Airport roulette

I don’t normally talk to people on airplanes — it’s a rule, like “don’t fight a land war in Asia” or “don’t get into an argument with a Sicilian on a matter of honor” — but here’s the exception that proves that rule:

I was on a flight from JFK to LAX last week with my son and we ended up sitting next to a twenty-something year old Australian, who has a brother my son’s age. So we started talking and found out that she was flying back to Sydney to save up money for some more travelling. She was on what I imagined was the usual Australian global walkabout, backpacking across Asia, working in London, that sort of thing. As it turned out, that wasn’t, exactly, what she was doing, although she had been on the road for four months travelling all over the world.

The travelling was a gift from her English grandfather, who had recently passed away. He had decided upon reflection in his old age that the most important experiences he had had in his long life were those he’d had seeing the world.

He thought that he and his wife had done a good enough job in this regard with their children, but that they in turn had not done enough travelling with their children, his grandchildren. So before he died he liquidated all of his assets, which must have been considerable, and divided the money equally between each of his four grandchildren, leaving nothing to his children.

The bequest, however, is in the form of an American Express card and is restricted to airfare and hotels. So his grandchildren can use the money to fly to New York City and stay at the Waldorf Astoria, as in fact the girl did, but they have to pay their own way after that. Room service was a gray area.

The grandfather left detailed instructions about what he was doing and why, including a video will in which he urged his grandchildren to use the money when they’re young, because, he said, it becomes more difficult to travel as you get older with the responsibilities of family and career.

Her sister and older brother were using the money to take carefully-planned trips to exotic resorts all over the world, flying first class. She was taking a different approach:

She goes to the airport without a next destination in mind and looks at the departure screens for a likely destination, then goes to the ticket counter to buy an economy class seat on the next flight out. If the flight to, say, Stockholm is sold out, she simply asks for a seat on the next available flight, whether it’s to Stockholm or Salamanca or Sacramento; she said it’s hard to be attached to the destination when you only decided to go there five minutes earlier.

I think this ‘airport roulette’ is fantastic, and a great way to honor the spirit of the extraordinary gift she received.