1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Twelve: Travel
I never thought I would travel as much as I do today.
This year, as an example, for work: Two book tours, comprising a total of 21 stops and just over three weeks. Conventions in Detroit and Phoenix and San Jose and Albuquerque. Festivals in Los Angeles and Nantes, France (with a side trip during the latter for an event in Paris). A working cruise to Mexico. A trade show in Minneapolis. Individual speaking events here and there, like a recent event in Cleveland. Next year: London and Budapest and Aviles, Spain and Dublin, another working cruise, this time to the Caribbean, plus undoubtedly more events not currently scheduled but to be added later. Heck, tomorrow I go to Columbus, Ohio — which is just down the road, but it’s an actual work-related event, so it counts.
And that’s just for work. I travel sometimes just for myself! