Business travelers! I insulted someone this week and learned a lesson; one I believe you’ll want to know about.
I travel a great deal. I’m in hotels 200+ nights and fly over 150,000 miles a year. Want to know something else? I think I do my share of tipping. I have believed for a long time that we in the travel industry and those who are road warriors, need to set an example for everyone else when it comes to many things “travel,” tipping included.
Let’s start with the taxi drivers. I tip 20% for rides where the taxi was clean, the driver courteous and the ride smooth. Dirty taxi? You lose 5%. Drive like Mario Andretti and make me nauseous? I’ll ask you to slow down. If you don’t, you lose another 5% or more. Does your car reek of body odor or too much air freshener or cologne? You lose a couple of points there as well. If the ride is under ten bucks, I tip 25% and start with the same deductions. If you do something extraordinary, like say “Please” and “thank you” I offer more of a tip. Help me with my bags? That’s a couple extra points as well. By the way, the lack of service in most taxis is why I use Uber as often as possible (though I’m disappointed to hear of recent price gouging accusations).
Next is hotel maid service. I tip $3 a day when I stay in a hotel, leaving the money on the desk in the room before checking out. I think this service is overlooked by many. Sure, it “comes with the room” but why do these folks get shorted by most people? They work hard to clean our rooms and make our beds; they should be rewarded for good service.
Here is where I learned a big lesson last week; tipping hotel porters and doormen. Yes, I tip these folks as well. I have one hotel at which I spend a great deal of time; more than 120 nights a year. The other day I arrived at the hotel, and the hotel porter, an older gentleman in his 60s, offered to take my bags. I said “That’s okay, but thanks for asking.” I then offered him a few dollars because I watched so many people turn his service down. His response: “Sir, thanks for the offer, but please let me earn it.” There it was; by offering a tip, a truly honest gesture of goodwill, I insulted the man. This was a man simply trying to earn a living, yet I offered charity. I felt horrible. I immediately placed my bags down, and said “I’d love for you to help me with my bags – thank you.” Inside the lobby near the check-in area, he asked if I’d like help getting my bags to my room. I, of course, said yes. All I have when I travel is a small roller bag and a briefcase (both with wheels) and I really did not need any help. I navigate obstacles, shuttle busses, moving walkways and airplane aisles with ease (though remind me to tell you about an unfortunate accident where I skewered my own privates in a horrific escalator dismount). Yet, by asking for help with my bags, I offered an opportunity for a older gentleman to earn a tip and prove, to all who watched in the lobby, that doormen and porters are still a useful hotel service. What did I tip? $8, about $1 for every minute he was with me. I wanted to give him more but I worried I’d insult him again with an over-tip.
The lesson? While wheeled luggage makes it so easy for us to get around, we in travel and those who travel need to tip more. Let’s take care of the people who help us and those who work to preserve hospitality services we all remember so fondly. Somewhere, someplace, we made a maid smile and made a hotel porter feel like a man.
What advice do you have for tipping while traveling?
Remembering friends and neighbors lost. Remembering not knowing where my wife was for hours and feeling so relieved when I heard her voice. Remembering wondering if my cousin and other friends made it out. Remembering finally realizing who didn’t. Remembering finding out about those who charged in to help others out, but who never made it out themselves. Remembering my next door neighbor who sat on the front stoop for days waiting for her husband who never did come home. Remembering those jumping from the towers to avoid the flames. I remember the smell of NY. I remember 9/11/01 and I will not forget it. Ever.
I’m writing this particular post, and it is a long one, to address all my friends and family who give me that look when I say I’m on a Southwest flight…. “Southwest? You?” Yes, me. Apparently I am a travel snob, so read on. (And remember, this is my personal view from personal experience and has nothing to do with the companies for whom I work or have worked.)
If you know me, you know most of my flying lately is, unfortunately, domestic. You also know I *love* Southwest. I’m on two or three Southwest flights a week. Truth is; I’ve been flying all my life, but I hadn’t flown them until four years ago. All I knew about Southwest was they were the “wacky” airline. Their flight attendants sang, you didn’t have assigned seating and apparently, they were a cult who would secretly brainwash you into never wanting to fly another airline again. Boy, was I right.
