Reasons not to travel

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.
2. Jetlag.
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.

15 comments to Reasons not to travel

  • Drakar2007

    3 years ago, from june until the end of the year (and then some), I was gone 6 days a week for work, where I would fly out on sunday morning or afternoon and return on friday (with 2 overnight shifts thrown in at the beginning of each week). A new city each week, and a whole new set of faces. Added to that, about 2 months into the gig I discovered that my live-in girlfriend had gotten into the habit of inviting a guy friend of hers from high school to come to [our] apartment, and.. uh.. “spend the night”. I’m right there with ya in the whole “it gets old” department — and of course, ironically, now that i’m “settled”, i kinda miss it. (and i miss the paychecks.)

  • Couldn’t agree more…

  • Nick Gordon

    I used to fly around Europe a lot (business). I got to travel business class (bigger seat, more legroom, shorter queues) and stay in some *really* nice hotels. I got to see some fascinating places (Berlin Wall, anyone?) and meet some great people. I learned languages – smatterings of about 12 of them. I also learned some valuable life lessons, chief among which was never to eat airline food.

    And I *really* didn’t like it. All your reasons, plus (apart from being away from my better half): you’re always the stranger in town, the outsider, the guest. It’s very disorientating and, over a long period, depressing. I’m glad I don’t do it any more.

    I’m especially glad I don’t have to pretend that I’m an expert on local culture because I’m familiar with the route airport-office-hotel-office-airport.

  • Nancy

    Travel is wonderful. But good travel means you get to stay in the country long enough to adjust to the time difference and learn about the culture. I’d say you need a minimum of two weeks’ time for this. Jetsetting, on a plane every day or so, is dangerous and unhealthy and highly overrated.

  • I think that all the problems you describe – which are true – just point out the need to stay more between travels. To me, there is a magic period where if I stay long enough, it’s worth a trip… that’s a minimum of 1 week. That way I get to experience more than all the stuff you rightly pointed out.

    And yeah, airplanes are bad for the environment. It’s the one industry that hasn’t figured out how to go green yet – or tried.

  • I never go anywhere that I can’t get to on Amtrak, except for my yearly February trip to Aruba. (Just two nonstop flights — the same two nonstop flights every year.) It works for me.

  • I used to have that wanderlust, and while working in the US in the earlier half of this decade, I travelled extensively across the US on many short-term work assignments (many of them necessitated by my visa status and having to stay employed to be in-status). I grew so tired of hotel rooms, living out of suitcases and eating out every day that it nearly erased all the wanderlust out of me. Now I feel like I would like to take a single 2-week vacation every 6 months or so, and stay at home sweet home for the rest of the year!

    It’s not like there isn’t enough to explore, either! We just need to put on our Thoreau hats and suddenly the local keeps becoming the exotic over and over again! Just switching my priorities to noticing other species around me has overwhelmed me with the variety of interesting life out there around us!

    Best for the environment, physical health and mental health too, like you said.

  • Kathleen

    Well, I’d like to join all of you in having just too much travel, but the truth is I’ve never been able to afford to travel as much as I would have liked. We do give ourselves great getaway vacations, however – by renting a timeshare fairly close to home. (I like to use [commercial link deleted].) The timeshare is inexpensive but is attached to a great resort and we have full use of all of the amenities – tennis, golf, horseback riding, pool, spa, etc. And can still drive out locally and enjoy tourist areas that we’re usually too busy to pay any attention to.

  • milesly

    Nina, I am a huge fan of yours, and a frequent traveler.

    I have two words for you in terms of coping with constant travel without using alcohol or pot:

    Xanax Prescription.

  • That is a good article – thanks for the link.

  • Nina, you are a Highly Sensitive Person (Elaine Aron’s work, http://www.hsperson.com ). As well as a beautiful genius. I just found you this evening via Roger Ebert’s Top Ten list. And I can’t get enough. Love your laughter, smiles and mischievous Youtube interviews. Wow, I think I’m in love…

  • Try Couch Surfing. http://www.couchsurfing.org – it at least addresses the issue of hotels being boring.

    http://www.couchsurfing.org/people/johndbritton

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