Traveling as a thinking process

Note: I originally wrote this in the Notes app on my iPhone while flying backing from Chicago in June. Presented here without (much) cleanup

Over the past few weekends I’ve had to travel quite a bit. This has meant long times in airports (long meaning 3-4 hours here). Not the way I’d prefer to spend my time, but I’ve always viewed the gaps between destinations as a necessary evil, a built in component to traveling large distances.

However, I’ve noticed a change in how I approach the necessary waiting. I was initially surprised that this downtime produced some extensive & reflective deep thinking about life and work. Sitting in the airport with nothing else to do, my mind was free to wander! The stagnant state of being in transit gave rise to uninhibited thinking. In reasoning about this a bit more, it makes sense why the airport is actually a really good place to ponder tough problems. It comes down to limited distractions, which can be broken into two sections.

1) Limited external access

Being in transit was a great opportunity to disconnect from my phone and the internet in general. In an airport my phone can never load anything anything, and I’m not a fan of using public wifi on my computer sans a VPN. I ended up shutting off most of the technology I use every day life, meaning that I no longer scrolled through Twitter or Instagram. This prevented me from defaulting to the usual time wasters, and instead encouraged me to do spend more of my time deliberately on endeavors I complain I don’t have enough time to do.

2) Lack of short-term priorities

I was also removing myself from the deluge of everyday work and able to think about things on a much longer timeline. Most of the work day is spent planning and implementing solutions for the short-to-medium term. It’s rare to purposefully spend time pondering the long-term future when there are numerous short-term problems that require immediate attention. It was refreshing to ponder issues while removed from the daily routines of life and work. This enabled creative problem solving and alternative perspectives than short-term fixes.

In an isolated environment like an airport, my mind was able to wander freely. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the freedom I had while confined to the airport terminal waiting for my flight.