Traveling With Joy

Recently, two people I respect very much tweeted about travel, and how to remain positive and grateful while you do it. You can read those tweets here (https://twitter.com/UberGeekGirl/status/961080557063909377) and here ( https://twitter.com/jbiggley/status/961204675352686592).

When I saw Jessica's first tweet, I wanted to respond, but thought, "She doesn't need my noise in her twitter feed. But when Josh jumped in with his thoughtful response, I had to join in. If you prefer tweets, you can find the starting point here. For old-fashioned folks who still like correct spelling, complete sentences, and non-serialized thoughts, read on:

First, you need to understand that I have some very strong opinions about how someone should carry themselves if they are lucky enough to get to do "exciting" travel for work. When I say exciting travel, I mean:

  • Travel to some place that YOU find exciting
    or
  • Travel that someone ELSE might find exciting

Here's why I feel so strongly:

As I've written before (http://www.itproday.org/what-makes-an-it-professional/), my Dad was a musician. His combination of talent, youth, and connections (mostly talent) gave him the opportunity to join a prestigious orchestra, one that traveled extensively from the time he joined (in 1963) until he retired 46 years later. My dad went everywhere. He was escorted through Checkpoint Charlie twice in the 60s. He wandered around cold-war, iron-curtain Moscow around the same time. He traveled to Australia, Mexico, all over Europe, and, of course, to almost every state in the United States.

It was a charmed life. To be sure, he worked hard to get where he was and made sacrifices along the way. But at the end of the day, he got to play great music with talented colleagues in front of sell-out audiences around the world. It was SO remarkable, that people sometimes had a hard time believing that was all he did.

Because I would "go to work" with him from time to time (which meant a lot of sitting in the green room, wandering backstage, and standing next to him during intermission when he'd come out for some fresh air, I was privy to him meeting audience members without really being part of their conversation, which would often follow a very specific pattern:

"So what do you do during the day?" they'd ask, figuring that he--like the musicians they probably knew--did this as a side gig while they worked an office job or plied a trade to pay the bills. When they found out that this was ALL he did, that he got paid a living wage to perform music, their sense of amazement increased. That's when they would begin asking (i.e. gushing) about the traveling. While some of these people were well-off, many were folks who often had never left the state where they were born, let alone the country, let alone been on a plane. That's when it became hard to watch.

He'd shrug and say, "I get on a plane, sleep, get off the plane, get on the bus, go to the hall, rehearse, eat, play the concert, get on a bus, go to the next town, sleep, get up, rehearse, eat, play. I could be in Timbuktu or Topeka."

From my fly-on-the-wall vantage point, I'd watch the other person deflate. They had hoped to feel a sense of wonder imagining the exotic, the special. Instead, they had the dawning recognition that they might as well have been talking to a plumber about the stores he visits. (No disrespect to plumbers. You folks rock.)

As I grew up and settled into a career in IT, I never thought I'd have the kind of work that would give me opportunities to travel the way my dad did. Which is why, years later, I stood crying under the Eiffel tower. Not because of the wonder of the structure, but for the miracle that I was standing there AT ALL. I was overwhelmed by the sheer impossible magic of being in a role where traveling from Cleveland, Ohio to Paris was possible in any context other than a once-in-a-lifetime, piggy-bank-breaking vacation.

A three-month project in Brussels followed Paris. A year in Switzerland came after that. In between were shorter trips, no less inspiring for being closer to home. Just getting onto a plane and taking off was an adventure in itself.

And through it all were the people. As Jessica said in her tweet, "Thousands of unseen humans help me get to my destination." I was meeting these people, hearing their stories, and being asked to tell mine.

In those moments--in the Lyft on the way to the airport; checking in at the hotel; sitting next to someone on the shuttle to the car rental area--I'm reminded of those moments when I stood next to my dad during intermission. While there are many things about the man that I admire, he's not infallible, and there are definitely habits of his that I choose not to emulate. This is one of them.