As most of you know, I am from NJ. Yes, I’m from Jersey. Got a problem with that? I didn’t think so. Four years ago, I moved to (ready???) Indiana. Yep, I’m a Hoosier-in-training though I complain about the horrific pizza and the lack of real bagels in the state. While I’m in northwest Indiana, under 20 miles away from Chicago, it might as well be another planet because I actually believe it *is* another planet, but that’s another post.
Since I moved, I have worked, for the most part, either in NY or in DC, meaning I commute to work via plane. For the first couple of months, I flew out of O’Hare to LaGuardia. O’Hare is big, but at 4:30AM, you manage just fine.
I’d normally fly another airline from O’Hare to LaGuardia. Let’s just say my experiences were less than “okay.” Sure I was “preferred” and got access to special security lines and to clubs. While these special “privileges” made me feel important, the travel part was such a hassle, especially since so many others were part of this so-called “preferred” echelon. It was hardly exclusive.
One day, I saw an announcement about Southwest starting flights to LaGuardia. Price? Next to nothing. So, I thought I’d give it a try. Southwest departs from Midway though and I’d never flown them and had only once flown into Midway before. My first Southwest flight out of Midway changed my travel life forever.
Midway is the near perfect secondary airport; small (but not tiny), convenient and clean. It has a sufficient amount of shops and eateries and you can practically park your car at the gate. At 4:30 AM (to make a 6:00AM flight) it’s nearly empty. It does get filled as the day progresses, but what airport doesn’t?
I have to admit, my first SWA flight was a bit confusing; it felt like the deli line at the supermarket, complete with numbered tickets (a.k.a. boarding pass). The boarding passes are numbered; A1-A60, then B1-B60, then C1-C60. You line up and board by number (A’s first, then B’s, then C’s) then you get on and sit where you like. If you look confused while in the boarding area, these Southwest cult members (a.k.a. passengers) will gladly explain the system and even do so politely. Really, everyone is nice and happy to point a new guy in the right direction.
The flight? Fun. Really, fun. The first flight attendant announcement I heard included “We’ve got three of the best flight attendants in the sky. Unfortunately, none of those people were available, so you’re stuck with this crew.” The oxygen announcement continued “if you’re traveling with children… or with your husband who acts like a child…..” Half way to NYC, the flight attendant had the entire plane sing “happy birthday” for a child passenger.
They say companies should treat their employees the way they want their employees to treat their customers. I can only assume SWA employees are happy, because they “get” customer service. If singing flight attendants, open seating and helpful seatmates don’t do anything for you, here are my top ten reasons I love Southwest Airlines.
- Employees give great service. From the flight attendants to the gate agents to the stateside call center employees, these folks “get it” and prove it at every opportunity. They even provide great service when things are not their fault. On a trip from LGA to MDW two years ago, all flights were stopped in or out for hours due to a bad storm. They made announcements regularly and after a couple of hours, even brought out food and drinks. The other airline passengers at gates next to ours were screaming, saying “they get announcements, drinks AND food and you can’t answer a question for us? Why didn’t I fly Southwest?”
- Secondary airports rock. I’ll take Fort Lauderdale over Miami or Midway over O’Hare any day. Traveling is hard enough and not having to cover long distances within an airport is nice.
- Earning free flights is easy. Rapid Rewards has to be the easiest airline program out there. A little known secret; after “A-List” and “A-List Preferred” class, there’s something called “Companion Status” where if you fly enough with them (100 o/w flights), your spouse / companion can fly with you, on the same flight, for FREE…for a year! I defy you to find a better rewards program.
- Reasonable rates. Book at least 14 days out for deals. Anything less, I find the rates to be comparable to other airlines (yes and sometimes a bit more). I actually book months out and get very reasonable rates. Frankly, it’s because of Southwest that I and quite a few others can afford to commute to work.
- Specials and other internet fares are awesome, with some fares during sale times for as low as $59 each way.
- A great website. Southwest.com is easy to use, always up to date and includes many utilities. Want to book with points / miles? One click changes dollars to points. Want a list of all your current, future and past flights, two clicks. Check in online? One click. And changes are easy too; changing from one flight to another is a breeze. Their app is awesome too.
- Two bags fly free, at least for now. Sure, fees here and there are increasing, but compared to what’s out there, I still find Southwest to be very reasonable with advance purchase.
