What I learned from 10 days of observant traveling

Ten days ago I departed from Boston Logan airport. Today I’m returning. In between were speeches, workshops, vacation, and a little bit of insight into what I do and why I do it.

Green Mountain Suites, Burlington, Vermont

On this trip I spent time in Cleveland; New York; the glorious airport in Newark; Provo and Salt Lake City, Utah; and Burlington, Stowe, and Woodstock, Vermont.

I slept in a rustic lodge, a quaint old inn with a four-poster bed, a skyscraper, a generic Marriott, and a massive two-room suite in a pile of masonry that was once the Ohio Board of Education building.

I told Oracle developers not to use jargon, supplement manufacturers that health comes from habits and good food, and PR people that press releases are useless. (If you poke people in the eye with wit, logic, and proof, they actually like it.)

Great Lakes Oracle Conference

Five flights, a train trip, and long car rides were tolerable. Delays weren’t so charming. I sat for hours on the tarmac in Cleveland, scoffed at the trash and bad manners of travelers connecting in Newark, arrived in an unfamiliar state at 1:30 in the morning, got stuck for an hour in a cab waiting for an accident to clear in the midtown tunnel, and landed in the tiny Provo airport when the plane couldn’t wait out the thunderstorms in Salt Lake City.

I ate morels in Vermont, the world’s most dreadful sandwich in JFK airport (unavoidable), and a fantastic burger in Utah.

I got to spend 4 glorious days of this in the mountains in the company of no one but my wife, Kimberley, which was awesome. I spent 6 days in the company of travelers, audiences, and myself in hotel rooms, which was work.

I also got to see the carvings of a man obsessed with circuses;bike miles out into Lake Champlain on a narrow causeway; share stories with a guy my age, born in Cuba, and living out the American dream;dine with an old friend I hadn’t seen in 20 years; watch the world’s cutest 2-year old dragging a tiny Hello Kitty rollaboard through security with her dad; and connect with my brother who was randomly speaking in the same city I was.

And the mountains. Vermont was green and breathtaking with infinite views and waterfalls. Provo was unexpectedly dramatic with the sun setting behind snowy mountains.

Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont
Causeway, Lake Champlain, Vermont

I learned a few things.

I know there are plenty of road warriors and author/speakers who travel way more than me. When I was at Forrester I had lots of weeks like this. But this feels different. I’m in charge of my own schedule now. I can choose to knock myself silly by cramming trips together and sandwiching a vacation between — or not. When you’re your own boss, you know the cost and value of a trip like this, and if you decide it’s worth it, there’s no one to whine to. It was worth it.

I learned that if you’re watching what you eat, you can plan every meal on a trip like this — where you’ll eat it, when you’ll eat it, what kind of things you’ll eat — and avoid the stupid choices that stress on the road creates. I travel with carefully chosen snacks. My mantra regarding all the free or obligatory road food — the dreadful white-bread sandwiches, generic chocolate cake, and lame choices in airports and on planes — was this: “I didn’t come here to eat.” That allowed me to be sensible when it made sense, and to actually enjoy the peak food experiences that Kimberley and I deserved in Vermont.

I learned that if you’re trying to help and know what you’re talking about, people will always listen. I was nervous about these speeches and workshops, because Oracle developers, supplement manufacturers, and PR people aren’t my natural audiences. But everybody has to write, and everybody hates bullshit. So they listened, and dug into the workshop exercises in hopes of learning to be better.

When you’re under duress when traveling, you tighten up. So look around. The Cuban guy, the Hello Kitty tyke, and the mountains in Provo lifted my spirits and fed my soul. Even as my flight from Newark to Vermont departed very, very late, I got to see a dramatic show as lightning flashed within clouds half a mile outside the plane windows. It was scary. But it was also beautiful.

And I’m unexpectedly finding how much I like people. I’m an introvert inside the shell of a bombastic smartass. Individual interactions wear me out. But people and the ways they approach their challenges are fascinating. Somehow, what I do is no longer a job. It’s just a way to connect. Yes, I make money from the people who are interested in what I have to say, or need access to the talents I’ve developed in 35 years of work. But at the base of it, whether I’m giving a speech, answering a frustrated audience member, or writing a blog post, I’m just trying to connect with you around something that matters. And that seems worth doing.

7 responses to “What I learned from 10 days of observant traveling

  1. “I didn’t come hear to eat.”

    It’s always great to catch an expert make a mistake. Not because it makes me feel superior, but because it makes me feel normal. If an expert can slip up from time to time, it must be okay for me to screw up too. Keep up the great work, and keep making me feel a little normal occasionally.

  2. I was inspired by this post – thanks for writing it. I travel for work a lot and have lived the frustrations you mentioned way too many times. I too try to keep up my healthy habits (loved your mantra – I’ll use that!) and tend to be an observer. I’ve found that there are so many opportunities to do good while traveling. Reminding someone that they forgot their charger in an outlet, picking up a dropped boarding pass, helping someone in a wheelchair reach something…it lifts my spirits and hopefully spreads goodwill.

  3. I love this, Josh. Thank you for sharing. As a 30 year corporate road warrior now working as an independent consultant, this story made my day.

    p.s. “I didn’t come HERE to eat.” 🙂

    Don

  4. Thanks for sharing this. I do travel extensively too and I always crave those moments where life throws some unexpectedly beautiful moments. I enjoy your work.

  5. Good morning from Tokyo, Josh. ”Tis a beautiful world and its people frequently surprise to the upside. I appreciate your message, soul awareness and desire to bring better habits to others.

    Now can you coach a man with a soy allergy through an Asian holiday?

  6. hi josh, thoroughly enjoyed this article … lovely to get an real insight into a travel around the u s of a … so often in oz news reports (often murdoch sourced) about weirdo thing happening there … sprinkled through local news to catch viewers’ attention and/or wake them up.

    thought that might have been you collapsed in a yellow buttercup field till found final photos.

    john 🙂

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