So I try to write (sometimes more than is strictly required of me) when I go to new and different places. When I have the time and focus, I write before I go about what I hope to see/do/learn; and then I write again afterward, detailing what I saw, who I met, and how it went.

As Head Geek for SolarWinds, I write these essays partly because it's actually my job. (Best. Job. Ever.) But I also do it because I'm aware that jobs like mine are unique. I want to provide a vicarious experience for those who might want it, so that they can share a sense of wonder about the exotic, the special.

I also write so that, if someone has chosen to forego these types of opportunities, either due to ambivalence, anxiety, or uncertainty, that maybe they might find motivation, reassurance, or insight; that in reading about my experiences, they might realize they have more to gain than they thought.

Finally, I write about my travels for myself. To remind me that, like both Jessica and Josh said, in each trip, thousands of things go right and thousands of people are helping me get where I need to go. To remind me of the wonder, the exotic, the special.

And the blessing.

Anonymous
  • I miss traveling for work.  This whole being stationary for my job can get stale rather quickly.  Great article and thanks for the share!

  • Agreed on all counts, and thank you for coming to Dad's defense (although he really doesn't need it. At 80 the man can still hold his own when we start taking digs at each other. TRUST ME. Plus, he has all those years of naked baby pictures and "remember when you were 3 and thought you could marry the dog" stories to fall back on).

    And I agree that I am very thankful that times have changed (to an extent) and that I can share my experiences without causing true jealousy to be an issue.

    Thank you for reading!

  • I always enjoy reading what Leon has to say. Sometimes it's informative on the SolarWinds front, sometimes it's educational on the IT front and often it's enlightening on the personal front. It's nice to get more than just a sales pitch and technical information.

    Articles like this makes it feel like I'm getting to know the person.

  • I'm a 1st gen American. Growing up my dad worked in the mail room at the British Embassy in DC. They had a policy called Home Leave. Every 4 years the embassy paid for the travel of the employee's family to go back to the employee's home country for 4 weeks. My mom was a secretary at the World Bank. They had a similar policy. Starting in the mid-70's every 2 years we would either go to Scotland or Australia, and many points in between. This went on into my college years until the early 90's when both my parents retired.

        While I HATED travel I loved the destinations. I come from very large families but hardly any of them live in the US. So the combination of visiting family and see the world left a huge impression on me. One that still exists today.

        In 2003 my girlfriend at the time had never left the US. So for a surprise birthday present I "kidnapped" her and took her to Scotland. I proposed to her at the base of Castle Varrich near the village of Tongue. And at the end of the year we honeymooned in Australia. So yea, she's got the travel bug too.

    I will say this. Travel has changed so much in 40 years. I remember a long layover in Auckland in 1980 I was so bored that I spent the better part of 7 hours running up the 'Down' escalator to pass the time.  :-)

  • Nice article, I very much enjoyed reading it. I would like to defend your dad a little bit here. Times were different and he probably had good reasons to react like he did. First of all he probably did not want to brag about being able to travel when most people did not have that opportunity. Back then one did not openly enjoy some of these aspects of work. Like medicine, work had to taste bad to justify getting paid for it. Because of this he also probably wanted to avoid making others envious or jealous that he as a musician (which isn't "real work", right?) would not only get paid for playing music, but also get paid to travel to all these awesome destinations. Even nowadays envy is still prevalent in many companies of other's "pleasure trips" for work. Therefore I don't think his intention was to "deflate" people's dreams, but rather avoid to make them feel bad. I remember as a kid I also could not understand how my dad could not be as excited as I was about being able to fly somewhere and get paid for it. A kid only sees the excitement and joy, not the hard work, jet lag, and impact to the family.

    Because of all this, let's be thankful that times have changed and that we can enjoy business travel as long as it does not overly impact our private lives. I always try to add at least a day or two to any business trip so I can enjoy the wonders of this world and the amazing people who live in it.

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