- Southwest planes are the prettiest in the sky. Not just the normal corporate colors, but thematically painted planes, like the Shamoo plane which looks like a huge killer whale for Orlando flights or flags covered in the Texas flag. This makes flying fun for kids.
- Great for families. Speaking of kids, families get to board a bit earlier (but not before the most loyal passengers.) My wife and I each sit with one child and sit one row in front of the other. It’s perfect family seating.
- Roomy seats. I haven’t fretted about getting the other airline seats with extra leg-room because on Southwest, they all have plenty of leg-room.
- Yea, I have more than ten…. Again, you gotta problem with that? … Preferred Status also gets me priority lanes at security called “Fly by.” Sure, you get this with the other guys, but on Southwest, if you’ve not yet reached Preferred Status, you can buy “Fly By” for $10 per person, per flight.
- Free wifi for “A-List” passengers. Need I say more. Free and quick connections…
Now, I know there are those of you who look down on Southwest. That’s okay, it’s not your fault. I was one of you so I understand. You have been told for so long that special boarding lanes with colored carpets (on top of other airport carpet) means something. You have been trained to watch, like Pavlov’s dog, at TV screens in hopes your name appears on the upgrade list. For me, whenever it appeared, I was always far down the list and rarely got an upgrade (because I was competing for the upgrade with international flyers who had three times the miles I did.) You do get airline clubs and that’s nice (but that is because you *need* it to make up for the rest of the flight experience.) By the way, if you fly internationally, well then this post isn’t for you, but you already knew that.
So, now that I fly mostly domestic routes and after years of being trained to appreciate/need/want other airlines “benefits” I have made a change; I joined the elite group of travelers loyal to Southwest because this airline knows their business and treats me, well, like a customer. Imagine that.
Since I commute to another state for work, by plane, I regularly find myself in close quarters with other people. Proximity is an amazing thing, especially as you travel. Since I have traveled most of my life, I have always known that to be a good traveler, you must also be a considerate traveler. After all, if *everyone* would do this, the travel experience would be so much more pleasant. Below, I have assembled my list of the top 15 things you can do to be more considerate while you travel. You’ll see a theme and this comes from something my Mom always tells me; “Be nice to people and they’ll be nice to you.”
- Perfume / cologne – Here’s the rule of thumb; Women, I should have to get close enough to kiss your neck to be able to smell your potion. If I can smell you just by sitting next to or across from you, you have too much on, in my opinion. If I can smell you in the elevator, after you have gotten out of the elevator, that’s just rude. Men, aftershave serves a purpose; it heals the skin after we tear it to shreds with a razor. A little aftershave is okay. No neck kissing here; I simply don’t want to smell you at all. As for cologne, I know, your mom keeps buying you some for Christmas, but this does not mean you have to wear gallons of it. When in doubt, just use a little.
- Electronics on planes – Turn off your electronic devices when the flight attendants ask. Seriously, this hide and seek game is silly. How old are you? Shut it off. These rules apply to everyone, not everyone but you. When the FAA finally says its okay to leave them on, then we’ll all do it.
- Flight attendants – Stop yelling at or speaking rudely to the flight attendants, especially for things out of their control. News flash; they don’t control the weather. They don’t make the rules either. They are there for your safety. However, If you feel they are being rude, you could and should say something, but not if they’re reacting to *your* rudeness. Also, they’re not your personal servants. Call them, if you must, by pressing the call button, not outburst of “Hello. Excuse me!”
- Be nice – Say “please” and “thank you.” I’m amazed as I travel how many people don’t do this. When a flight attendant hands you your beverage, say “thank you.” When the doorman holds open your door, say “thank you.” If you need some ketchup, ask the waiter nicely and say “please.” Is this so hard?
- Can you hear me now? – When listening to music on the plane, even if you are wearing ear buds in, make sure the person next to you can’t hear your music (read, because you are playing your music too loudly.) If you’re into loud music (I am) use noise cancelling headphones on a plane. As I type, The Who’s “Eminence Front” is blaring, but my seat mates can’t hear it.
- Arm rest wrestling – Don’t be a space hog; armrests are for sharing. Take turns or something, but the wrestling for the armrest is rude. The same goes for reclining your seat; give a quick look behind you and see if someone (yes, me) is working on a laptop before you nearly crush it with a recline forceful enough to split atoms.
