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What It Feels Like to Stop Traveling

The other day Joel Runyon asked me if I still have my duplicate passport. Not only did I let that lapse, I told him, but these days I often go two months or more without leaving the country. 😳

Even though I don’t need a second passport anymore (it’s mostly useful when you need to send one off to apply for a visa while traveling on the other one) I almost felt like I had to defend myself.

I started thinking about it more after I booked a flight to South Africa via Vancouver and London last week. It seems like a big trip! And yet I used to do that so much, so often.

Traveling all the time was my identity for more than a decade. In a typical month, I’d go to Europe or Asia at least once. Often I’d go completely around the world. Then, I’d have several domestic trips in the same month, usually flying somewhere at least once a week. I rarely booked round-trip tickets. Much more often, I’d travel on a series of one-way flights, leaving one destination to head to another.

It all added up to several hundred thousand miles of flying a year. I used to joke that jet lag was my favorite drug, and that I never really knew what time zone I was on. Good times.

Then, of course, came the pandemic.

Which is over now! At least for most practical purposes.

But for many months, I was largely homebound, going almost nowhere aside from some intra-west coast hops. Once to New York in a whole year (I used to go every month). Once to Miami in more than a year (same).

Side note: the first year of the pandemic was actually an amazing time to travel. Plane tickets cost $100, sometimes less. My upgrade percentage was 90%. Because of distancing requirements, I always had an empty seat next to me. Alas, it eventually turned into the “revenge travel” of summer 2022.

Anyway, for the past two years I’ve done very little international travel. I went to Mexico a couple times, and I finally went to Vietnam on a birthday trip a few months back, and there’s probably some other small trips I’m forgetting. Overall, it’s much, much less intense than it used to be.

What I take away from all of this…

First, I have no regrets about my previous travel life.

Not only that, but I’m actually very happy about it. I don’t think it was unhealthy, at least not on balance, and even a simple cost/benefit analysis comes out wayyyy on the side of “That was awesome.”

It’s kind of like when I first decided to go to every country in the world and realized that to get to my first 100 countries (at least starting from the 30 or so I’d been to at that time) would cost approximately $30,000, the same price as an SUV.

Side note: yes, kids, SUVs used to cost $30,000. Hahahaha.

Anyway, when I thought about the comparison of “go to 100 countries” vs. “own a large vehicle,” it was an easy choice. Why wouldn’t anyone want to see the world if they could?

So too was the choice to be peripatetic for many years. I loved nearly everything about it. I almost wish I could do it all over. But I don’t wish I could do it all over now, as the person I am now.

That said, I began prioritizing my mental & physical health more.

Even though traveling so much felt normal and healthy for more than a decade, at a certain point it began to change. Even before the pandemic, I was flying a lot less.

Hard as it is to admit, I noticed as I got older that long trips wore me out more. If I stayed up the whole night, I didn’t just need a nap the next day to set me straight—more likely, I’d be unproductive for the better part of two days.

I know it’s not something that everyone understands, but I really did used to book plane tickets to anywhere on the world on a whim, usually with little notice. Thanks to travel hacking and all the Frequent Flyer miles I earned, it wasn’t very expensive. Plus, there was usually some business purpose associated with a trip, whether it was a talk, a meeting with a publisher, or research of some kind.

But then, for the first time in a while, I just began to stay in (mostly) one place a lot more. I upgraded my exercise routine and began going to regular therapy, both activities in the category of ‘self work’ that became increasingly important to me.

When I went to Saigon a few months ago I felt unsettled for much of the journey, but I don’t think it was Vietnam’s fault—I just get anxious sometimes, and I’ve learned to pay attention to it.

Accordingly, I started to take fewer trips just for the sake of travel. I don’t book as many random plane tickets, and that feels … fine? Semi-normal? But hopefully not too normal, of course.

That would be abnormal.

Finally, even though it’s less … I’m not done yet!

As mentioned, I just booked a series of flights to Johannesburg, starting in LA or Seattle and then connecting in Vancouver and London. I won’t be there long, but that’s okay.

Clichéd as it sounds, to me the journey as always as much of the experience as the destination.

I’ve got a few other trips in the works as well. And whenever I have a new book out, I’ll look forward to doing a proper tour to meet as many readers as possible. It’s just, well, less, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be for now.

How has travel changed for you? Do you love it, hate it, or feel somewhat ambivalent?

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