Riding on Planes with Strangers

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For the past four years, I’ve been making a cross-country trip to California every summer, and each time I get the same advice/warnings from well meaning observers.

Be careful. California is a dangerous place.

Don’t go out alone.

Watch your bags in the airport.        

And then there’s always the incredulous, You’re going alone?!

Yes, I go alone. I get on an airplane and travel from the east coast to the west by myself without dying or being abducted or sold into sex slavery. It’s an incredible feat. I mean, I’m a woman, you know.

I’m rolling my eyes now, can you tell?

It’s not that the traveling isn’t dangerous whether I’m a man or a woman.  The first time I made this trip, I was a nervous wreck.  I would wrap the straps of my camera bag around my feet when waiting in the airport (even in my rinky-dink, small-town airport with one terminal) so that no one could steal my bag or worse, plant a bomb or other illegal item in it.  I couldn’t sleep on the plane for fear of someone slipping anthrax into my water bottle.  I’m a bit of a paranoid person sometimes.

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After my fourth trip though, I actually find myself looking forward to the journey.  I have to admit that most of my enjoyment from a 12 hour lone journey in cramped spaces and unbearably public places comes from my introversion.  It seems weird that being an introvert I would actually want to be in a place with limited personal spaces and surrounded by people.  But I have to say that airports and airplanes are some of the most introverted places in the world.  You may be surrounded by people on all sides, but everyone tends to create their own bubble of reality.  You don’t talk to the person sitting next to you.  You don’t compliment the girl in line on her shoes.  You keep your head down and your business to yourself.  It’s refreshing for an introvert like me.

There are always those people who want to make conversation though, and I revel in that too (usually on a return flight though when I actually have something to talk about).  It’s fun to meet new people and doing so on an airplane where it’s very unlikely you’ll ever see them again means the pressure to make a good first impression is off.  You can just be you and if they like you, HOORAY! If they think you’re a total creep, then you just have to endure 5 hours of sitting beside them and then you can escape to your cave of introversion once again.

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I’ve also found I somehow always get seated next to a nice old lady, a middle-aged Asian woman, or a staunch businessman.  I never get to sit by the cute and exotic looking fellows (and there’s always at least one on every flight).  I don’t know who makes the rules of flight seating, but I bet they’re doing it on purpose.  Between the movies and actual stories from friends, I know it’s possible to sit by a cute guy and have a flirtatious few hours of air time.  It’s just not in the cards for me.

Whoever I get to sit by, I still enjoy it.  I recede into my own little world of sleep or reading or journaling or music or daydreaming while watching the clouds zoom by.  Perhaps I make conversation with the nice elderly woman sitting next to me about all the bands and cord bracelets I wear on my wrists.  Or I only exchange pleasantries and “excuse me’s” with the staunch businessman while he reads his newspaper.  In the end, riding on planes with strangers is an introvert’s little paradise.

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