- Excuse me, can you let me out? – If you, like me, have the bladder of a tree frog (read small), but love the window seat, well, pick one; bladder or view. View or bladder. I don’t care either way, but I don’t want to have to get up three times in a flight because you like to look at clouds in between visits to the potty.
- Clean up – And speaking of the potty; clean up after yourself in restrooms, especially on a plane. Rinse and wipe down the sink and pick up any of your random (insert anything here) that you have left behind.
- Kids on a plane – Parents, I’ve written a dozen posts on how to be good travelers when you are with your kids. I have kids and they’re always on planes with me. Here’s the rule of thumb; OVER-PARENT on planes. For infants, make sure you feed them a bottle during takeoff, so their ears don’t hurt (sucking on the bottle will help) and they start screaming. For toddlers, bring entertainment; think 15 minute attention spans; one coloring book is not going to cut it. Taking your children’s shoes off will keep them from kicking the seats in front of them. I have lots of tips. Here’s a link to my most popular post on the subject “Tips for traveling with kids.”
- Drunks on a plane – Speaking of “sucking on a bottle” – don’t get hammered on a plane. That’s just rude. Sure a beverage or two will take the edge off, but getting blotto? Yea, ah…no.
- Here’s a tip – To tip or not to tip? I’m an over-tipper, but the rule of thumb is don’t be a cheap skate. You should leave hotel maids a few bucks a day if they kept your room nice and clean. Taxi drivers (who drive well enough for you not to get nauseous, and keep a clean, smell-free taxi) should get 15-20%. Come on, you know the drill; just because you’re traveling does not mean you shouldn’t tip. If someone works hard to give you good service, reward them. On the other side of that coin is “if they don’t, then don’t.” I’m all for sending a message.
- When in Rome – Do you travel internationally? If so, get with the (local) program. Respect the local culture and customs. Learn a few words of the language (“please” and “thank you” are always good ones) for heaven’s sake. I recall a trip to the Greek Island of Crete where an American counterpart was upset the restaurant didn’t have Tabasco. News flash, Greeks don’t use it. If it’s so critical to your skewered meat, bring some with you or better, go to Morocco… just sayin’.
- Share – Share with your seatmates. Are you just about to enjoy a stick of gum? A triangle of Toblerone? An Oreo? If we’re going to be sitting next to one another for a while, what better way to start our relationship off on the right foot?
- Feet – And speaking of feet… Dear Lord, keep your shoes on! If we’re about to embark on a long international flight, I understand you’ll want to take your shoes off. I take mine off. However, give your tootsies a pre-flight powder or something. I’m not paying thousands of dollars to smell your feet. Same goes for open sandals. If you’re a woman with pretty, manicured odorless feet, okay. But if you have weathered, stinky, Fred Flintstone feet, keep them covered.
- Don’t do it – Finally, keep your fingers out of your nose or I’m going to call you out. Period.
Have any others I should add to this list?
Happy New Year!
No, I don’t think of food when I hear a bell (at least not always), but I can tell you, when that email notification (DING!) sounds and the message notification appears, I check to see what email message has arrived. By this, I mean I glance at the lower right portion of my screen to see who has emailed me. Unfortunately, this happens 150 to 200 times a day. DING! Oooh look…shiny object!
What on *earth* is so important that I lose my train of thought? Many of us have been conditioned to read email (at least the title and sender) when we see/hear that email has arrived. Why? Likely it’s because so many people expect an immediate answer, as if I have nothing else to do but stop what I’m doing and respond to you (er, except you boss). Worse, they’ll call asking if I got their email. For the record, I’m okay with the phone call if you have an urgent question. By all means, for complicated questions and answers, I’d much rather spend a few minutes on the phone versus responding via email. However, in a previous professional life, everyone kept and filed every single email as the ultimate CYA (“cover your a**) insurance. That was horrific. Even after a phone call, they’d send you an email reiterating what you just covered on the phone.
A few years back I trained myself to simply glance at the sender without going to my Outlook main page. I thought this was a good start at freeing myself from Outlook Prison. I was doing okay until my email messages started coming in ten at a time.
