It may seem so obvious that it should not even warrant me mentioning it, however… if you want something- take the initiative to ask for it. I am writing this right now on an airplane- nothing exotic, just heading to California for a visit with the family. But I am sitting in an Exit Row for the second time today, sharing that unspoken neutral territory of the empty middle seat with my new acquaintance. The lady at the counter said I would be happy with who I was sitting next to- I didn’t quite understand what she had meant by that. Now I get it. I’m not sitting next to anyone on a flight that has a butt in every single seat but the one next to me.
I was sitting and doing a couple of leftover edits when they called my name over the intercom for a second time. I was smiling at first, because I knew I needed a seat assignment and it meant I might have options. The second time I was confused. I had asked (BIG smile baby) the gal at the counter earlier if there was anything available in the exit row. Apparently at the time there had not been, but she had actually taken the initiative to call remember me, and called me back up when something opened up. I was honestly a little bit shocked. To be fair, the only reason that I am sitting in such a comfortable seat right now is because the lady called me back up and made it happen. But, if you follow that line of thought one step further: it’s fair to say that I had planted the seed the first time that we had spoken.
Now, don’t get me wrong. This Exit Row seat isn’t changing my life. It isn’t a make or break, or even anywhere near it, on my comfortable two-hour jump fro PHX to SAC- but it is just one little piece. My travel experience has been super comfortable today because twice I requested to be moved to an exit row- and twice, very politely, I was obliged. I love it when shit works out. So it’s just one day. One lazy Saturday afternoon in my life. 15% of my week that is 25% of one month that is just 8.5% of my year. You do the math- I don’t want to. It’s not much. But if you are able to adopt this sort of innocent [and never demanding] approach into your life as you travel, I think that you may be shocked how many little doors can open for you.
Traveling in Asia with my little brother we routinely asked stupid questions. Most of the time we get the stupid answer that we were expecting. But sometimes, the family renting the bungalow DOES want you to stay all week- and they ARE happy to give you a discounted rate. The owner of the hostel may WANT you to paint a mural in their Commons area- and they might offer to let you stay for free while you do. And it’s not all about economy or comfort either. Remember, if you feel like you are doing something the hard way (particularly in a foreign country), you may very well be.
For many of us, asking questions that may be embarrassing or potentially make us look silly is the very reason that we don’t open our mouths in the first place. Often times when I blurt out a question, I can see the VISIBLE relief on the faces of some of the people around me that clearly had the same thing in mind but were too embarassed to say anything. I have watched others stand like a deer in headlights at the bus station trying to figure out which way is up, and sometimes all you need to do is ask a local. Now, I know this is a pretty dumb example- but you would be surprised by how many folks will overlook the obvious.
If you need a ride to the market you can always ask someone. People LOVE helping other people. Most of us help someone nearly every day; [for sure there are some soulless scumbags out there- but I don’t count them as people anyhow] but here’s the caveat that really brings this whole concept home for me: asking dumb questions can make you a better person. I know, I know, it sounds stupid, but it’s true. Familiar with the concept of Nirvana? Not the band. The Buddhist [and Hindu] principal. I’m not going to go too far down that rabbit hole, but part of that whole concept is losing your ego. If you can get over that bubble of self-consciousness and achieve a state where you are unafraid to expose the fact that you don’t know something, or that you need help, or whatever… you have made a small achievement. Overcoming this hurdle, however small, can really help you to shed light on yourself and even shrug off a little bit of that self-doubt you were perhaps carrying before. Even the most stalwart and champion travelers I have spoken with [and shared a drink or two with] were, at one point, rookies.
And this little system of helping and receiving help is so beautiful because not only does the receiver benefit [a ride to the next town over, a repaired bike tube, a tasty dinner, directions to the Church] but it ignites a sort of a feedback loop wherein someone who has experience being helped then WANTS to return that feeling the very moment he or she is able to. You may have experienced this before. I take the opportunities given to me to offer guidance [what little I can] to fellow travelers. Likewise, it’s on me to be open enough to assistance when I may need it. You never know what you might be missing by not striking up that conversation in the very first place.
Photo from ferry ride to Koh Chang, Thailand, Spring 2016.