Wednesday, October 02, 2013


I love to travel. There is really no way to say that without it sounding like an understatement. Just no way. I love almost every aspect of travel. I say almost because there are two main parts I don't like - airport security and coach seating on airplanes. Those are probably the only negatives for me and ones that are an easy trade-off for the reward of going someplace awesome. Everything else I love. I love the planning. Sometimes I think I love the planning more than the actual trip. I will spend hours upon hours researching my next trip and be happy as a lark doing it. Pouring over maps, guidebooks, websites like Tripadvisor and travel blogs. Searching for the perfect hotels. Figuring costs by going through the exchange rates. But my favorite part of planning is figuring out the logistics of transportation. I spend so much time on sites like The Man in Seat 61 figuring out train routes in various countries that I can tell you how to get around in places I've never even been.

Trains are, of course, the preferred method of travel in any trip I take. Some of my travel ideas come from particular trains I want to take and not necessarily the destination itself. I absolutely want to take the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Vladivostok someday, and I have no idea what the hell is in Vladivostok. I just know it would be seven days and six nights aboard one of the most legendary trains in the world. (I seriously just got lost for about an hour on the Seat 61 site after looking up the Trans-Siberian travel times, surfing around that section and the China pages, daydreaming)

No matter how big a country is or how much ground I plan to cover in a given trip, using a plane to get from one place to another is the very last choice. It's bad enough I had to spend 7-18 hours on a planes to get to the place I'm going, last thing I want to do is get on more while I'm there. Not always possible, but if there is a train, boat, van, or bus to get me someplace I'll choose those over a shorter plane ride. A bus ride lasting longer than about seven or eight hours will likely lose to a plane but that is a rare exception. Even an arduous journey on another mode of transportation is more favorable than a plane if for no other reason than it will always be more interesting. Nothing interesting ever happens on a plane. It is just a means to an end.

My obsession for planning trips means I am constantly ahead of myself. My wife, daughter, and I are going to SE Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos) in less than three weeks but I have already done some preliminary research for Russia, which may be our next trip and China, which is on our list but we still have no real idea when we may try that one. I've even started looking at returning to Germany for the traditional Christmas markets - for maybe going in 2014.

It has gotten to the point where I will help plan trips for my friends, and I love to do it for them. If I had gotten in to this at a younger age I would have gotten some job in the travel industry. Not that anyone can really make money in the travel agent business anymore. Or I would have taken better care to learning how to be a decent writer while I was in college so I could have been a travel writer. Matt Gross had my dream job as the Frugal Traveler at the New York Times and for some reason he gave it up! Are you kidding me?

And I love to travel with just about anyone. Friends, limited family (pretty much my sister), alone, with my wife, and now with both my wife and daughter. Traveling with a young child poses many challenges but you would be surprised in how many ways it can be even cooler than the childless carefree ways of youth. For one thing she points out things we may have just walked by and not noticed. And she makes us slow down and go at a more relaxed pace (my wife and I both have a tendency to rush to see as much as we can in as many places and can get to) because it is hard to rush when you are dragging along a 2, 3, or 4-year-old on a trip.

There are people who tell me that one of the things they love about traveling is coming home, and how much they appreciate home after taking a trip. I don't know what the hell these people are talking about. I always get depressed going up to the U.S. passport control and then they tell me, "Welcome home." Blech, I want to be back on my trip. There have only been two exceptions to this. First was when I went to Taiwan for work and stayed a few extra days to hike around. My wife was at home because she was over seven months pregnant and couldn't go with me so I missed her a lot. The second was earlier this year when I went on a two-week trip to Europe with friends. Turned out to be too long to be away from my wife and daughter and the last three or four days I just ached to see them. But in both those cases what I really wanted was them to be with me, not for me to be at home.

Thing is, as much as I've loved several places I've lived in the States, like Seattle, New York, and Chicago; none of them even come close to comparing to such cities as Munich, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, London, etc. I guess I just love European Socialism and the European pace.

But more than the love of a specific place is the desire to see it all. I want to go everywhere. I don't know where this wanderlust comes from but I know I'm not unique. Isn't this what humans have always done, tried to find out what more is out there?

But I come from a family that has anything but wanderlust. I've got Midwestern aunts and uncles that wouldn't even dare to go to New York or San Francisco, much less somewhere outside the country, save maybe fishing in Canada. And others look at us like we're crazy when my wife and I mention all the places we've taken our daughter. There is some bizarre school of thought among some parents that you can't travel with kids outside of national parks and Disney World. I sure as hell am happy that my kid has seen Istanbul instead of Orlando.

My only regret is not traveling more when I was younger. I should have backpacked through Europe in my twenties when sleeping in tents or cheap hostels would have been fun instead of uncomfortable. I thought I needed more money to do it and I was always very poor at the time. I could have saved up for plane tickets instead of buying weed. I also should have done a year abroad in college. I had some idea that interrupting my theatre education would be bad for my career opportunities. I ended up without a theatre career anyway, so that decision will always haunt me.

I don't understand people that don't have wanderlust. I can't fathom not wanting to travel the world.

I guess it is this: You have only one life and there is only one world. See it.

(This picture of my daughter being wowed by converging trams in Prague pretty much captures everything I love about traveling with her)