These days, if I get an email from my boss or an important client, I respond right away. Otherwise, I keep working. Honestly however, even the glances at the email alerts distract me. So today, I tried something new; I turned off the email notification entirely. No DING!. No message indicator. Nothing. I also did something else; I put two, one-hour blocks of time on my calendar, every day, to answer email, first at 10:30AM, followed by another block at 2:30PM. Then, I checked one last time at the end of the day and answered some emails, though not all. Some emails will simply have to wait until tomorrow.
I have to admit, I think I was more efficient today. I have more work to do, like sending a dozen or so auto emailed reports I receive daily to a reports folder for reading later.
By the way, since I share my calendar with a few people, my time blocks list “I’m working – emergency interruptions only” as the activity. That should keep people away for a while. I also shut my office door. When this stops being an effective deterrent to interruptions, I’ll change it up. I’ve been known to put meetings on my calendar with luminaries, alive and dead. You have to admit, when you look at someone’s calendar and it says “Telcon with Elvis” or “Lunch with Margaret Thatcher” people hesitate to interrupt.
My blocked time was very effective until I got a few text messages (rats!). None of them were urgent by the way. Texting, as you know, is the new email. This is just what we need; more distractions.
I will keep you updated as things progress. Until then, do you have any email management techniques or other helpful hints to avoid distractions during the day?
The Coolest Last Minute Gifts You Can Get For Your Traveling Spouse
Are you on the road all the time? Is your spouse? Are either of you Preferred / Platinum / Priority on one airline or more? Heaven knows I am. I thought about all the top ten lists for gifts, but I don’t believe I have seen a good one for people that travel. When I have found a list, the person writing it doesn’t tell you *why* the items made the list. So, here goes. You still have time to run to the store. Where possible, I have listed where you can purchase these items.
- Luggage. Briggs & Riley Baseline 21″ Carry-On Expandable Upright U421X – Say what you want, but the right piece of luggage can make for a great trip. So you know; I beat the hell out of my luggage, so I can’t mess around. Honestly, I recently tried a Swiss brand, bought 4 new pieces and within a few trips, two of them broke and they all looked like they had flown a million miles. So, I’ve now opted for my Briggs & Riley 21 Carry-On Expandable Upright. You can’t kill this thing. It’s sturdy, good looking, and functional. The wheels are smooth. The handle casing is on the outside of the bag, leaving more room on the inside. Plus, it’s the perfect size for a couple of days. Go to http://www.briggs-riley.com/ and find a store near you. About $320. Perfect for the serious road warrior. Note there are lots of models from which to choose. Briggs & Riley rocks.
- Noise Cancelling Headphones. Seriously, nothing makes for a better flight than the drowning out of all that noise. I don’t care if it’s a crying baby, excessive pilot announcements or, heaven forbid, a gum-snapping seat-mate. I have a pair made by Sony (MDR-NC200D). Available on Amazon for about $199 though you can find some models for $99. Perfect for all, especially avid music fans because your tunes will sound great while you’re blocking out noise simultaneously.
- Belkin BZ103050QTVL Mini Surge 3-outlet Wall Mount with USB Charger. How many devices do you own that will likely need to be charged at the airport? For me, it’s at least two or three. When you finally get to the airport, the plugs are all taken by everyone else. With this nifty device, I walk up to someone, and ask if I can unplug their device for a second while I plug in the “tap” and presto, I plug them back in and still have two outlets for me. Seriously, it is the best gift ever for a traveler. Amazon for about $20 (starting price). Perfect for the digital road warrior.
- Folding Leather Picture Frame. One thing for sure, when you travel you’ll miss your family. The best gift my wife ever got me was a leather picture frame with a picture of her and the kids in it. I get to a hotel and put it on the nightstand. It makes you feel like they’re there with you. Available online – just search and you’ll find it. The sell for about $40. Perfect for Moms and Dads.
- Leather Folding Snap Dresser Tray / Caddie. You tend to leave stuff around a hotel room; keys, room card-keys, change, money, passport, etc. The first thing I do when I get to my room is snap the edges of my dresser caddie (it lays flat in my briefcase) and unload all the stuff in my pockets. It is a great way to stay organized. Available on Amazon for $45. Perfect for the serious, Type “A” traveler.
