It’s almost like a character in one of our books with amnesia. It happens to me maybe once a month. I wake up in a hotel room that looks like a thousand others, and I have to struggle for a few moments to remember what city I’m in.
In my day job, I travel. A lot. For roughly the last decade, I usually leave on Monday, back to my family on a Thursday night. Based on some rough calculation, I figure that between planes, trains, and automobiles – and yes, helicopters and boats – I’ve traveled over a million miles in my life. And while there are hardships associated with this, and much of it is not nearly as glamorous as one might think, I’ve never lost my love of seeing some place new.
Let’s talk about the downsides first. First, as someone who truly loves his family, it’s tough being away. I’ve been pretty fortunate to have some flexibility, and to be able to plan around the big events that are scheduled. So I’m home for holidays, family gatherings, graduations, etc. But the little moments, the spontaneous movie marathons, or the late night ice cream trips… those little moments I miss out on. That is tough sometimes, and it brings a wave of daddy guilt that I know a lot of you will understand. It can be a solitary existence. Just this week, I’ll be spending my birthday on the road, probably the fourth such time I’ve done so over the last decade.
There’s also the tedium. Unlike my total miles traveled, I refuse to calculate the hours I’ve spent in airport layovers, rental car shuttles, or trapped in gridlock traffic. And there’s a palpable sense of disorientation that never really fades. I remember once recently, I was calling home in the Central time zone, trying to schedule something on my computer’s calendar set on Eastern time zone. But I was sitting in Phoenix, in the Mountain time zone. But wait: it was Daylight Savings time, but ARIZONA DOESN’T PARTICIPATE IN DST. With apologies to the band Chicago, I didn’t really know what time it was.
But there are positive things to the travel. First, frequent travelers often get a little extra service. I’ve received personal greetings awaiting me in my airplane seat. I’ve had hotel staff welcome me back by name as I walk in the door. And when I had to recently switch airlines, my prior preferred airline (a massive international corporation) called me to ask me why I hadn’t been flying with them and would I please come back?
Second perk? Miles, miles, miles! When traveling personally, we have the option of cashing in all the frequent traveler miles I’ve accrued during my work travel. I rarely have to pay for a personal hotel room stay, and I’ve been able to gift others with lodging. I was able to keep my lovely lady in the matter to which she has become accustomed by getting her a first class flight to Europe. And when I’m at peak traveler status, I get upgraded to a first class seat or a suite hotel room more often than not.
But the real benefit is seeing the world. I truly love seeing new places. I love exploring the world and noticing the things that are different, but also the things that are the same. I come from a culture where many people never leave a fifty mile radius from the place of their birth. I recognize that being a world traveler is a privilege that not many have.
I’ve seen the United States. There is not a major U.S. city I’ve not spent time in, and I’ve been to 42 states. By this time next year, it will be 45, and a bucket list item will be that much closer to being accomplished.
I’ve been in a position to observe small town America all over the country. Being an investigator by trade is often simply observing human behavior, and it’s fascinating to see the same broad themes played out among a thousand different local nuances.
I’ve seen much of the world. I’ve been fortunate to have seen many of the great world cities: London, Paris, Rome, Tokyo, Seoul. From the air, I’ve seen the barren landscapes of the Russian steppes. From the Scottish Highlands, to a Costa Rican jungle. From the Swiss Alps to hiking up the side of a Filipino active volcano. I’ve met movie stars, coaching legends, and former Presidents. And because of the nature of the work I do, I have a chance to meet with local law enforcement, embassy staff, and intelligence officials. In these conversations, some of the veneer of polite society is lifted, and one can see truly how the world works.
The world is a lovely place, and endlessly fascinating. This is the magic of setting in a great book. If a writer can capture that sense of place, and can truly transport the reader to some place new, that’s a huge part of what makes a great experience for the reader. I would consider myself successful if one day, a reader put down my book and said, like me waking up in a strange hotel, “Where am I?”