Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What I Learned From a Little Girl at O'Hare

Often, while traveling, I come across a situation which is just plain boring. Long layovers in airports particularly stand out. Airports aren't generally designed for entertainment, but rather as transit points for the weary traveler. What to do in these boring situations can be a challenge if you aren't properly prepared.

Not long ago I saw a little girl in the Chicago O'Hare airport who had created a toy made out of items that she found at the airport Starbucks. She had nested two straws and inserted a wooden stir stick into either end. This resulted in a tubular toy that could extend from about 14 inches to just over 25 inches. It certainly isn't the most technologically advanced toy, but the little girl was quite pleased with herself and her creation.

The look of pure joy on the girls face got me thinking about my own travel habits, and how I spend time at airports. From this random encounter at an airport I took 5 lessons that I'd like to share with you.

Be resourceful
Sometimes you are unexpectedly delayed and have extra time on your hands. Use what's on hand to accomplish your task; whatever it may be. You might not have exactly what you might like to have with you but with a little thinking you can probably figure something out to amuse yourself.

Being constructive is a nice diversion
The physical act of making something can be very relaxing, and it makes a nice break from regular travel activities. I try to carry around a small sewing project with me to break up the tasks of paperwork and writing in my travel journal. For me this project is usually a sock monster, but it could just as easily be a handful of paperclips that I'm bending into something interesting.

Use your imagination
This is probably the best lesson of the group. One of the traps that adults can fall into is to define things clearly. We need to remember that there are intended uses for things and then there are all of the possibilities that things can be used for. It's also important to note that not everything has or needs a purpose; amusement can be for amusement's sake, don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Technology isn’t always the answer
What happens when your laptop, iPod, portable DVD player or digital camera runs out of batteries? We didn't always have these gadgets and as neat as they are they can lead us right into another trap. There are things that don't need power to amuse you: a deck of cards, a postcard or even a book (these are still widely available despite some attempts to replace them).

The simple things are best
Brilliant things are often uncomplicated and straight forward. Combine something simple, such as two straws and a couple of stir sticks, along with an active imagination and there's no telling what you have. It could be something as utilitarian as a measuring device or something as interesting as a light sword; you never know what you are going to get.

I never did ask that little girl what it was that she had made, but I think it's better that way; not knowing is good for me. For now I'll keep a copy of the toy in my desk drawer and each time I see it I'll remember to strive to be as clever as that little girl at O'Hare on my next layover.

What is your favorite way to kill time at an airport?

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  1. I love love love people watching, and then devising odd life stories for the people I see. And I have been known to take up three seats, lying on my luggage for a nap.

  2. People watching and making up stories about them is a good one; I do this often. One of my favorite people watching activities is trying to figure out who would win an a fight and what they would be fighting about.