For over twenty years I traveled a lot on business and got pretty good at it. These two things almost must go together. A person who travels a lot and does so badly won’t be able to sustain it for very long. It becomes exhausting, stressful and erodes productivity as well as quality of life. With the continual squeeze the airlines have put on personal space, it helps not to be a large person. It also helps to be able to sleep on airplanes. Then there are various practical habits a frequent traveler can follow, such as using checklists for packing or arrival and departure preparation, arranging hotel rooms the same way every time to create a sense of familiarity and to avoid searching or losing items, managing meals and hydration while traveling, and so forth.
Due to reasons unknown, being a good business traveler has not translated to being good at taking holiday trips. This is one of my ongoing personal improvement themes. This weekend my family took a drive to the Washington coast for a couple of nights. Roughly a three hour trip from my home, mostly on familiar roads, it barely required packing, reviewing my travel checklist used for business trips or looking at directions. Things were going well until the last 15 miles.
After picking up groceries in the little town of Forks, we headed out for our hotel on the coast near dusk, hoping to catch the sunset on the beach. About 45 minutes into our 15 mile journey, my alarm bells, dulled by the relaxation of a road trip, started ringing. Checking the GPS, it was clear were more than 30 miles south of our destination, on route 101. We needed to be on route 110. Just one digit, its position was important. Somehow, we had missed our turnoff.
Overconfident that “I know these roads,” we did not use the GPS. My daughter was at the wheel, putting in her practice hours for her driving test, my attention was on her actions, the speed and orientation of our vehicle in relation to everything else in the world. I was just happy to be rolling down an empty road in the passenger seat. I didn’t expect to navigate us onto a poorly-marked road. We turned around. An hour later we found the sign to turn west. It was well-marked for those heading north, but not so southward. Bad visual management strikes again. We saw the sun set, but not on the beach.
There was no internet available at the cabins – a great thing for family time, table games, reading – but how was I going to do my reading online in order to finish my blog post on time? You are reading plan B, courtesy of café wifi some miles back up the way we came on highway 110… If there is a lean lesson among all of this perhaps it is the importance of following standards, methods proven to work in the past, and making used of the best available tools, especially when doing something that feels familiar but includes a few new and unfamiliar elements.