ICYMI: Traveling With Joy

(“In Case You Missed It Monday” is my chance to showcase something that I wrote and published in another venue, but is still relevant. This week’s post originally appeared on THWACK.com)

Recently, two people I respect very much tweeted about travel, and how to remain positive and grateful while you do it. You can read those tweets here (https://twitter.com/UberGeekGirl/status/961080557063909377) and here (https://twitter.com/jbiggley/status/961204675352686592).

When I saw Jessica’s first tweet, I wanted to respond, but thought, “She doesn’t need my noise in her twitter feed. But when Josh jumped in with his thoughtful response, I had to join in. If you prefer tweets, you can find the starting point here. For old-fashioned folks who still like correct spelling, complete sentences, and non-serialized thoughts, read on:

First, you need to understand that I have some very strong opinions about how someone should carry themselves if they are lucky enough to get to do “exciting” travel for work. When I say exciting travel, I mean:

  • Traveling to someplace YOU find exciting
    or
  • Travel someone ELSE might find exciting

Here’s why I feel so strongly:

As I’ve written before (http://www.itproday.org/what-makes-an-it-professional/), my Dad was a musician. His combination of talent, youth, and connections (mostly talent) gave him the opportunity to join a prestigious orchestra, one that traveled extensively from the time he joined (in 1963) until he retired 46 years later. My dad went everywhere. He was escorted through Checkpoint Charlie twice in the 60s. He wandered around cold-war, iron-curtain Moscow at about the same time. He traveled to Australia, Mexico, all over Europe at a time when such trips were unavailable to the typical middle-class consumer. And, of course, he visited almost every major city in every state in the US.

It was a charmed life. To be sure, he worked hard to get where he was and made sacrifices along the way. But at the end of the day, he got to play great music with talented colleagues in front of sell-out audiences around the world. It was SO remarkable, that people sometimes had a hard time believing that was all he did.

Because I would “go to work” with him from time to time (which meant a lot of sitting in the green room, wandering backstage, and standing next to him during intermission when he’d come out for some fresh air, I was privy to him meeting people from the audience without really being part of the interaction. These conversations would often follow a very specific pattern:

“So what do you do during the day?” they’d ask, figuring that he–like the other musicians they probably knew–did this as a side gig while they worked an office job or plied a trade to pay the bills. When they found out that this was ALL he did, that my Dad got paid a living wage to perform music, their sense of amazement increased. And that’s when they would begin asking (i.e. gushing) about the traveling. While some of these people were well-off, many more were regular folks who often had never left the state where they were born, let alone the country. They would pelt him with questions about the most exotic place he’s been; whether he’d met the Queen; what it was like to travel to different time zones; and more.

That’s when the conversation became hard to watch.

My Dad, maybe trying to be humble, maybe because he’d become jaded to the whole thing, and maybe because the question annoyed him so much, would shrug and say, “I get on a plane, sleep, get off the plane, get on the bus, go to the hall, rehearse, eat, play the concert, get on a bus, go to the next town, sleep, get up, rehearse, eat, play. I could be in Timbuktu or Topeka.”

From my fly-on-the-wall vantage point, I’d watch the other person deflate. They’d clearly hoped to vicariously share his sense of wonder. They imagined the exotic, the special, the unique. Instead, their experience left them feeling they might as well have been talking to a plumber about the stores he visits. (No disrespect to plumbers. You folks rock.)

As I grew up and settled into a career in IT, I never thought I’d have the kind of work that would give me opportunities to travel the way my Dad did. Which is why, years later, I stood crying under the Eiffel tower. Not because of the wonder of the structure, but for the miracle that I was standing there AT ALL. I was overwhelmed by the sheer impossible magic of being in a role where traveling from Cleveland, Ohio to Paris was possible in any context other than a once-in-a-lifetime, piggy-bank-breaking vacation.

A three-month project in Brussels followed Paris. A year in Switzerland came after that. In between were shorter trips, no less inspiring for being closer to home. Just getting onto a plane and taking off was an adventure in itself.

And through it all were the people. As Jessica said in her tweet, “Thousands of unseen humans help me get to my destination.” I was meeting these people, hearing their stories, and being asked to tell mine.

In those moments–in the rideshare or taxi on the way to the airport; checking in at the hotel; sitting next to someone on the shuttle to the car rental area–I’m reminded of those moments when I stood next to my Dad during intermission. While there are many things about the man that I admire, he’s not infallible, and there are definitely habits of his that I choose not to emulate. This is one of them.

So I try to write (sometimes more than is strictly required of me) when I go to new and different places. When I have the time and focus, I write about what I hope to see/do/learn before I go; and then I write again afterward, detailing what I saw, who I met, and how it went.

I write these essays partly because it’s actually my job. (Best. Job. Ever.) But I also do it because I’m aware that jobs like mine are unique. I want to provide that vicarious experience for those who might want to go where I’m going, but lack the opportunity, resources, or time. I write so they can share a sense of wonder about the exotic, the special, the unique.

I also write so that, if someone has chosen to forego these types of opportunities, either due to ambivalence, anxiety, or uncertainty, that maybe they might find motivation, reassurance, or insight; that in reading about my experiences, they might realize they have more to gain than they thought.

Finally, I write about my travels for myself. To remind me that, like both Jessica and Josh said, in each trip, thousands of things go right and thousands of people are helping me get where I need to go. To remind me of the wonder, the exotic, the special, the unique.

And the blessing of it all.

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