Never before in my life have I been offered so many opportunities to travel. Flights paid for, hotels covered, welcomed as a special guest in fabulous locations all over the world. I am grateful, and honored.
Unfortunately, I can’t stand it and I need to stop.
It’s baffling. I’ve always wanted to travel like this. All my friends are jealous. My past self is jealous. What’s wrong with me?
My circadian clock, for one. It doesn’t re-set easily. Actually that’s not something wrong with it; it’s supposed to work that way. But it’s not compatible with modern international air travel.
Also: my immune system. I frequently get sick when I travel. Maybe it’s the proximity to all those new germs – airplanes are like flying petri dishes. Maybe it’s the stress: cramped seats, endless lines, a thousand humiliating little cuts going through airport security, ticketing, etc. It could just be that jetlag and its attendant sleep deprivation make me susceptible to more diseases.
I also get sick mentally. I bring along many tools and aids to preserve my mental health, but they only go so far in the face of constant stress. Sleep deprivation is unfortunately a trigger for depression, as is physical illness. For a few days these are manageable, but as time wears on, my mind weakens. Last year in Australia, I was unable to sleep one entire night, even with sleeping pills, and started hallucinating. The next day I spontaneously burst into tears a few times. It was interesting, certainly, but not fun. Simple things aid my recovery: my own bed, friends, familiar faces and places, and of course my loving and loyal cat. I have none of these when I travel.
I don’t really know why problems that are so big for me are mere inconveniences to others. Maybe it’s alcohol: I don’t drink. I notice most other travelers do, some a lot. Alcohol probably helps smooth over all these pains I suffer acutely. Unfortunately, I can’t stand the taste of alcohol, and I get no pleasure from the effects. Same with pot. Believe me, I’ve tried. If they worked for me, I would use them.
There are lots of other things most people find desirable that I don’t: bars, amplified music, crowded events, loud parties, eating standing up, cars, babies, television. In the past I’ve believed I should enjoy these things, I’ve tried to enjoy them, I’ve wondered why I don’t; but eventually I accept that I simply don’t derive pleasure from them, and focus on what I do enjoy.
There is an up side to some of this. Plane travel is truly terrible for the environment, so avoiding it has some larger benefit. Some people avoid plane travel even if they enjoy it, for altruistic/environmental reasons. I’m sad to disappoint those who would like me to visit, but on the other hand I may be reducing net harm by saying no.
Here, then, is a list of reasons NOT to travel I composed in Yerevan, Armenia, while my throat was bleeding with an infection I still haven’t recovered from 12 days later.
Nina’s Top Ten Reasons Not To Travel
1. Bad for the environment.
3. Airport security. It’s horrible and out of control. Don’t make me recount my stories here.
4. Humiliation. In addition to airport security, there are also lines, lines and more lines; mishandled paperwork; passport control; visa applications; lost connections; being a number and $ amount rather than a person; etc.
5. Loneliness if you travel alone, excessive familiarity if you travel with a friend or loved one.
6. Can’t get any work done. It’s ironic that the more people appreciate my work, the more they invite me on trips that ensure I can’t do it. Is my contribution to society greater if I stay at home and write/draw/create, or if I smile and shake hands in foreign countries? Some people can apparently work while they travel; they’re not me. I do think while I travel, and get new ideas. For example on my latest trip I got a lot of new, profound ideas on why maybe I shouldn’t travel again any time soon.
7. Expensive. Even if the flight and hotel are paid for, expenses rack up. Hotels charge through the nose for internet access. Things get lost or destroyed and need to be replaced: on this last trip, I lost my international outlet adaptor (about $30 to replace), and the laundry in Paris slashed up my Valmiki T-shirt (same). Food and drink must be acquired. Any trip “extras”, like tourist sites or side trips, must be paid for out of pocket.
8. Illnesses: get ‘em, spread ‘em. It’s bad enough that I get sick when I travel. It breaks my heart that I also become a germ vector, spreading assorted viruses to my generous hosts and new friends.
9. Hotels lose their lustre after a while. It’s nice to fantasize about fancy hotels as an escape from the drudgery of life’s daily responsibilities, but the reality can be disappointing. No matter how expensive or how many Michelin stars, hotels lack the comforts of home.
10. Experience the world through a haze of exhaustion, confusion and sleep deprivation. I read that people like to travel to “experience other cultures” and “learn about the world.” But how much am I learning about the world, when my perception is so compromised? Many “good” travelers see the world through alcohol. They may be having fun, but I question how much we’re really “learning about other cultures” in our altered states. That said, I have learned a lot when I’ve actually moved to new places. By moved I mean stayed in one place longer than a month, and settled down for a bit. Outside the US, I’ve lived in Veyrier, Switzerland and Trivandrum, India, and learned a heck of a lot in both places. But that’s very different from “taking a trip,” staying in a hotel, not having a home, not cooking, etc.
So there you have it. Will I still travel? Yes. Will I travel less often? I sure hope so. I have traveled quite a lot already, on every continent except South America, so I needn’t fear I’m missing out or living my life in isolation. And I live in New York! The whole World comes through here. Hello, World! Please let me sleep in my own bed.