- Silk Sleep Sack (aka dreamsack). One word; bedbugs. They’re gross. Yes, I’ve been bitten and mind you, it was at a rather nice hotel. Expensive room rates do not guarantee you won’t have bedbugs. When I’m ready for bed in a hotel, I pull off the comforter entirely (don’t even make me go there!) and unroll my sleep sack, put it on top of the sheets and get in. It won’t guarantee you won’t be bitten but sleeping in *your* silk cocoon seems so much more clean than jumping into hotel sheets. In very nice hotel, I normally still use it. Simply wash it when you get home, in between trips and throw it back into your suitcase. Available on Amazon for $60 – $100. Perfect for all.
- Incase EC20035 Combo Charger for iPod, iPhone and iPad. I don’t know about you, but I carry around my share of chargers. iPhone, iPad, mi-fi, etc. The problem is you need at least one iPhone charger for the car. So, I carry this combo unit that works either in the car or in a standard wall outlet and it allows me to carry one less cord. Available on shopping.com for about $30. Perfect for the iPhone using rental car customer.
- Mobile hotspot aka Mi-Fi. Mine is 4G from Verizon. This lets me get wifi for up to 5 devices anyplace I can get a cell signal. No need to try and find a public hotspot in a pinch. Plus, it is perfect for conferences when you’re traveling with a few people and you all need wifi acess. Turn it on and you can hook up four friends as well. They run anywhere from “free” to $100. Plus you’ll also need a service plan which could cost $30 or more per month, depending on the plan may you already have. Perfect for the digital road warrior.
- Royce Leather Toiletry Bag – Yea, okay, just like the one my dad has. It’s a classic and holds a bunch of stuff (that’s another post). Leather is perfect because it lasts, you can clean it and it is sturdy enough. Newegg.com for about $60. Perfect for your hubby.
- Leather tie and accessories case. Okay, we’re not wearing ties that often any more. However, when you do need a couple for a trip, transporting them is a bit of a pain, especially since the ones left in the closet these days are likely the best ones you own. So, when I travel, I pack my ties (and cuff links) in my tie case. Ties are stored folded in half and then half again but they arrive wrinkle free. Gifts.com for about $70. Perfect for the classy man.
So your guy or gal might not like *all* of these, but you really can’t go wrong with *any* of them.
This isn’t one of my typical posts. It isn’t about digital strategy or corporate culture or anything to do with new media. However, if you are a golfer, or know one, read on.
When I was young, I remember my mother asking my father to remember to do something the next day. It might have been a call he needed to make, a letter he needed to mail or something like that. As a successful businessman, he had plenty on his mind and my mother’s requests were often forgotten until a few reminders later. You see, like me, my father suffers from an ephemeral memory (figuratively of course) and chances that he’d forget my mother’s requests were always pretty good. But, he devised a system. He would switch his wedding ring to his other hand as a reminder. The next day, he’d see the wedding ring on the “wrong” hand and remember “oh, yea, I have to mail that letter (or whatever)….” Simple right? He still does it today and I must admit, so did I until my iPhone took over my life.
Fast forward to me playing golf. I always forget the best gold lesson I ever had. My instructor told me to line up and take a swing. He saw me run through my routine; legs bent, arm straight, line up here, head down…blah blah. You know the drill. After four or five shots, he said “stop”. As I looked at him, all stressed out, he said “you’ve been programmed all wrong; just relax and swing through.” He then made me take about fifty swings with no ball; back and forth, casually, just relaxing. After fifty swings, he put a ball down and said “keep swinging” and I nailed the next ten shots hundreds of yards each – all straight.
It turns out I was too wrapped up in the “what to do” that I forgot to relax and swing through. Golf game fixed, right? No. I think I only remember to relax and swing through half the time. The other time I’m focused on the “straight arm, head down” nonsense or frankly, chatting it up with my buddies and I am a little too loose.
A month or so ago at a neighbor’s house, she told me about her new start-up; SwingThought. Seriously, it’s a colored rubber bracelet you wear when you play golf. Its sole purpose is to remind you of things. It comes in different colors and sizes and they come with different sayings in large white letters; “Swing Smooth,” “Tempo,” “Focus” and others. She dropped a few off at my house for me to try out (yes, for free).
I have to admit, at first, I thought this was silly. I thought to myself “yet another Lance (Armstrong) copycat.”
