2.02.2015

Travel Shmavel

Among most of the cultural cliques to which I'm exposed, travel is a priori good. Every woman's profile I see on OK Cupid or Match declares her love for travel. They all list their passport as one of the essential things they need, usually along with coffee, their phone, and good friends. Oy.

Me, I will admit without hesitation: I don't like to travel.  It's all such a fucking hassle. Flights and packing and the humiliation of planes only to find myself in a city that's more or less like any other city only suddenly I have none of the things that fuel my everyday health. I'm stuck researching, finding, and finally consuming meal after meal prepared by strangers. Sure, once in a while I'll find some freakishly delicious dumpling, some new combination of tastes and textures, expanding my world. But, usually, I'm eating mediocre food that I'd have prepared differently and that inevitably leaves me with a cocktail of thirst and gas.

Going to another country is even worse. All the things that support my intellectual, emotional, and existential vitality are gone — where to sleep, eat, shit, drink water, drink booze, use money, talk, know the fuck I'm going. I'm reduced to an imbecile (yes, yes, I hear the jokes now: you're already an imbecile, you imbecile). At home, all those needs are tended to so I can delve, think, push myself.

Of course, I see the edification afforded by alienation from everyday bourgeois comforts. It's good and healthy not to take all the crap we have for granted, to be exposed to discomfort, confusion, a distancing from the life one takes for granted. No doubt.

But I'm alienated enough as is in my own world! I feel like a freak amongst the working, familial throngs of America. I don't take my TV or gluten free bed or wifi or drinkable tap water or home cooked meals for granted. I love them all, reckon them all, savor them all.  Why, then, would I need them stripped of me — voluntarily? And at great expense?

This is not to say that I don't like being somewhere else than my own house. I'll travel eagerly to an exquisite house in an exquisite location where I can enjoy peace, beauty, a yawning horizon, a glittering night sky. I'll even venture to some obscure location and sleep beneath the stars — if it beckons with that touch of the divine. Oh, give me that desert view and the quiet of yelping coyotes and I'm happy as a clam.

But flying from San Francisco to New York for a few days? Oy gevalt. Sure, seeing excellent friends is great and worth the tsuris. But to just go there to check it out? What's there to do besides buy and eat shit?

Now, I could launch into ideological critiques of travel. I could suggest that the will to travel is fundamentally imperial, not in the sense of conquering the other but of enjoying the other for your delight. Not everyone assumes travel to be a good thing; it is a distinctly cultural and class desire.

I could also suggest that travel feeds the bourgeois need for distraction from the horror of work, family, debt, the soul draining pain of Facebook and suburbs and anther god damned burrito. Travel distracts by forcing us to deal with the nonsense of life — money, food, sleep, water. Suddenly, we don't have to deal with the deathly mundanity of our existence.

But perhaps the problem lies not in travel but in me (I can hear all the women I've had in my life nodding in emphatic affirmation). Perhaps, as said women suggest, I'm a prima donna, a lazy fuck, a curmudgeon.

On the other hand, if we remove the a priori good from travel, then perhaps I simply don't like it. My distaste doesn't have to point to some deep character flaw, however much others would like that to be the case. Perhaps such is my metabolism, simply how I roll. Just as I don't criticize my lady friends for not, say, regularly reading Nietzsche, they don't have to lay into me for not wanting to travel. Perhaps it's just a matter of my constitution and by not traveling, I'm being true to my self.

How do we become who we are? Well, we feel it out. The world offers us peyote, Jean-Luc Godard, the Fast and the Furious, chopped chicken liver, satin sheets, pilates and we consider each more or less. Sometimes, for sure, we reject as said thing might kill us. Other times, we reject out of fear even though said thing might enliven us, fuel us, ignite us. What are our criteria? How are we to know?

Alas, I'm 45, I've traveled and I don't like it. It drains me. All you would-be girlfriends be damned. I'll give you adventures of another sort. But I don't need to see Ho Chi Minh City or Greenpoint to be fulfilled or happy. All the world I need is right here, right now. At least for the time being.

3 comments:

Lindsay Meisel said...

Oh man, I feel you! I have so many horrid memories of wandering aimlessly around cities: Florence, Geneva, Toronto, ugh. People travel because they want to experience something new, but after a few hours of walking around a new city, all I want to do is sit down in a cafe and read a book, which I could probably do more comfortably from my own city.

For me, it's not travel per se that's the issue, it's traveling in cities. Cities, I think, reward residents more than visitors. It takes a while to figure a city out, and there's something really gratifying about building a routine in the city where you live, something that's impossible to replicate when you're just passing through a city for a few days.

I've had great experiencing traveling in non-urban places, particularly the Swiss Alps. When I wanted to go back to the Alps for a second trip last year, people asked me why I didn't want to explore someplace new. But I'd go back to the Alps 20 more times if I could, and I'd probably enjoy it more each time.

Sara Seoudy said...

Please don't ever stop writing.

Daniel Coffeen said...

LM: I think you're spot on — cities are about time, building a community, whereas the right natural spot offers itself to immediate pleasure (or displeasure, I suppose) and consumption. I've been to the Alps (French side) and they are awesome.

Sara: Thank you so much — for reading, the kind words, and taking the time to write them. Truly.