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Travel Lessons You Can Learn from a Hot Air Balloon

What can a hot air balloon teach you about becoming a better traveler? Quite a bit, it turns out.

At first glance, a hot air balloon and an airport security line—or a crowded flight, an overbooked hotel, or any other tricky travel situation—appear to have little in common. Look closer, though, and you’ll find that a hot air balloon can teach you some of the most critical travel lessons, including the importance of packing light and expecting the unexpected, and the value of depth over distance. Here are six things you can learn from a life aloft.

It’s Best to Pack Light

Every pound counts when you’re in a hot air balloon, and there’s not a lot of extra room for bulky gear. The same can be said for travel: Why burden yourself with unnecessary items when you’ll be more nimble and able to see the world carrying less? Leave everything non-essential behind—as long as you’ve got your wits (and a camera), you’ve got nearly everything you need in both situations.

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Getting There Is Half the Adventure

In a hot air balloon, there’s no real destination—the adventure is in the journey. And while few travelers would argue that getting there is the best part of vacation, there’s something to be said for allowing transit to be part of the giddy adventure. There will be great views, after all, and new sights. And once you’ve been in a crowded, standing-room-only hot air balloon, airplane leg room starts to look pretty luxurious.

Expect the Unexpected

Surprise air currents, unpredictable weather, a sudden change of course—when you’re in a hot air balloon, you never know what you’ll encounter. Whether you’re in a hot air balloon or on a land-based adventure, you’ll do well to expect the unexpected. Not only will it make you more adaptable when it counts, but you’ll be more open to whatever wonders come your way.

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Levity Helps Everything

In hot air ballooning, being lighter than the surrounding air is a must. It can help when you travel, too. Finding moments of levity in stressful moments is the best recipe for gracefully navigating the sometimes-less-than-friendly skies. So when you find yourself bogging down because things aren’t going as planned, make like a hot air balloon: Take a deep breath and look for the gentle currents to help you find your way through it.

Sometimes You’ve Got to Rise Above It

When in doubt, rise above it. In a hot air balloon, gaining altitude can get you out of the path of a wind that wants to blow you off course, or simply give you a new perspective on your surroundings. In travel, there are plenty of frustrating moments that threaten vacation serenity. Whether it means letting go of long-security-line frustration or rolling with it when a flight is delayed, take a lesson from hot air balloons and rise above it.

It’s About Depth, Not Distance

Depending on air currents, an hour in a hot air balloon may take you no more than a few hundred feet across the landscape. But distance is only one measure, and not even the most interesting one when you’ve got the sky to explore. Dipping down to a few feet above the ground before soaring a thousand feet into the sky is the true charm of ballooning. Similarly, in travel, it’s not always about how many cities or countries you see on a journey—sometimes it’s about exploring a small part of earth in great depth.

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(Photo: Christine Sarkis)

Christine Sarkis recently floated over Napa courtesy of Napa Valley Aloft. Follow her on Twitter @ChristineSarkis and Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.


By Christine Sarkis

There's a 95 percent chance Senior Editor Christine Sarkis is thinking about travel right now. Follow her on Instagram @postcartography and Twitter @ChristineSarkis.

Christine Sarkis is an SATW-award-winning journalist and executive editor at SmarterTravel. Her stories have also appeared on USA Today, Conde Nast Traveler, Huffington Post, and Business Insider. Her advice has been featured in dozens of print and online publications including The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, and People magazine. She has also shared travel tips on television and radio shows including Good Morning America, Marketplace, and Here & Now. Her work has been published in the anthologies Spain from a Backpack and The Best Women's Travel Writing 2008. She is currently working on a travel memoir.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: The Trtl Pillow. It's easy to pack and comfortable, and makes it so I can actually sleep on flights.

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: Seeing the Aurora Borealis from the comfort of somewhere warm, like a glass igloo or hot spring.

Travel Motto: Curiosity is an amazing compass.

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: Aisle all the way.

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