The Thanksgiving Advent Calendar, Day Eight: Travel

I am writing this from the library of Lehigh University, where I am to meet with students who are reading a book of mine, and where later this afternoon I’ll do a reading and give a talk. In a little over a week, I’ll go to Toronto, where I give a public reading and am the Guest of Honor at a convention. Sometime in the next couple of weeks I’m also supposed to fly to LA to be on a TV show, although that’s been delayed a couple of times and I expect will be again, but that’s all right because I was in LA a few weeks back to meet with my agents and do some other things — and then was there in May as well as part of my book tour which otherwise took me to more than a dozen US cities. This doesn’t include my recently concluded German book tour, my week sojourn in San Diego, or my trip to Reno for the WorldCon, or to Austin for the Texas Library Association meeting or New Orleans for the American Library Association. For 2012 I have trips planned for Detroit, Boston, Washington DC, Chicago, Minneapolis, Kansas City and San Diego. I don’t doubt between now and the end of that year I’ll add a few more stops to the agenda.

My name is John Scalzi, and I travel a lot.

I didn’t always. For the first eighteen years of my life I rarely if ever traveled anywhere: A couple family trips to Mexico and few trips to see relatives in Las Vegas and Northern California, and one summer I took part in a school “peccary trip” which had me hunting fossils in the American West. But that was pretty much it. One of the reasons I went to the University of Chicago for college was because I liked the idea of getting away from the place I had known all my life. College saw me travel only slightly more, and then my time in the actual workforce saw relatively little travel as well — my job as a movie critic meant I would travel to LA or occasionally San Francisco, but both of those were only a few hours away. I hardly traveled at all when I worked at AOL.

But then I became a science fiction writer and I started going places.

For what? Conventions. Book tours. Conferences. Workshops. College events. Book fairs. Lectures. And so on. They add up pretty quickly. And now I end up traveling at least once a month and usually more, because I am a writer.

Which I find ironic. Writing is by and large a solitary endeavor — you in a room with a computer or notebook. Occasionally people go to a coffee shop or a library or some other place to work, but it’s still about shutting out the rest of the world and focusing on the computer screen or sheet of paper in front of you. The idea that this would lead to me having to leave the house, and the state, and often the country, on a regular basis when all the other jobs and endeavors I had which involved dealing with other people kept me in one place most of the time… well, as I said. Ironic.

Mostly, I like the travel. Where I live now is far removed from most of the rest of the world, so the constant travel lets me see people I like and places I’ve never been before. Since I am considered to be an interesting person who other people are interested in, much of the time my travel is covered by others, who seem genuinely happy to have me around and treat me well while I am with them, so most of my travel is rather more congenial than it is for other people. There are times when it drags, but that’s more about me than it is about the travel; in a fit of exuberance, I’ll occasionally overcommit travel-wise and then find myself bleary-eyed and dazed and having to be in what I call “performing monkey mode” a little more than I would prefer. As noted, this is my fault, not anyone else’s. I should know my own limits. So if you’re inviting me to travel somewhere and I say no, keep it mind it’s not you, it’s me, and my desire to make sure that I’m not a brain-dead zombie when I show up at your event.

On that note, one of the things that I find all this writing-related travel is doing is stoking a desire in me for travel that’s not associated with me doing some work at the arrival end of it. I have been fortunate to see a whole lot of the US and some of the world in the last few years, but often it’s on the way to doing something else. Prior to this work-related travel, the idea of going places just to go to them seemed like a slightly counter-intuitive concept. But now I get it. I’d like to do more of it. And I’d like to do more of it with my family, which often doesn’t get to come with me on my trips — that whole “school and real work” thing they’ve got going. They’re who I miss when I travel, and I would like to miss them less, and have them with me more wherever I am.

