Choose Your Own Airplane Adventure

I travel several times a year with my family, but very rarely do I travel on an airplane alone. When I go with the family, I usually spend the majority of the time paranoid about making sure my kids are the best-behaved on the plane so we don’t get dirty looks.* I traveled by myself for work last week. As I was packing my bag, I tried to decide which book to throw in. This was a big decision. The book you pick is the equivalent of a Choose Your Own Airplane Adventure. The book starts the path. I thought about the choices and my response to the question I would inevitably get: “What are you reading? Anything good?”

Harry Potter – “I’m re-reading the series before my tenth anniversary trip to the UK with my husband this summer. We’re going to see the new Harry Potter play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.” This could turn into a conversation about Harry Potter, cult literature, travel, or theatre. Sounds fabulous. Plus, I really do want to re-read the whole series before June and Mr. T is already on book 6 and I’ve only finished re-reading 1!

The $100 Start-Up – “It’s a book about people from all over that started companies with very little start-up money. It was written by this guy that decided to travel to every single country in the world and successfully did it.” More travel possibilities and some entrepreneurial discussion as well. Or maybe a grumpy rant about work.

Your Money or Your Life – “This book is AMAZING. It talks about how you can become financially independent by making a simple chart tracking the potential income from your investments as well as your expenses. When the two lines cross, you’re financially independent! It’s that simple!” I love a good personal finance discussion, but more than half of them are with people that are unreasonable. Those aren’t fun. This one could go either way.

Any Political Book – “Oh, I picked this book up because I’m fascinated by him/her and I think they would be an amazing president.” First off, this would never happen in my life. I hate politics so much and would never own, read, or discuss any of those books. So, off the table…

Want to know what ACTUALLY happened?

  1. The Author – The first person I sat next to was a famous historical Alaskan author. I had never heard of him, but he’s a lovely man named Dan O’Neill. Apparently one of his books was under option with Leonardo DiCaprio for a movie for 15 years, but he let the options lapse and now a British company is look at it. He was absolutely the most interesting person I could have sat next to on the airplane. He told me about his latest book, Stubborn Gal, about a girl that decided she wanted to run a 60-mile dogsled race without having ever run dogs. She had two horrible practices and then ran the race. She got lost, but ended up winning the race. He told me it was the story of his wife and he wrote it for his grandchildren to see what kind of tough woman his wife was before she was as frail as she is today. She struggles with Type 1 Diabetes and walks with 2 canes and is very fragile. We had amazing discussions about travel, writing, entrepreneurship, Alaska, history, and healthcare. At the end of the flight, I wanted to invite him to my house to stay (though they no longer live in Alaska because of his wife’s health)! He was the greatest.
  2. The Single Mom – The second lady described herself as a “single mom success story.” She has since remarried, but as she told her now-husband when they were dating: “My priorities are: my children, my education, my job, and then you if I can find time.” He stuck around. Her last child is graduating this year and she’ll be an empty-nester for the first time. She said for the first time in her life, she gets to figure out what she wants to do now. She doesn’t have to work to pay for them any more. She can live that life she wants to live. But after being a mom first for so long, she doesn’t know where to start. She’s giving herself until the end of the year to figure it out. What a story! What a perspective!
  3. The Vets – The third flight, I sat next to two veterans. One was older, one was younger. They spent the entire flight comparing stories of their PTSD. “Next time you’re at Walmart, see if you can spot the Vet. They keep the wife and kids in front of them and walk behind them a bit looking around because the threat is always behind you.” It was perhaps the saddest conversation I’ve ever heard. If you or someone you know fought for your country, THANK YOU. And I’m so sorry for the struggles you face every day that the rest of us will never understand! The older Vet was flying back from proposing to his girlfriend in Hawaii. He said: “I’m headed home to quit my job and move to Hilo, Hawaii! It’s time to retire!”
  4. The Alaska Aces – On my flight home, I sat with the whole Alaska Aces hockey team. They talked hockey and I was glad I had been to one of their games.

Which book ended up triggering all these responses**? The $100 Start Up! These were all very interesting, intriguing people, but I wonder what the conversation would have been like if I had brought a different book.

What experiences do you have with books on an airplane? Met any interesting people?

*My kids are very well behaved and we rarely have an issue, but people still give dirty looks to any kids on planes. That annoys me. Also, I’ve seen the Pinterest idea of giving everyone on the plane treats because you brought a child on board. I hate it. Everyone should be giving ME treats for being the one that is brave enough to travel with three children. I shouldn’t have to apologize for having kids or taking them places. That’s ridiculous. Rant over.

**Except the Aces – they talked hockey regardless of what I was reading


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  1. I don’t recall any book I’ve taken striking up so many interesting conversations!

    I love “Your Money Or Your Life” – I am always recommending this to people. Especially lately because everyone is trying to figure out how I am retiring on Friday before I’m 50. I haven’t heard of the “$100 Start-Up” – but I think there is something in that title that speaks to all of us.

