I promised our teenage son that we would not travel this year, and now I am suffering severe withdrawal pain from avoiding the airport.
My son is a high school senior enrolled in a demanding I.B. (International Baccalaureate) program consisting of mostly college credit courses. He was so stressed from the blizzard of academic demands during his junior year that he asked us not to go anywhere over Thanksgiving, Christmas, Spring Break, or at any time during his 12th grade year.
And I agreed. It seemed like something I could do: not travel much and mainly stay at home. I told him there would have to be a few exceptions during the school year for me, if not for him or the rest of the family. There was the Rail-Volution conference in San Francisco and a trip to New Orleans to visit an old friend suffering from a fatal malady. Next year (2017) will see me in Tanzania again and in Washington, DC for another transit conference. Still, that’s just four times I’ll be flying during the academic year 2016-2017.
YIKES! Flying out of the Raleigh-Durham Airport only four times in nine months is the least I will have traveled for so long a period in many decades. While it’s true that I made a conscious decision in 2008 to cut my 50 weeks of annual travel in half or more, I’ve still flown enough every year since to qualify as a road warrior. Just hasn’t been as wearing on my body, and my soul has felt less tattered by yearend compared to the grueling schedule I kept up for over 30 years.
But have I ever been restricted to just four itineraries in nine months? Never!
I kept asking myself: Would I miss it? Could I do it? What would it feel like?
Now, at the midpoint of self-imposed airline abstinence, I can attest to mixed feelings and admit to some withdrawal symptoms I didn’t anticipate.
For instance, whereas before I viewed having to troll airline and air travel sites for the best possible schedules and fares as necessary drudgery, now I welcome any chance to research flights and fares. Sometimes I delve into hypothetical itineraries based on the many airline sales emails I get each week just for the hell of it. I compare sardine class, premium economy, and business fares on the same and different carriers to various fantasy itineraries.
Doing so has sometimes revealed that non-intuitive routings, such as through Finland, to some European locations can be cheaper than flying direct, if one is so inclined and if time permits. I also experienced what we all know, that is, good deals and odd routings are elusive. Here today, gone in an hour or less, sometimes in just a few minutes.
Such “Fantasy Flying” has made me appreciate that I can sometimes fly cheaper in business class through one of Gulf Carrier’s UAE hubs to reach Hong Kong or Bangkok eastbound than in premium economy on the likes of Cathay going west. It all depends upon the sales of the moment, some of which are one day deals.
It’s not just the trip planning that I miss. I find myself wanting to take the RDU Airport exit off I-40 as I pass it, yearning to hunt for a parking spot in the cavernous garage and trek to the terminal with my bag. I picture myself proffering my brand new (just renewed) passport to the TSA agent in the PRE line and bantering about taking care at my distant destination. I envision myself sipping on a Bloody Mary in the Delta or American lounge before boarding my flight overseas. I see myself in the club floor comfort of a fine hotel where I land. The familiarity of the travel pipeline, start to finish, is somehow reassuring in memory, perhaps because I did it for so long and so well.
I miss it all. And, no, I haven’t forgotten the ATC delays and flight cancellations and bad hotel food and failed rental car reservation and cramped coach seats. Despite the absurd obstacle courses and the uncertainties de jour, I still miss traveling.
I didn’t expect to miss it this much. In 2008 when I scaled back my travel severely I was at a point where I didn’t think I’d want to travel again for quite some time. However, I healed fast, and I didn’t reckon on my travel addiction.
Thinking back over my life, though, I see now the pattern of impatience to be in one place too long and the constant itch to move. I took the train from Raleigh to New York City alone at age 12, and my parents were none the wiser. I went completely around the country by train in 1964 at age 16 on an itinerary I’d planned myself for almost two years and allowed a friend my age to come with me only because my parents insisted I not go alone. I took America’s trains everywhere I could in college, going back and forth across country a number of times before Amtrak. I flew for the first time in 1960 at age 12, too, and was immediately hooked on airplane travel after that.
Heck, I’ve been traveling pretty much nonstop ever since. And I didn’t recognize the addiction because I was constantly able to sate my desire to travel.
Until this nine month period.
For now I am happy that our son is happy to stay home. However, I will travel again, probably very often, starting next summer. After all, I have to feed the beast, and it’s howling and hungry!