Interview With Jason Barger: Author of ‘Step Back From the Baggage Claim’

Travel Blog  •  Rob Verger  •  04.16.09 | 4:07 PM ET

Photo by Joe Maiorana

I love the transitory airport realm sometimes described as Airworld, a place selected by World Hum as one of the Seven Wonders of the Shrinking Planet.

I like the buzz of people coming and going, I like buying the occasional New Yorker magazine from Hudson News to pass the time, and I even like the sharp whiffs of jet exhaust you get going down the gate ramp.

But what would it be like to spend seven consecutive days in Airworld, flying around the country with no destination but the next city, sleeping in airports and killing time until your next flight leaves?

Jason Barger spent a week voluntarily doing just this. The result is his book, Step Back from the Baggage Claim. “I spent seven straight days in seven different cities,” he writes towards the beginning of his book. “I flew 6,548 miles without stepping foot outside the airports and soaked in roughly 10,000 minutes of observations at all four corners of the United States ...”

Barger, who is 33 and a former camp director and service project leader (both the camp and the service trips are affiliated with his church), is based in Columbus, Ohio. Throughout the book, he uses the Airworld environment as a metaphor for how people should act during the rest of their lives. I caught up with him via email to ask about the experience.

World Hum: Why did you decide to undertake this airport marathon, and how did you get the idea?

Barger: The idea of the baggage claim metaphor had been marinating for a couple of years. I remember standing in the San Diego airport years ago when I was leading a trip of over 200 people going to build houses for families in need in Mexico. I watched as our group tried to merge into the already gathered mass of people surrounding the baggage claim that day. It was clear that a more thoughtful, grateful, compassionate and flexible spirit was needed in the midst of that chaotic mass of people. That image along with other highly relatable airport metaphors came to life for me and revealed life-lessons for our lives outside of the airport. If we truly want to “change the world” for the better, what spirit can we choose to bring with us as we navigate the obstacles, delays and cancellations of everyday life? I chose to undertake this project because I’m passionate about connecting people for positive change. I now spend time bringing the messages of the book to life for faith communities, schools and universities, and businesses that are rethinking the way they choose to move throughout the world.

How did you feel emotionally and physically after all that time in all those airports?

Physically tired, but emotionally inspired. Seven straight days of eating chicken nuggets, sleeping on floors and drinking gallons of coffee is certainly a shock to the system. My body was excited to find a nice meal and a bed. At the same time, I was inspired by the people I met along the way and the time to reflect on how the metaphor relates to our daily lives. I witnessed the ways in which small moments of compassionate action do completely change the culture of public spaces. I felt great affirmation for the premise that we can change the world by putting loving and grateful vibrations into motion—if we choose to do so!

“The culture of public spaces,” as you put it, is fascinating. If you had a magic wand, and could change one thing about the public spaces of air travel—something pertaining to either the airport or airplane environment or both—what would it be?

From the traveler’s perspective: It would not only do us all some personal good, but would improve the environment as a whole if we were able to enter those spaces with a spirit of gratitude instead of entitlement. We often enter the airport spaces with our minds already made up that it is going to be miserable. When we are able to approach the imperfections of the air travel experience (or any other challenges in life that are out of our control) with a more grateful, compassionate and creative spirit, the culture of those environments changes. Each individual shares in the creation of that space and culture.

Thanks, Jason, and good luck in your future travels.


Rob Verger

Rob Verger is a frequent contributor to World Hum and the site's former air travel blogger. His articles and photographs have appeared in the Boston Globe and other publications, and he's a former undergraduate writing instructor at Columbia University. If you like, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or follow him on Twitter.


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