Yesterday I returned from almost two weeks in Iceland, which was tacked on to two weeks exploring Maine. Nearly a month away from the home and office, and our first international trip in well over a year. We had a fantastic time with great weather, experiences, and food. Too much food. Travel takes me out of my comfort zone, exposes and challenges biases and perceptions, and I always return recentered, reinvigorated, and filled with new ideas.
I used to travel a lot, both domestically and internationally, and like many road warriors I had developed habits and processes that let me confidentially pack for a week away in about five minutes. I knew exactly what cords and power supplies I needed in the exact right places of my backpack, how to time the ride to the airport and connections, how much clothes to pack, and so forth. Or so I thought.
A year without a significant trip created a year without my old habits and processes being reinforced. Multiple times over the two weeks prior to departing I remembered something I had forgotten to check or pack. This hurt my confidence, triggering my travel OCD, which led to overcorrecting and overcompensating. Yes, a written checklist, or standard work, would have helped.
Before I knew it we had two large bags to check instead of being able to travel with a couple medium carry-ons – which in the past had been enough for even a month in Africa. The bags were filled with extra “just-in-case” clothes, cords, and incidentals.
After the two weeks in Maine we realized we had overpacked, and we mailed a box of unnecessary gear back home. After the nearly two weeks in Iceland, even after mailing the box home from Maine, we still had one bag that had remained unopened, taking up space in the back of the rental car.
What we had needed and used in both Maine and Iceland could have fit into two medium carry-ons. Just like before.
Reinforcing old processes is not the true ideal situation. Over the past month I’ve also realized that some aspects of travel had changed in response to both COVID and general systems and infrastructure modernization. My needs as a traveler had also evolved, generally toward being more simple and minimalist.
I discovered new combo cords, was impressed with the prevalence of touchless payment methods like Apple Pay (accepted for even the smallest transaction in Iceland – I never changed or used cash!), and multipurpose convertible jackets and hiking pants are just a few examples. I also discovered that lightweight trail running shoes are fantastic for both walking around a city and fairly difficult hiking, and am now a big fan of my Hoka Stinsons, which survived hikes on glaciers and volcanos. Instead of lugging my laptop around in order to stay in contact with the office, I just took my iPad. With just one or two minor exceptions, it worked out just fine. Extra shoes, travel wallets, and so forth were not needed. Also not needed was the power brick for the laptop I didn’t bring, which somehow ended up in one of our bags.
Processes need to be reinforced in order to survive. They also need to be challenged to ensure they remain effective and relevant for the desired goal. Next time, when I know I haven’t used a process in a long time, I’ll try to intentionally reflect on whether it is still appropriate for what I’m trying to achieve. Critical processes should be documented into standard work and reviewed regularly – if not continually. Especially when you get to be my age…
The Power of Darkness
A final note on something at best tangentially relevant: We were in Iceland over the summer solstice, when it never really got dark. The sun would barely slip below the horizon from about midnight to 2am or so, but it was still like a bright dusk. We got used to it fairly quickly, but I soon realized that I missed real darkness.
When it’s dark, distracting sensory inputs are reduced and therefore situational awareness is decreased – but that creates space for the analysis of what remains to increase. This creates a great environment for reflection, analysis, and understanding. With near constant daylight I found my ability to effectively reflect, which is one way I relax, was reduced. I’m looking forward to seeing stars again.