“Step Back from the Baggage Claim” by Jason Barger

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Lady in red, Cuba

Lady in red, Cuba. Photo by Marlis

The scene is all too familiar. A couple hundred people, weary after their flight, bunch around the cold metallic baggage claim, waiting for the first bags to appear. Minutes pass. The conveyors start turning. More minutes pass. Finally bags start falling on to the conveyor. Everyone edges a little closer to the carousel.

An elderly lady who moves a little slower than the rest sees her bag fall onto the carousel and attempts to make her way through the unwilling crowd. “Excuse me. Excuse me.” She reaches the edge of the carousel only to see her bag has already passed by. She’ll have to wait.

It’s a painful scene, for a few reasons. It exemplifies how we modern humans, so intent on being efficient, narrow our focus to think only of ourselves. But the foolishness of it all is that we would be no less efficient if we all stood back a few metres, allowing everyone to get to the carousel and fetch their bag when they see them.

Back in 2007, travel blogger Bill Geist proposed the introduction of Air Law #8: “From this day forward there will be established a mandatory “No-Touching Zone” that starts 7 feet back from the carousel.” Even before Bill suggested that, I’d heard of another guy, one Christopher Maland, who dedicated an entire website to what he dubbed the Maland Line. And it is this scene at the baggage claim, repeated ad nauseam in thousands of airports around the world every day, that frames Step Back from the Baggage Claim, a short book by Jason Barger.

Barger’s book isn’t just about the baggage claim though. For seven days straight, Barger flew 6,548 miles across the United States, criss-crossing the country while never setting foot outside an airport or plane. Why? He’s on a mission to change the world, by travelling gracefully and encouraging others to do the same.

Step Back from the Baggage Claim isn’t really a book about travel. Rather, airports and airplanes are the motif in a manifesto that encourages readers to live better lives by stepping back, embracing creativity and being still, available and grateful. This type of book isn’t my usual cup of tea, but it’s a breezy read and offers some inspiring insights. Two stood out to me as being particularly relevant to travellers:

Be still. When I visited New Zealand with my wife a few months ago, part of our aim for the trip was to rest our minds and relax our bodies. That’s the point of most holidays, isn’t it? So we jetted across Tasman, spent a couple nights in Christchurch, then took off in a camper van for 19 days to see South Island. We saw a lot, but it wasn’t as relaxing as it could have been. That experience made me realize something: our urge to “see stuff” meant that we ended up being just as busy as we would have been if we’d stayed home. We forgot to be still.

Smile. Smiling is contagious, as Barger points out. When we smile, it lightens our mood as well as those of people around us. As travellers, a smile is a simple, non-verbal way to improve your interactions with the locals. It’s also part of an attitude that is friendly, positive and outgoing. I’m reminded of two lots of Americans I met in Madrid, Spain, five years ago. The first weren’t enjoying their time there – they hated the food and didn’t get along with their host lady. The other lot were loving the city, taking in the local culture and engaging with the MadrileƱos in a fun, friendly way. I have no doubt that the attitudes of both groups had a deep impact on how much they enjoyed their time in Spain. Next time you travel, smile at the locals and see how much better your trip is because of it.

Step Back from the Baggage Claim is available through Amazon.com in print or as an e-book. For more information about the book, check out the website: Step Back from the Baggage Claim.

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Discussion »

  • #1Abdullah tahmid

    Oppsssss…. The GIRL is so so so so so so…. Beautiful

  • #2Billindutty

    cool site!!! I am so looking forward to reading more!!!

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