How I Learned to Love Layovers

Key Idea: Layovers can be an amazing opportunity to see one more place on your vacation.

After paying $1,000 for two Covid tests in order to enter Egypt and Germany, we had a whole day before our flight would leave from Houston to Frankfurt, Germany. We decided to see the downtown and visit the museum of natural history. We called an Uber. This was my second Uber ride. The Uber driver offered us water and said, “You can call me Tex.” I asked him if we could do a slight detour and see the downtown our way to the Natural History Museum. He said, “I have never had anyone ask me that before, but I would be happy to do that. I have lived here all my life, and I can tell you all about it.” We enjoyed a nice tour of the downtown, a wonderful visit to the natural history museum, and quiet time in a beautiful park nearby shortly after.

This introduced to me to an important idea. You can use your layovers to see and experience more places. You don’t have to just wait in the airport. You can see something amazing, like the Eiffel Tower.

As I planned our second trip to Egypt, I purchased a flight that was extremely short by standards of flights to Egypt. It would go through Rome, have only a one and a half hour layover, and then arrive in Cairo after only 17 hours. I thought it was amazing.

Then, Alitalia went bankrupt, and that flight was cancelled. They put us on another flight. This flight went through Paris. It was much longer, not only because of the distance but also because of an 8 hour layover in Paris both ways! But here was an opportunity! We had two options for starting our trip: spend 8 hours in Charles De Gaulle airport or go see the Eiffel Tower. Is that even a question?

I looked into various options, and I was a little nervous about being able to do it in the time allotted. One thing I learned later, though, was that once you have checked in and checked any bags you have, you don’t need nearly as much time to get back to your gate. You don’t need the traditional 3 hours for an international flight and 2 for a domestic flight.

The key question for sightseeing during layovers is this: what do you do with your carry-on bags? On this trip, I decided to hire a driver and van to take us there and back. I was hopeful that they would keep our luggage, but I wasn’t sure.

Later, I discovered that there are other options for this. There are numerous places where you can pay $5 or so to store your luggage for a day while you walk around a town. You can use the web site Bounce to see what places are available and how much they are. I used this service in Madrid. We arrived by train, stored our luggage in a hotel, and then explored the downtown before we went to our hotel near the airport. It cost us about $10 a piece and saved us a couple of hours of driving around.

We arrived in Paris on a beautiful, crisp fall morning. We made our way to the gate, full of anticipation. As we neared the gate to exit, we heard a loud bang like a gun going off! I thought to myself, “Wow. This is it. I am in the midst of a terrorist attack.”

Shortly thereafter, someone came by and told us. “It’s nothing to worry about. The French police just blew up a bag that was left alone.” So, if you are traveling through Paris, make sure you don’t leave your bag alone. The French police may blow it up.

We met our driver, and drove through Paris. We arrived and saw the Seine river and all the buildings around it. We went up the Eiffel Tower, and we saw the wonder of Paris on a beautiful clear day. Our daughters were enraptured by the city. It was a perfect and magical day and a total success.

The layover on the return was not as great, but it still worked. We had an 8 hour layover in Paris and then a 5 hour layover in Boston. We did not go into Paris again because everybody was too tired. But we did go into Boston. We ended up walking a long way and enjoying it, but everyone was cold after spending two weeks in Egypt. I am glad we did it, but, with all due respect to Boston, Paris is a hard act to follow.

I took this idea and kept it in mind. When we went to the Dominican Republic in January 2023, my original flight was perfect. But . . . they cancelled it. Once again, they offered me a flight that was very different. I saw one that featured a 16 hour layover in Newark, New Jersey. It seemed like a lot, but I thought, “Here is an opportunity.” I took it, and my daughter and I spent the night in Times Square, once again getting to see an amazing part of the world for which we did not have to take an extra trip.

When I am picking out flights, I consider very seriously those with long layovers because I love them. They give you an opportunity to see one more place without paying for another plane ticket.

Thanks for taking time to read this post. Have you had a layover you enjoyed? I would love to hear about it in the comments below. I hope to see you again. Please share or subscribe below!

When Overwhelmed, Ask, What Do I Need to Do Today?

Keeping sane and productive in an insane world, principle #8: When overwhelmed, ask, what do I need to do today?

When the world seems big, it’s O.K. to make it small. You can do that by focusing on today.