But wherever I am I’m still generally having a ball. As I said, it’s strange such a solitary job has meant so much travel, but, hey, I’ll take it. It’s fun, and I’m glad it happens to me. I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

18 Comments on “The Thanksgiving Advent Calendar, Day Eight: Travel”

  1. Travel is the scariest/most exciting thing about being a writer that I’ve seen. I know it’s the thing I’m most concerned about for myself if my writing career actually does take off.

    That being said, I have gotten better about it. A couple years ago I spent a week in Cuba (thankfully with people who’d gone there previously). Last year I went on my own to Montreal for a convention (and had the opportunity to meet a plethora of nice people I wouldn’t have otherwise). This year/next year I’m applying for both Clarion workshops, so I might be spending six weeks next summer in a place I’ve never been, surrounded by people I don’t know. Scary, but exicting, as I said before.

  2. I found that when I worked for a Big Law Firm, I travelled very little. There was little sense to go to New York to close a deal when my part worked just as well with me in San Francisco and the occasional exotic trips that might have required my presence (Tokyo; Zurich; Singapore) promised little actual time outside of a conference room and I was either happy to let other people go or more senior people decided they ought to go. As a solo, however, if my presence is required, there’s no substitute for me so that’s meant Seoul and Costa Rica and Washington DC and (hopefully next year) India. It’s a great deal more fun to go somewhere on business and know you aren’t just one of an array of substitutable cogs, but the guy they need there.

  3. I am thankful for the times that travel allows me the opportunity to see people, places and events that remind me to be thankful for my family, friends and home life.

  4. as a fan of fiction writing, please let me know if you ever are scheduled for a book signing event in the Sacramento area.

  5. This has nothing to do with your post, but IJWTS that as the picture was loading, I at first thought the statue was holding a banjo.

  6. I too travel a fair amount for business. The accumulated miles, hotel points, and frequent traveler and stay status makes personal travel cheaper and nicer. Sometimes my wife and I go on a trip just for fun, other times she will join me at the end of a seminar week and we will do a long weekend together. We have done those in Key West, Vermont (in October), Maine, and California. I guess for you John, it would be during the week if you are at a convention.

  7. Oh my, I forgot one other thing I wanted to say: I am thankful for you, John Scalzi, and the many hours of enjoyment I have gotten from reading your books, and the hours of interesting conversation on your blog. When are you coming to Minneapolis again?

  8. I did it in reverse, I worked for a (now defunct) cargo airline when I was younger and as a benefit I could buy $50 standby airline tickets (first class)to anywhere in the U.S. where I would then rent a (majorly discounted)car and cruise around for 5-10 days, and I took full advantage of it. Now I rarely leave the house and am very thankful to not have to travel much.

  9. Well you may occasionally go to the coffee shop to work, but I have it on good auhtority that you aren’t fooling anyone when you do.

  10. the ease at which we move about the planet today is staggering compared to what it was even fifty years ago. I have seen in person stonehenge, the coliseum, pompei, istanbul, athens, israel, the atlantic, the pacific, the mediteranean, all four corners of the US, the caribbean, and Im sure Im forgetting some. Before I die, I would like to see the pyramids, the khyber pass, Buddha’s bodhi tree, the great wall, australia, and a few others. and the crazy thing is I dont have to devote my life to traveling to make those destinations happen. it is mind blowing for me.

  11. In my experience, business travel sucks. Many times I’ve woken in a cookie-cutter hotel room only to realize I don’t know where I am. I mean I don’t even know the city I’m in much less the name of the hotel. Once I even had to call the front desk and ask. Be glad you haven’t yet reached the level of burn-out I’ve achieved.

  12. You should fictionalise it, and write a novel about a trouble-shooter who travels to all sorts of different planets.

  13. I love to travel as well. I spent the better part of the last twenty years outside the US. My job now allows me to travel the US and reacquaint myself with my own wonderful country. To be able to travel is fantastic, but to be able to travel and get paid for it is even better.

  14. Mr. Teufel: You should fictionalise it, and write a novel about a trouble-shooter who travels to all sorts of different planets.

    Lois McMaster Bujold already beat him to it.

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