Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Book Review: Step Away From the Baggage Claim

Jason Barger recently spent a solid week traveling across the United States, and he never left the airports except to fly. Along the way, Jason got very little sleep, but he learned quite a bit about himself, his fellow travelers and our society. He wrote a book about his experiences entitled Step Back From the Baggage Claim.

While Step Back From the Baggage Claim is not the voyeuristic insomniac's dream come true, it does contain a few observational gems that bring into focus the need for social change at the individual level.

Through situations familiar to frequent air travelers, the author points out some of society's problems, such as our competitive nature and lack of awareness and our lack of creative time. Each chapter includes a few observations, some details of the author's life (which can seem irrelevant at times) and a call to action. For me, each chapter tended to drag on a bit, and I found myself tempted to skip ahead to the next chapter.

During the introduction, Mr. Barger claims that he wanted his book to connect with every traveler, regardless of what type of traveler one is or one's background. I find this last criteria a bit hard to swallow as the author regularly mentions Christian-related ideals and activities. I understand that the author was the director of a church camp, but I fail to see how this is bears being mentioned anywhere aside from the back cover.

This book is clasified as "self-help", but I wonder how likely it will be used for that purpose by people that actually need this book. I basically agree with most of Jason's travel philosophies (see: The Code I Travel By) so it wasn't that much of a stretch for me to read his book. It seems to me that those who reject the basic principles of this book are the least likely to read it even though they may benefit from it the most.

Despite the flaws that I have mentioned, I found the concept of traveling for a week straight and then writing about it simply irresistible. I am convinced that five different people, given the same task, would write five very different books. I was disappointed that Me. Barger left many topics only partially explored, such as behavior in lines. He made some very good observations, but he missed out on some things for which a more seasoned traveler would have been on the lookout for. Security lines are a given, but what about lines for food, lines for the airplane lavatory or the line that forms when a flight is canceled. I might be a little biased on the subject of queues since they are a sore point for me (see: Queue Madness).

In the end, a book like this is about how it affects the reader. As I sit in my airplane seat writing this, I reflect upon my day of travel in light of this book. I've been more understanding and helpful than usual to my fellow travelers. I volunteered to switch seats so a couple could sit together, I shared my priority boarding status with a complete stranger (he turned out to be a nice guy), and I even had an urge to do a bit of rogue queue management, though I resisted that one.

It appears that reading this book has made me a slightly more compassionate traveler. We shall see how this bleeds over into my non-travel days (I hope it does). As it turns out Step Back From the Baggage Claim was not the book that I sat down wanting to read, but it was the book that I needed to read.

Have you also read this book? What did you think?

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  1. What are your thoughts and what did the book have to say about stepping back from the baggage claim?

    I've always found it annoying that people have to stand right next to the belt instead of staying back and only stepping up when their bag is approaching. I've also always wondered why don't airports draw some kind of line on the floor 5-10 feet from the conveyor and a sign to encourage this behavior?

  2. Just thinking about this baggage claim thing a little more and it just dawned on me how many social psychology observations there are to be made from airports and plane travel. Baggage claim behavior, queue behavior, and cheering during touch down by certain nationalities are just a few I can think of.

  3. Craig: Some airports have just such lines on the ground. When those are present, they work pretty good. The next time you visit the Eugene airport, take a look. It goes from carpet to tile about 5 feet back. Coincidence? I think not.