February 24, 2009 - 21:40

    You must have pleased the travel gods…that’s some luck coming and going! The winter snow gods, however….
    Those are some lucky students to have great guides and teachers like you.

  2. #2 by Lee on February 24, 2009 - 22:33

    My mom got a lot of snow in her part of Maine (Gorham) as well. Welcome home and thanks for such wonderful insightful and entertaining travel posts. I was a lucky armchair traveler. And your students were lucky too, to have the amazing experience and also to have a chance to get to know professers as people not just instructors. I remember that happening with a history teacher when I was in middle school. Our school did an odd thing the last two weeks of classes (this was way before any one worried over much about teaching to state tests obviously) and you picked courses called “cultural enrichment.” The fact that we lived in the foothills of the Berkshires in a culturally and economically deprived area likely led to that. Anyway, I took a backpacking and camping course one week and it was led by the fellow who was my history teacher duriing the year. I loved history but I think I appreciated him far more as a person after a week of backpacking with him. I remember that he was a former military man and had amazing backwoods knowledge that he shared along with stories of the countries he visited while in the military.

  3. #3 by helenl on February 27, 2009 - 17:28

    Scott, These travel posts have been so wonderful, so full of detail. Thanks. And you are so right about the importance of silliness; it can keep us from doing great harm either by word or deed.

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