You have a million things that will confront you in the future. You have a million things that you can imagine will confront you but will not. So, what do you do when the future of your kids, your job, your church, your friends, and your health overwhelm you? You can set it aside and focus on today.

What does that look like? I have had plenty of times where I have felt overwhelmed. When I started worrying about relationships, my children, or the church, I just started asking, “What do I really need to do today?” My list of worries was large. My list of actions for today was relatively small. My answer would be something like this, “I need to pray, exercise, spend time with my family and friends, do certain tasks related to work.” As I got about doing these tasks, I would feel less overwhelmed. I would be more sane and productive.

If you think about it, this is a good practice even when we are not overwhelmed. Focusing on what actually needs to get done today is a great way to organize our mind and hearts and ground them in what matters. You can imagine the future, but you can live today.

The Roman philosopher Seneca was captivated by this idea. Seneca asks, what harm is there in looking forward to tomorrow? “Infinite harm; for such people do not live, but are preparing to live. They postpone everything” (Letter XLV). Worse is when people look forward to living in a far off time when they can settle down to “a life of ease” (Letter CI).

So, what should we do? Seneca says, “let us so order our minds as if we had come to the very end. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s account every day. . . . Therefore, my dear Lucilius, begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life” (Ibid.). This will enable us to see tomorrow better, too. “If God is pleased to add another day, we should welcome it with glad hearts” (Letter XII). This will focus our energies where we need to focus them and keep us from worrying about things that we do not need to worry about.

This is what Jesus taught as well. “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (Matthew 6:34). Focus on the tasks you have today. Tomorrow will take care of itself.

I remember running on a rural road in Pennsylvania. We were staying in a remote cabin. We had literally no internet service. No wi-fi. No cell connection. It cleared my head. I started thinking, what would I do if I only had this day without any connection to the outside world? What would I do? The answer came back: I would run. I would enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. I would spend time with my wife and children. I would accept the good God had for me. That’s what I had: today. That’s what I had, and that was good.

Asking, what do I need to so today is a principle that we can use to get us grounded at any time and especially when we are fully of anxiety and overwhelmed. Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I pray that it will be a blessing to you the next time you feel overwhelmed. If you liked this post, please share it on social media or subscribe below. You can also read some of the other principles that I have used for keeping sane and productive in an insane world here. I hope to see you hear again.

When Struggling, Start at Zero

Keeping Sane and Productive in an Insane World, Principle # 7: “When Struggling, Start at Zero.”

Last year, our family went through some very difficult times. No matter how bad it got, there was one thing that continually helped me regain sanity. Starting at zero.

What does that mean? It means that you imagine that you have nothing that you have. You imagine that you might not have any of it. Then, you mentally add it back bit by bit until you feel gratitude swelling up in your heart for all that you have.

What are some of those things? I might not have a wife, but God has given me a wonderful one. I might not have children, but I have seven of them. I might not have friends, but I have many of them.

When it comes to God, I might not know Him. Yet He has forgiven me and accepted me through the cross of Christ. That is enough, really. If I had nothing other than that, that would be enough.

But I have so much more. Doing Uber, I have met many people who do not have cars. I have a couple of them. I have freedom to move around. I have a home. That home has running water and a heat pump and electricity. I have means to communicate and receive information on my phone and computer. I have music and books.

I was born in America. It has its issues, but there is an opportunity to make money, if you need to. If you are healthy, you can work here. Speaking of that, I do have good health.

Where I get stuck is when I get some specific vision of what good things should be like. Then, when that situation doesn’t come to pass, it feels like there is nothing good. This feeling is loud and strong sometimes, but it does not reflect reality. When I start at zero, I realize that there are all kinds of good things that I already have that I might not have had and do not deserve more than others who do not have them. This helps my heart move toward gratitude and thankfulness and away from despair. So, that’s why I have this rule: when struggling, start at zero.

Our brains present an interesting paradox. When it comes to bad things, we worry about them and go over them again and again. When it comes to good things, we don’t even hold them in our mind for ten seconds.

Rick Hanson, in his helpful book Hardwiring Happiness deals at length with this paradox from the perspective of brain science.

