Lonely Planet

7 days ago, I was on a flight headed for Ho Chi Minh City. “Headed for” are the key words here. What I was really doing at the time, and what I was unaware that I was doing, was that I was headed on a flight to Beijing where I would miss my connection to Ho Chi Minh city and have to spend the night all by myself with a stranger in a less than delightful hotel room in a less than delightful city.

The time between leaving San Francisco and arriving in Ho Chi Minh city was spent completely alone, since Tracy was on a different flight. I found myself idling away hours in the airport, walking through dozens of duty-free shops, bookstores and travel stores. I purchased a simple alarm clock, a small container of hand sanitizer, and a few pens so that I could write whenever I felt the urge to share something with someone. I thought about the title of the popular travel guide series “Lonely Planet,” and decided that it was aptly named. As I made my way slowly to my gate and noticed the travelers streaming past me, I felt an incredible sense of loneliness, but simultaneously, a strong sense of lightness and freedom. Having left my devices at home, with nothing to entertain me other than reading the manual for my cheap travel clock or scribbling down my thoughts in the notepad I’d purchased, it dawned on me that there was no way for anyone to reach me, and that I was in an airport alone, flying to a foreign country alone. I watched as families and couples walked past me, many of them excited about the trips they were about to take, scurrying around in a frenzy to reach their gates on time.

Most of the time, I am well aware that it can be lonely on this planet we live on. For anyone who has ever felt alone in a crowded room, I am sure that it is easy to relate. Traveling alone brings this awareness to a whole new level. Stripped of the distractions and the people we depend upon to quell this feeling of loneliness, we become completely aware of the artifice of the constructions we have made around our lives, and how easy it would be to destroy those constructions and build new ones. The lightness is all at once freeing and unbearable.

Richard Bach once said, “Every person, all the events of your life, are there because you have drawn them there. What you choose to do with them is up to you.” As I wandered by the shops and restaurants, I became increasingly aware of the truth in this statement.

A few foreigners standing in front of me in line at a Starbucks attempted to order a coffee in broken English. I walked to my gate, sat down, pulled out a book and began to read.

25 Semi Productive Things to Do on a Five Hour Layover

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25 Semi-productive and pleasurable Things to do during a five hour layover (without a computer, wireless access, a phone, sleeping in compromising positions, or reading trashy magazines.)

1. Write a seething review for the airline that caused you to miss your connection, and thus have to deal with said five hour layover. Plan on posting it when you get home, and then performing a few search engine optimization tricks to make your review come up first when people search for the airline. Vengeance can be so sweet.
2. Finish a book that you’ve always wanted to say you’ve read, but never had the patience to get through.
3. Try a new food.
4. Write handwritten letters to people you love.
5. Buy things, and then play with them.
6. Plan your trip. Read through your guidebook and pick a few places you absolutely want to see.
7. Write. Write anything.
8. Buy locks for your bag to make them more theft proof.
9. Roll out a yoga mat if you have one, and if you have no shame, perform some airport yoga in front of your gate.
10. Reorganize the contents of your entire bag, making it much easier to find your things.
11. Listen to the news or a podcast and learn something new.
12. Jog around the airport and get some cardio.
13. Get yourself a drink.
14. Go to the bathroom and apply makeup so you look great for arrival.
15. If you have your clothing, change into a different outfit so you feel refreshed.
16. Charge your accessories.
17. Pluck your eyebrows.
18. If possible/desired, get your nails done or get a haircut.
19. Get a massage.
20. Purchase some anti jet lag products, or some Pepto/pain relievers if you haven’t already.
21. Purchase a travel pillow.
22. Strike up a conversation with another (willing) traveler. Do this either by your gate, or at an airport bar. Be careful not to approach travelers who seem tired, busy, unfriendly, or otherwise agitated.
23. Talk to your airline and see if it’s possible for you to get on an earlier flight free of charge. Sometimes airlines have no-shows for certain flights, and you could be lucky enough to take one of their spots.
24. Buy a travel notebook and pen so you can write down your thoughts.
25. Walk around the airport and stay active. With so many hours spent sitting on a plane, why exacerbate the condition by sitting and waiting some more?