While growing up, my dad traveled nearly two weeks out of every month. He was constantly jet setting to London, Berlin, India, San Francisco, and other exotic places that are apparently very interested in holding bone density conferences. He’d always come home with souvenirs (first Beanie Babies, then fake designer purses – as my tastes evolved), and I remember thinking how fun it all seemed. Sometimes I was even invited to go on business travel with Dad – which was basically like Christmas, summer vacation, and my birthday all wrapped up into one joyous trip. Everything about it seemed perfect. Being young and unclear on reality – I just assumed I’d travel for work when I got older. That was just what adults did.
Then I grew up, graduated from college, and plummeted into the workforce all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed – only to be brutally reminded that work always feels like work, and not all adult careers involve travel. A corporate career felt like a bad dream I couldn’t wake up from. 9 – 5. All day. Every day. And not enough PTO or energy to even take advantage of my salary and travel for fun. My head hit the pavement, and that was that.
I was blessed to find a job early on at small marketing agency, and within months of working there, I began to travel. And not just an occasional quick trip to Chicago. I began to travel incessantly. Two days in Seattle, three in San Francisco, one night at home, followed by 9 days in Europe, visiting 7 countries in 7 days, followed by a whopping 6 hours at home only to board a 5 AM flight to Detroit the next day.
My first business trip was the most exhilarating thing that ever happened to me. I felt so alive with my corporate credit card, a meal paid for by the company, and a lavish hotel room in the middle of a thriving metropolis. And that was just the bonus high. Meeting with high-powered executives at corporate headquarters and eloquently presenting a pitch I had spent all night memorizing was the real adrenaline kick. Sleep was unnecessary. I was so awake. So present. I had arrived. This was my time.
I’m writing this as I sit on a semi-squishy mattress at 4:40 AM in Amsterdam, with a red-wine-induced headache and jet lag.
Let me be blunt: the glamour wears off.
To my friends and family, I’m a rather successful millennial with an important job that allows me to travel all across the globe experiencing many wonders, places, and people. And the last thing I want to do is seem ungrateful for what my relatively young career has provided me with. I’m sure many would kill just to experience a taste. I know that I am blessed, and I am undeniably grateful for what I have. But if there is anything that traveling has taught me: it’s that I’m grateful for what I have at home.
The frequent travel has provided me with a deep sense of contentment for the life I am building at home – in my quaint one-bedroom with leaky faucets, and the neighborhood bowling alley that serves $3 Jamesons, and the yoga studio that I volunteer at one night a week. A life that I miss when I am away. A life that l long to dive deeper into – not travel farther away from. Isn’t that a true blessing? A measure of success? To have cultivated a life and a community that I don’t want to leave? As millennials, we glorify travel so much. Like true happiness could be obtained if we could just be free to wander the globe and see oceans, mountains, and have a deep conversation with a stranger.
But the days and nights on the road rob me of the relationships I am trying so desperately to build and maintain at home. The community that I am trying to build for myself. And I very rarely see the ocean, even when I travel to the coasts. Because “free time” is never truly “free” when you travel for work.
And even though I know none of my friends resent me or feel the need to abandon me based on my sporadic travel – I can still sense their lack of understanding when my job comes up in casual conversation. “You are gone ALL. THE. TIME. I can’t believe you just got back from Europe. You are doing so well at your job. That’s kick ass.”
Is traveling abroad the measure of success in a job? Have I arrived at this peak of performance because I get to spend my nights alone, wandering around foreign cities and sending Snapchats of my glamorous life to everyone I know – not to make them jealous – but because I so desperately want to share it with someone? Anyone?
Maybe I need an attitude adjustment. A shift in my perspective. And maybe I just don’t want to feel ashamed for not wanting any of this if I can’t share it. And as stimulating as conversations with local strangers can be – it isn’t necessarily connecting. And what I truly crave in my life is connection.
To travel for work is to inevitably be alone. And there’s nothing quite as lonely as sitting in a quintessential Dutch pub while you peruse your friend’s Facebook pages and text your Dad about how all this traveling isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.
But my Dad always responds with the same sentiment. “I did all that so you could chase your dreams.”
I’m not sure I’m proud of this dream I’m chasing.