    Regarding your trip to London & Harry Potter – are you going to the London Studios Tour? It is amazing. The real sets / props from all 8 movies in the sound stages that they shot them in. We went last year. Please make time for it if you can. You’ll love it.

    • MaggieBanks

      We are ABSOLUTELY going on the studio tour and seeing the new play! I already have my tickets booked for both! I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Did you take the train out there and back? How long did the whole tour take?

      • We caught a bus from Victoria station in London. We bought the ticket from our hotel concierge, and took a cab over to Victoria. It was super easy. I am not sure if there is a difference in cost versus going on the train.

  2. When I was senior in high school, I went to visit a school in New York on my own. I fully recommend younger people, people in their late teens and early twenties, to travel at least a couple times on their own to gain some independence. It was an incredibly rewarding trip. Even though I was miserable that I didn’t like the school, I really appreciated the experience and figuring things out mostly on my own was so cool. On my flight back home, I talked to a few people who were traveling all over to ski different slopes. They were so fun and just great to hang out with on the last leg of my journey. I love having opportunities to meet so many different people. I’m hoping to make travel more of a priority in the future so that I can continue to get more exposure to new experiences!

    I’m digging the harry potter thought. I would love to reread the books, but haven’t quite committed to it, lol. Maybe if I can find them at ARC. My sister has all the copies and she lives in Nebraska.

    • MaggieBanks

      I did a study abroad at 19 by myself and loved it. Now I don’t travel alone because I usually have my husband and kiddos with me – and frankly, I like that better! And I’m on book 4 of Harry Potter on the reread!

  3. So many things! First, I don’t understand the dirty looks to kids on airplanes either! I fly with plenty of kids around, and most are completely well behaved. What’s actually worst is kids with grandparents! 🙂 My experience is that most parents are terrified of other passengers giving them a hard time for having kids on board that they make *too much* of an effort to shush the kids, whereas grandparents traveling with their grandkids just want the whole world to see how cute and clever they are. 🙂 Okay, maybe that’s an overgeneralization!

    You’re making me think, with your note about books starting discussion, that that’s a downside to me traveling with my Kindle. The upside is that I can bring MANY books with me, and I don’t have to pick one (or that I can read something controversial without having to hide the cover!). But interesting that the $100 Startup spurred all that conversation! That’s one of those books I’ve started reading a half dozen times, but just haven’t gotten into it. Maybe I need to try again.

    All those folks you sat next to sound amazing, though I could probably live without sitting by a whole hockey team. 🙂 (I like sitting next to petite, narrow-shouldered people when possible! Bunch of big guys? No thanks!) What a great set of conversations you had — so touching.

    • MaggieBanks

      That’s funny you say that because on one of my flights, there was a little baby with parents and a grandma. Everytime the baby made a single sound, the grandma would say: “No! Grandma says no crying at all. Not allowed.” Half of them weren’t even cries! – And the Aces weren’t so bad – the two I sat between weren’t big guys. 🙂

      • That’s one of the good grandmas! Maybe my experience with g’parents is overly influenced by a few horrid flights in and out of Orlando. 🙂

  4. Tawcan

    That’s really cool that you strike up so many great conversations. Depends the length of my work trips, I may or may not take books with me. I typically don’t end up talking to my fellow passengers as I like to have my peace and quiet time on flights. Call me anti-social I suppose.

    • MaggieBanks

      I like to “read the row” so to speak – if people are up for talking, so am I. If not, no biggie, I read my book. One whole leg of my flight, I sat in between two gentlemen I never once chatted with!

  5. Britt

    I loooooove Chris Guillebeau! In a roundabout way, he’s who introduced me to the PF blog world a couple years ago. I went to a book signing for the $100 Startup, and he was just as friendly in person as you’d hope he be 🙂

    I am also a HUGE Harry Potter fan. Don’t forget to stop at Kings Cross Station for a photo with the cart (halfway into the wall) near Platform 9!

    • MaggieBanks

      I’m glad to hear he’s nice! It always ruins it when they aren’t! I have one of those very pictures from my time in London, but you can bet we get one with both of us this time!

  6. I’m with Tawcan and rarely talk with anyone on flights. I suppose I should tone down my anti-social tendencies and be a bit more friendly. I could be missing out on great conversations!

    About the vets, whenever we go somewhere, I’m constantly on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary and can generally spot a fellow vet almost instantly.

    • MaggieBanks

      Oh man. I felt so bad for those guys! They were comparing PTSD symptoms for almost an hour. I wanted to cry!

  7. Very interesting story and question. I once had someone ask me why I was reading on the plane since I wasn’t a student, then tell me about how much he hates reading, and how he plans to spoil his kid & give him everything he wants so he can have a “better life.” I’m not sure if there is a correlation between the info disclosed but it was an odd conversation. I don’t remember what I was reading but it probably could’ve been anything, guessing from his response.

  8. I usually used my Kindle on airplanes, so it was hard to strike up a conversation.

    I did bring a copy of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking” once, though, and surprisingly had a great conversation about it with my neighbor.

    • MaggieBanks

      I’m so old school with my library books. 🙂 And I would love to hear more about the conversations you had with/about introverts!

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