Next Monday I will take my last flight of 2018 home to Chicago for the holidays. That flight will be flight number 70 for me this year. SEVEN ZERO. Seventy flights, seventy different planes. I traveled 30 weeks out of this year for work, 4 weeks out of this year for planned vacation, and 4 weeks for family/friend visits in between it all. That is nearly 38 out 52 weeks spent away from home. I know some people travel way more than this, but this is the first year I’ve had to cope with a schedule like this.
I thought about writing about travel tips or airport routines but I wanted to focus on something more important. What I actually want to talk about is the toll this travel has taken on me this year. I never thought that I would be on a plane this much, and if I did, I’m sure I thought it would be infinitely more glamorous. In the past, traveling was always an exciting event. Airports were fun to explore, and the rush I would get when the plane would take off would last me until my destination. Unfortunately, only a small percent of my trips this year invoked those feelings – my vacations. The rest of my trips were for work and decidedly un-glamorous.
My work travel is slowly killing me. In the past, I would travel once or twice a month which I think is my ideal. I get a chance to go and visit new clients, explore a couple of new cities, great. But for most of this year, I have been shuttling back and forth every single week. A lot of San Francisco with some Denver, Seattle, LA, and Salt Lake City sprinkled in. Monday morning fly in, work, work, work, Thursday night fly back. This is pretty typical for consultants, but because the first year or so at this job I didn’t travel this much, I didn’t realize how much this type of schedule would drain me.
I don’t want this to be a depressing post, but I do want to be honest about what it feels like to travel for work all the time. The first issue I have is physical. It’s much harder to get into a good routine of working out when your schedule is never consistent. I can’t join a gym or commit to new types of training since I would never be able to participate. Eating well is a nightmare since while I’m traveling, I can’t cook for myself so I have to spend increasing amounts of time getting my hands on foods that are actually good for me. Just the plane ride itself can be hazardous since they are known incubators of disease and can also do a number on your skin and hair since the air is so cold and dry.
The second, and far more damaging issue with this way of life, is the emotional part. It is lonely, living this way. The actual traveling part is always done alone. I go through security alone, I sit at the gate alone, I fly alone, I uber alone, I eat alone. Then when I get to the client, that’s obviously all work. I get some social interaction, but being a consultant is having a lot of either work conversations, or small talk conversations that don’t really mean anything and are more draining to participate in than refreshing. Evenings are usually, once again, spent alone. There are occasions where I’m able to meet friends that are in that city, or there are work dinners, but nine times out of ten – I spend the night alone.
Doing this every once in a while wasn’t so bad. But every week? It starts to wear you down. I grow more and more resentful of my trips because they take me away from spending time with people I love. Earlier this week my Monday morning flight ended up getting delayed by two and half hours and I broke down in tears in the bathroom because if I had known this before I left my apartment, I could have spent those two precious hours in bed with my boyfriend instead of wasting away at the airport yet again.
There are, of course, two sides to every story. Travel really wears me down, but I do have an insane amount of air miles, credit card points, and hotel status that I can take advantage of now. I’ve barely paid for any of my vacations out of pocket because I have so much status to use up. I also have my airport routine down pat and most of the time it only takes me ten minutes or less from the curb to the gate area. Sometimes, I even get upgrades and then I really feel fancy. But all of that feels hollow compared with what I’m sacrificing.
I know I can’t be the only one who feels this way, and I can only imagine how much more guilty and awful I would feel if I had kids or something that I was leaving behind each week, but I also have met a ton of people that cope with this lifestyle just fine. They leave every week, are home on the weekends, and that’s just their life. Part of me knows that eventually, I too, would get used to this, it would just become my norm and I would figure out how to feel less lonely. But part of me also doesn’t want to. I don’t think I want to be one of those people that is everywhere but lives nowhere. Maybe this lifestyle is easier for people who already have an amazing community built up at their hometown, but I feel travel pains ever more acutely as my social life in Calgary hangs by a thread since I’m never there to nurture it. When I travel, I feel like I’m missing out, and when I return, it’s obvious that I have and that feeling is killing me. And it’s not missing out on parties, or dinners that gets to me, it’s missing all the small moments – watching a movie with a friend on a weeknight, laughing with my boyfriend while we cook dinner together, going to a gym class where I see the same people every Tuesday. None of those things can happen for me with this life, and THAT is what is killing me. THOSE are the things I’m becoming more and more attached to, and I’m coming to the realization that I don’t want to live a life that means giving those up all the time.