I feel like a different person the moment I step into an airport. It’s a little like stepping into a wind tunnel for me—everything suddenly feels rushed, important. (This is probably because I’m usually rushing and unsure if I’ll actually make it on a flight, but that’s neither here nor there.)
Kylie always makes fun of my ‘airport walk,’ because no matter how early or late we are, I’m basically running. I can’t help it. There’s this heightened sense of potential and uncertainty that the monotony of our daily routines lulls us into forgetting once we’re on the ground at home again.
Caitlyn and I headed to Love Field after work Friday to try to get on a completely full nonstop to San Diego. We walked (ran) up to the CSA as A-group was boarding, and I had checked the load just prior—2 seats for sale, 9 standbys listed.
“You’re #7 and 8 on the list,” the CSA told us matter-of-factly without feigned sympathy. I breathed out sharply, realizing we wouldn’t be making it on this flight. I started considering our next option (going through Austin) as we idled nervously next to the CSA desk, waiting for them to start clearing the other 6 people in front of us.
By some true Roman Catholic miracle, the first 6 people didn’t show up. The second the CSA rattled off ‘Krusinsky’ and ‘Gatti,’ I practically threw my badge at him, and we had our golden tickets. It’s a legitimate high when you get cleared for a flight you’re almost certain you won’t make.
While we were boarding, we realized we hadn’t yet actually figured out where we’d be staying if we made it out there—subconsciously, I think I was afraid we’d jinx ourselves. We pulled up a hostel on Ocean Beach and booked two beds in a 6-bed dorm. Confirmation came almost suspiciously quickly, and before we had even settled into our middle seats, we had a little reservation code that promised a place to sleep.
There are countless ‘travel inspiration’ quotes that posit travel is a means of ‘finding yourself’ or ‘losing yourself’ or whatever else Thought Catalog is pushing this week. It feels stale to me. Standby travel is true travel improvisation. It’s not about finding yourself—it’s about finding a seat on a full plane and a last-minute place to stay that won’t cost more than the airfare would’ve.
As we were walking to our gate Friday night, I looked at Cait (who had never traveled standby before), and said, “We have to accept right now that the next 24 hours may go horrifically wrong.”
Luckily, they didn’t. But they could’ve.
There is an electric sense of freedom that comes with a boarding pass. Before I worked at Southwest, I wouldn’t go anywhere without a minute-by-minute itinerary of every meal and potty break. Now, I come equipped with only Plans A, B, and C—three different potential cities.
If nothing else, it’s taught me—the world’s most obnoxious control freak—to surrender control and accept that things can’t deviate from the plan if there is no plan. Loopholes, right?
Cait and I stayed in this super cool hostel ($35/person) and completely lucked out—it was right in the middle of Ocean Beach, and nobody else booked our room that night, so we were the only two people in the 6-person room.
We got dinner at Coasterra, drinks at a brewery by the beach, breakfast at Swell Coffee Co., and rented longboards from a surf shack on Pacific Beach. It was the most glorious 18 hours—the kind where you feel exceptionally clear, and everything from the rest of your life shifts into perspective. I think that’s why people love to travel. Everything comes into focus. Thousands of miles of separation—if only for 18 hours—recalibrate you.
When you're mired in the details of your own life for too long, situations become distorted. It's like that cheesy Carrie Underwood song where the mountain you're climbing is just a grain of sand (or something to that effect). Getting out of your real life for a minute and traipsing around California in Birkenstocks is the best way I'm aware of to shake some shit up and let the dust settle where it should be.
It’s ironically empowering.
It makes me feel like I'm the only thing I need to figure shit out and have a good time. As I've mentioned before, the importance of feeling whole—all by yourself—cannot be overstated.
But the best thing that happened? As with any standby trip, it’s the part where you get cleared on your first-choice nonstop home.
Where to next?
Travel hacks and must-sees from a broke frequent flyer.