Traveling Alone

I travel a lot. There are definitely people who travel more than I do, but not a large number. Typically, I travel on Delta, and I am often either Gold (50,000 miles) or Platinum (75,000 miles). I would estimate that about 10% of the people on the plane have this type of status (by simply watching people board), so I would estimate that I travel more than the average bear.

I often travel to some interesting locations too. For example, I got to go to the Canary Islands earlier this year. That was an interesting trip. I often get to go to places such as Washington DC, Boulder, CO, and San Antonio, TX. Not too exotic, but if you don’t go there often, then they are very nice places to visit. (Even if you go there often, some of them are great places to visit). I lived in Boulder for about 18 months, and San Antonio for three years. I very much like going to Boulder. San Antonio is a slightly different story, but we won’t dwell.

When I tell people that I am going on a trip, their reaction is often something like “Oh, that sound like a great trip! What will you be doing there?” Most of the time, I will be meeting with people. For example, in June of this year, I went to the CEDAR meeting in Seattle. At CEDAR, I had to be there almost every day by 8:00 in the morning, and finished with dinner at about 8:00 each night. Therefore, I didn’t get to do anything “fun”, except meet with a bunch of people who I consider my friends and collaborators. Even though I don’t get to do very much that is “fun” (i.e., hiking, biking, photography, etc.) at meets like CEDAR, I very much enjoy them. It is great to see people that I really like, and have lunch and dinner with them. This is true for many meetings that I attend – I don’t get to do anything “fun”, but do get to see a lot of people that I enjoy spending time with.

There are other meetings that I go to where there are not as many people that I know. These meetings are sometimes a struggle for me, for a few reasons.

The first reason is that I really like being with my family. I very much enjoy spending time with my wife and kids, and even though I might not do things that my kids want me to do (ok, my 14 year old), like playing video games, I enjoy just being around them. Therefore, being away from my family is a really drain on my energy.

(Actually, last night, while laying awake in a hotel room half way around the world, I realized that my 14 year old would leave home in four years, and we would not have any kids around the house anymore. This hit me hard.)

I often feel like I am two different people. I am one person around other people, and another person when I am alone. You can tell that I am an extrovert, since I feel like I gain energy when I am with other people. I like talking to people, and connecting with them. When I am alone, I sort of go into a cocoon, and just sort of survive until I am with other people.

Don’t get me wrong – I do enjoy spending time by myself. Like, when it has been a long day of meeting with people and such, I am good with spending a couple of hours to myself. But, I much prefer to spend time with my wife and kids – even if it is just sitting next to them while we both do our own thing. I also like doing things like mowing the lawn, which is obviously something you do alone. But, I actually enjoy it more when I know that there are other people home, instead of everyone being away. Strange, eh?

When I go on travel by myself to some meeting that I know that I am not going to know many people, I get pretty depressed; even if it is to some exotic destination. Just knowing that I won’t be with my family, and will probably have to be by myself for long stretches of time, makes me somewhat sad. Therefore, I often don’t really enjoy travel.

My wife often asks me why I don’t take a couple of days before or after the meeting and go do things like take pictures at some tourist places. This is perfect for her, since she is more of an introvert, and doesn’t mind (actually enjoys) spending time alone. For me, I really don’t like doing this. I like the taking pictures part, and the going to tourist places part, but I don’t like the being alone part.

The final reason that I don’t really enjoy traveling much is because I feel like I am not getting things done when I am on travel. I am not writing proposals or papers or meeting with students or with others about whatever. Occasionally, when there is nice fast internet at a meeting, I do get a lot of things done, since I can remotely log into my computers and program or whatever. But often, the more exotic the location for a meeting, the worse the internet. It then just becomes very frustrating to try to work.

Because of these reasons, I often don’t really like traveling. I force myself to do it because it is part of my job, but I often don’t want to go and would much rather stay at home. (Can you tell that I am far away from home?)

I also feel like a total ass when I am going to travel to someplace that people express is very exotic to them and I just say something like, “yeah, I would much rather stay at home.” I have realized that this is not a good thing to say. I should say something more like, “yes, this will be an interesting trip!” and actually try to enjoy it.

But, that is not me.

The view from my hotel room in Shanghai. This really symbolized what I felt while there.



About aaronridley

Professor at the University of Michigan, Department of Climate and Space Science and Engineering.
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4 Responses to Traveling Alone

  1. Danny says:

    “Those who find business travel exciting have never tried it.” – Someone told me this year’s ago. I have almost 100 stamps in my last passport. Not counting Canada or domestic trips. I know how you feel. Green Acres is where I’d rather be.

  2. Edgar A. Bering, III says:

    There is an exit strategy…my son was at his own conference right near IUGG. This was enough to get my wife to come. Son joined us in Prague for touring while I met, followed by dinner and beer. If their schule permits, both kids loving coming to AGU. Son has, daughter could publish. Family conferencing. The hext step in family values.


  3. Lisa Bagchi says:

    A life unexamined is a life … What is that expression? I forget. Good photo. I really like this post, you sound a lot like my husband and any insight I can get into his brain is always welcome.

  4. Kate Yemelyanov says:

    I come home from solo travel insanely energized. There again, I don’t get out much.

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