Hanson notes that our brain “has a hair-trigger readiness to go negative to help you survive” (20). He describes the way our brain works this way, “when the least little thing goes wrong or could be trouble, the brain zooms in on it with a kind of tunnel vision that downplays everything else” (21). In contrast, Hanson notes, our brains hardly give any attention to good experiences. “Your brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones” (27). Think about it, he says: “how often do we stay with a positive experience for five, ten, or twenty seconds in row?” (27).

We just don’t take in the good. We get stuck in the bad.

How do we start to balance this out? How can we do a better job of taking in the good things that are already part of our lives? We can start at zero in our minds and add all the blessings back from there. This doesn’t ignore the bad. It just helps us take in the good.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I hope this is a helpful concept that will help keep you sane in an insane world. This is part of a series on 40 principles for keeping you sane and productive in an insane world. These are principles that I collected over the years battling for sanity and productivity while serving as a Pastor for 19 years, raising seven kids, earning higher degrees, traveling the world, and trying to be a good citizen. You can read more of them here.


Photo by Simon Maisch on Unsplash

If It Seems Too Good to Be True, It Is

Keeping Sane & Productive in an Insane World, Principle # 6: If It Seems Too Good to Be True, It Is

Growth in skills, acquiring wealth, building relationships, and growing in character all take time, and there is no substitute. But we often want it all without the work, and there are many people who will promise rapid shortcuts.

A few years ago, we were looking for a car. My Dad found a Toyota CRV with low mileage and in great condition. They wanted only $2,000. The person, the ad claimed, was moving to another country to serve as a missionary and simply wanted to get rid of it. It seemed too good to be true, and it was. They wanted money up front without giving us the car. It was a scam.

Experiences like that have multiplied because of the internet and social media. For that, I developed a basic rule: “If something seems too good to be true, it is.”

One of the most common experiences on the internet is the romance scam. Thousands of people give thousands of dollars to criminal organizations that pretend to be a person who loves you and is attracted to you. If you are a 60 something person, don’t believe that a 30 something knock-out with a lot of money is randomly interested in you. If something seems too good to be true, it is.

We all want the quick fix. But most things in life do not happen like that. Most things that are valuable require a lot of work over a long period of time. That’s why it’s much better to get to work than to look for an easy way out. As Henry Wadsowrth Longfellow put it, “Art is long, and time is fleeting . . .”

Now, one thing that does seem too good to be true but is actually true is God’s offer of grace and forgiveness. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). This is something God offers us freely, and it does seem too good to be true. But it is true.

But many people make a mistake based on this. They think that because the Christian life is rooted in God’s grace that therefore it is free from effort. Not so. We read in the letter of James, “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience” (1:3). The Christian life involves much suffering designed to grow us in character.

The Christian life also involves effort. “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue . . .” says Saint Peter (2 Pet. 1:5). It takes a lot of diligence. Other versions say, “make every effort.” It’s work to develop character, even in the context of the grace of God. God can change us by a miracle, but most change involves a combination of God’s grace, challenging circumstances, and effort on our part.

When I was a teenager, I started to take a real interest in foreign languages. I was fascinated with communicating in other ways. From time to time, people would come up to me and ask, “What’s the secret to learning a foreign language?”

I would always answer the same, “Hard work.” It doesn’t matter what you do to learn, you just have to work at it . . . a lot.

And that’s how most things are. So, if it seems too good to be true, assume that it is. Give up on the quick fix. Embrace the long but extremely rewarding grind to sanity, growth, relationships, and productivity. It’s the long path and the sure path.


Photo by Mathieu Stern on Unsplash

Keeping Sane & Productive in an Insane World, Principle #5: You’re Not Tired. You’re Bored.

When we are doing nothing, we often feel tired. But we may not be tired. We may just be bored. Boredom and tiredness can feel the same.

This was an insight that I learned from Brett McKay and The Art of Manliness podcast. He has a lot of helpful insights, and I highly recommend his work to you. He said, you are not burned out, you are bored, but the principle is the same. McKay asks how is it that we are struggling with burnout

[a]nd yet, statistically, we’re doing less than ever, not more[?] We work a little less than we did fifty years ago, and a lot less than a century and a half back. We socialize less. We participate less in clubs, church, and civic organizations.

How can it be that the less we do, the more burnt out we get? How can it be that people who are involved in far less than their grandparents were, nonetheless feel more tired? Continue reading “Keeping Sane & Productive in an Insane World, Principle #5: You’re Not Tired. You’re Bored.”