8 Ways to Find Nature at the Airport


Travel is exciting! Travel is fun! Unless you’re stuck in the airport while you wait for your next flight — then travel sucks. 

I’m getting ready for a big work trip next week (check back for details and pictures!) and prepping myself for some time in the airport. Lately, I’ve been trying to reframe the [hideous, boring] layovers as an opportunity for adventure and discovery. And, no, I haven’t lost my marbles!

Layovers can become a mini-expedition to find nature in unexpected places, discover new things, and slow the frantic pace of travel. Next time you travel, give it a try! Here’s how:

1. Seek out natural light.

When you’re stuck inside, it’s easy to give up on the idea of going outside. But don’t do it! Find the next best thing: look for the spot with the best natural light.

2. Look out the window.

Sometimes I can be by windows all day and never really take a good look outside. Isn’t that awful?!?

Look out the window– and past the plane that you want to get on. Yes, most runways are flat and kind of boring, but what’s beyond that? Is there anything interesting on the horizon?

Bonus points for snagging a window seat and scoping out the landscape.

O'Hare airport has a friggin' dinosaur. How cool is that?!?!
O’Hare airport has a friggin’ dinosaur on display. How cool is that?!?!

3. Fire up the technology.

Got 10 minutes to kill? Use Google Earth to get a birds-eye view of your location. What’s the most interesting or unexpected thing that’s near you?

4. Unplug while in the air.

When I’m in the airport, I’m constantly looking at monitors, phones, and other screens to make sure I make it where I want to go. But once I’m on the plane, I turn them off. You can do it too, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy the break. Use the time to read a (real!) book, flip through National Geographic, or journal about  your trip.

O'hare also has an urban garden and aquaponics. How neat is that!?!
O’hare also has an urban garden and aquaponics. How neat is that!?!

5. Think about flying.

Have you ever been stuck in a plane and have absolutely no attention span, not even enough to flip through a magazine? Stare into space and think about flying. We totally take it for granted, but it’s utterly amazing that we can move through the air at hundreds of miles per hour. Let your brain zone out as you think about what you’re actually doing. What does it take to fly? What’s the earth’s atmosphere like at this altitude? What direction are you going relative to the earth’s rotation?

6. Plan your next yard project. 

Stuck waiting in line or something equally boring? There’s always a lot of that when traveling. You can use the small amounts of time to brainstorm or plan your next garden or landscape project. Don’t try to tackle the whole thing; instead, pick a smaller task to come up with creative ideas.

7. Plan an outdoor escape.

Even a small escape is a good escape! If you’re traveling for work, plan out some opportunities to get outside. Check the weather at your destination, look up running routes, find parks or the local natural history museum. Or plan a grand adventure!

8. Look for nature.

Unless you’re 10 years old, it’s likely that airports are not your idea of fun. But you can make it slightly more fun (or at least more tolerable) by making it into a game. Try to find nature at the airport. Are the plants real or fake? Where can you get the freshest food? Is there an area that feels more natural or has the best view?

Natural light! Are those plants real?
Natural light! Are those plants real?

I did this the last time that I was at Chicago O’Hare (aka ORD now that spend so much time trying to leave there) and there were a number of things around including an installation of photographs of (receding) glaciers, an urban garden, locally-sourced food, and a brachiosaurus. More importantly, the time passed more quickly and I enjoyed myself more when I focused on spending time around these things.

What nature can you find in the airport? I’d love to hear what you discover!