The jet set. To people of a certain age (middle and older), it denotes the sky-high style of a bygone era. The phrase was coined in the mid-20th century for the leisure class, who could afford to fly and did so frequently, resort-hopping around the globe.
Flying somewhere and back — just for a day, just for fun — has long been my idea of glamour, and last spring I realized I could.
Actually, I realized I’d better. Obligations were pouring in like junk mail, and the sense of being cornered was making me one of the mean girls. I was living that Zen story about the man furiously trying to chop down a tree down with a dull saw because he thinks he doesn’t have time to sharpen it; a short respite to refresh his equipment would ease his work tremendously.
I needed my saw sharpened. I needed a mini-escape.
It wasn’t going to be a road trip. I live in Florida, a stupidly long peninsula which is harder to get out of than a wedding invitation — at least by car.
Nope, I was going to live my dream of jet setting, fly out and back in the same day, just for fun. I felt like Jackie O, or better yet, Edina Monsoon.
Neither of those fine ladies had a budget to consider, though, and I did: one day and about $200-ish for a flight. Caprice in constraints was going to take some planning.
“A good trip is all about pacing, whether it's a day in Boston or a month in Southeast Asia,” says Susan Moynihan, veteran travel editor and founder of the Honeymoonist, a luxury travel-planning company. Moynihan’s mission is to help people get the most out of their trips, which doesn’t mean trying to cram a week’s worth of locales into an afternoon.
“You want to determine what part of the experience is most important to you, and build everything around that,” she says.
The autonomy of this adventure was the most important thing to me, but frankly, that was satisfied by planning it. A claustrophobic only has to see an exit sign to start breathing a little easier.
Going somewhere new was another key, but it couldn’t be a cross-country flight: it’s called jet-setting, not jet-sitting, fergoodnessake. Looking through numerous desirable locales in the “great deal!” emails I get from numerous airlines made it a simple Goldilocks process: Charleston? Too close. Bangor, Maine? Awesome, but too far.
Philadelphia, though, where I had never been, was just right.
A city that has one of the homes of Edgar Allan Poe, the building where the Declaration of Independence was signed and a trove of art museums presents a dizzying number of things for a newbie to do on the ground.
But being overwhelmed was just what I was trying to avoid.
“You need to edit; you can’t do everything and you shouldn’t try,” especially on a short trip, Moynihan says. “I see this all the time with people who want to go somewhere and see as many cities or countries as they can on a trip. It can be great but you also miss out on really getting to know a place, which is so rewarding.”
I kept it simple and chose one thing I really wanted to see. My destination was in the Rittenhouse Square area, on what promised to be a beautiful day, and there were numerous options in case I needed Moynihan’s next tip: Have a backup.
“Plan for the unexpected,” she says. “Flights get delayed, museums get closed for government shutdowns, traffic causes delays.” With limited time you want a thought-out Plan B.
After figuring out if Philadelphia International Airport had ride hailing (it does), what the drive time was to my destination (15 minutes) and if it would be open (yes), the plan was sewn up and it was time to purchase the tickets, which I did with two one-way fares. I got a leisurely 10 a.m. flight out, but when trying to book a ridiculously cheap return fare through Orbitz proved difficult, I called the website to see if the problem was heavy traffic, which I suspected, and spoke to a customer service rep who became my most eager ally when I told him this fly-away-for-a-day plan had been a desire of mine for years.
“I want to help you realize your dream,” he said, words that I don’t think anyone has ever said to me before. It felt fantastic and he was as motivated as I was. As I suspected, so many people were after that cheap fare that it was totally bogged down. If I could go another $20 higher, he told me, he could book me an evening flight back. I said yes and he did so within minutes; I felt like I’d won it instead of bought it.
Total air travel cost for lifelong dream fulfilled: $213.17.
If you plan your caprice farther out than I did — a month in advance instead of two weeks, you can probably do it for less.
What I spent altogether would have been the same as a few visits to my shrink and was itself worthy therapy. The trip was as smooth as a bowling lane and the exhilaration of getting on a plane without dragging a bloated carry-on behind me was as freeing as going commando on a spring day. There were so few travelers on my return flight that I was even allowed to go through TSA pre-check, something Moynihan recommends investing in and now I know why. The absence of that oppressive ritual lightened my afternoon so much it felt like an out-of-body experience.
I was elated for weeks, and still am every time I think about realizing this dream, not because of my can-do attitude but because of my I’m-done attitude. Putting 30,000 feet between you and your problems won’t erase them, but it will sure make them look smaller. Being cornered can be bearable if you know there’s a flight at the end of the tunnel.
Langley is a writer based in Orlando. Find her on Twitter: @LizLangley.
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