Then I wore one to my next golf outing. There it was, a bright orange rubber bracelet that read “Swing Smooth.” Every time I got up to the tee, I relaxed and took a breath and remembered my instructor.
I shot a much better game. No, it wasn’t perfect, but I love my bracelet. I wear it each time I play See www.swingthought.com if you want one for yourself.
A month or so ago, we took a vacation to the Bahamas. It came a time when I really needed it, so I was excited. We headed to the Cove at Atlantis; what I considered to be the perfect place for a quick family getaway.
If you know me, you know I like to be connected via technology. So, packed with me or on my person was my iPhone, blackberry, iPad, Kindle and laptop. Some of you, I’m sure at this point, are already saying this is too much stuff, but you should know I was in the middle of some important stuff at work so I was just trying to be prepared, hence the laptop. I had no intention of sitting on my laptop during a week-long, family vacation. I had intended on using my other devices though.
When we checked in to the hotel, we immediately headed to the pool and beach area, just to walk around and get some fresh air. As we walked around the pool, all I could see were parents reading some electronic device while their kids (and iPhone-less nannies) played around them. Honestly, 80% of them or more were reading some sort of digital device, be it a phone or iPad. It hit me at that point; they were indeed connected, but they were completely disconnected from their kids. A family vacation, I thought, should mean 100% connection with my family (okay 97%). I didn’t want to be that dad who was always looking at his iPhone instead of engaging with his kids on vacation.
When we got to the room, I put all my devices in the safe and planned not to look at a single one (short of two quick daily glances for emergency emails from work on my blackberry) for the entire trip. For me, that meant no photo sharing of pictures on Facebook, no witty comments on twitter, no blogging, no Foursquare check-ins, no reading my digital edition of USA TODAY, no nothing. It also meant no music and that I was going to have to carry a digital camera; you know, the old-fashioned kind where you have to take out the mini-SD card and download the pictures to a computer (gasp).
As I put everything into the safe, I knew it was going to be hard, but at the same time, I was embarrassed that the process was taking such a conscious effort. I thought to myself, “why is it such a big deal to disconnect from the world for six days?”
On the morning of the first day, we lathered up the kids in sunscreen, put on some shorts and t-shirts over our bathing suits and headed down to breakfast. Along the way, the kids had so much fun stopping to look at the beautiful assortment of fish and sea creatures the Atlantis offers at every turn. The Cove, specifically, has a phenomenal collection of African cichlids; beautiful tropical fish from Lake Malawi and Lake Tanganyika. I used to breed this variety of tropical fish when I was young (as a business – more on that some other time) and I was fascinated by the color, quantity and size of the fish. This kids and I couldn’t stop looking at them in the open ponds. I took many pictures of the kids looking and pointing at the fish. The kids were all smiles and I loved their fascination with the fish. Under normal conditions, this would have meant me taking pictures with my iPhone and immediately posting a few on Facebook for friends and family to enjoy. Given my “unplugged” experiment, I took out my digital camera and snapped away. Friends and family would have to wait for Facebook pictures.
At breakfast, the “connected” were reading a variety of devices. Given the time of day and the abundance of flowing coffee, I assumed all were reading their favorite periodicals, though some even had iPads on the table to allow their toddlers a chance to catch up with cartoons. I however, was “news free” and frankly, happy to be (though I did feel a little twinge for at least a bit of ephemeral political information). The family and I enjoyed a nice breakfast, each enjoying something different from the amazing buffet offered at the Cove, ranging from pancakes to Eggs Benedict to Cheerios to crepes. The selection of food available, I thought, was amazing and worthy of a picture. Hey, I’m in the travel / technology business, so sharing any type of travel info is basically what I do for a living; I don’t go anywhere without gathering travel information on rooms, views, restaurants and more. But this time I simply didn’t take a picture. It seemed silly; taking a quick picture with a phone is one thing – you can do that in five seconds. Taking a camera out of case to take a picture seemed like a bit more effort than I wanted to make.
After breakfast we headed to the pool and all the “connected” parents were already deep into their devices. Some laid on their backs with arms stretched straight up, holding Kindles. Most others were sitting up, baseball caps or hat visors pulled down while they read their phones or iPads. I walked, as my camera (hung around my neck by its cord) bounced in front of me with each step. We situated ourselves and I immediately took some pictures of the kids. They looked so cute in their suits and hats. Snap, snap, “cheese”, snap some more. Within a few minutes, I had a nice collection of candid and posed pictures. The camera then went back into the case. By now, in addition to Facebook posts, I would have normally texted a few pictures to my parents and sister so they could appreciate the moment, but they’d have to wait. (Little did I know however, they’d still be waiting.)
We swam and eventually came time to lounge on the chaise for a bit of rest. At that very moment, I had a great urge to reach for my blackberry and iPhone. Amazing I thought; a moment of “rest” to me caused me to look for a phone. Hmmm, that can’t be good. So, I closed my eyes and enjoyed the sun for what seemed like an eternity but was actually about four minutes. I’m not a sun worshiper (any longer) and I really wanted something to read. If I had my iPhone with me, I thought to myself, I’d be reading USA TODAY and the Wall Street Journal. But, I didn’t. So I sat there for another five minutes. The kids played busily in front of us, just five feet away. They were enjoying one another. That too, I thought, was vacation. Daddy didn’t have to be involved in everything.
The day and days went on with more fun, more meals, more sea life and great events like building sand castles, searching for seashells and walks on the beach and, of course, since I was traveling with kids, more than a few “share that with your brother/sister” type instructional comments.
During the vacation, the urge to reach for the blackberry took about two days to break. The desire to read the iPad for news took longer. The urge to check-in (like at dinner at Nobu) broke quickly. Finally, the urge to take a quick picture on my iPhone and post or text it really never went away.
Our vacation ended weeks ago. I’ve only just download the pictures to my computer and my parents and sister still haven’t received any images of our vacation. I’ll have to get to that. My Facebook friends may never see anything more than the pic or two I posted.
So, what did I learn from my “unplugged” vacation experiment? A lot. Okay, specifically three things: First, I’ll admit it, I’m too connected sometimes. I’ll give you that. My kids’ image of me clearly includes me always looking at some device. I know this because at one paint, Sophie asked me “Daddy, where’s your phone?” That’s bad. I want them to remember me looking at them, into their eyes, not eyes down, glued to a blackberry or iPhone.
Second, I re-confirmed I truly enjoy technology. I love what it can do and how it connects people. I now live so far away from my sister and parents, which is heartbreaking to me, and I love how I can share quick, impromptu images of my kids with them. They too, love this. Facebook has also allowed me to connect with distant family around the world and this is amazing to me.
Finally, I have learned that some people just don’t get it. I get so many comments (both positive and negative) about people’s feelings about Facebook. Really, if you like my posts, great. If you don’t get the whole Facebook thing, either get with the program or leave me alone. For me, Facebook isn’t just about reading people’s silly posts, it’s about staying in touch with people I know, it’s about reading TechCrunch, seeing specials from my favorite stores and getting a quick chuckle daily from some really funny friends. But I agree; despite all this, reading your iPhone while you should be paying attention to the people around you is not a good thing.
So what does this all mean? Again, the answer comes down to balance.
I’d like to say a completely “unplugged” vacation was better than a “connected” one, but I can’t. In the end, for me, there has to be a happy medium between “connected” and “unplugged”. I remember the days before cell phones and frankly, I don’t want to live in that era again. However, I need to be able to take a picture and post a picture to Facebook without taking the time to read everyone’s posts every time. Those extra moments are stolen moments from my real life and they belong to me and my family. I also don’t need to read my email constantly. You can wait a bit for a reply from me; you’ll survive.
Two weeks after vacation, I can say I’m working towards this “connectivity” balance and I think I’m better for it. More to come. In case I fall off the wagon, remind me of this post. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some pictures to upload.
I heard a good one last week; “Culture eats strategy for lunch every day of the week.” I found this to be so true and it sparked memories (and nightmares) from my years as an entrepreneur and executive. I’ve started and worked at companies and organizations big and small; one thing for sure, #companyculture can work both for and against you. It should be obvious then, that to succeed at a company, you have to understand the culture and more so, master the culture, even if (or should I say “especially if”) your goal is to change it.
I’ve got so many thoughts and opinions about culture and I foresee a myriad of blog posts coming shortly. For today however, I just wanted you to be on the lookout for #companyculture on Twitter. This is going to be a fun topic, so join me in spreading the word, posting and commenting.
@johntpeters for #companyculture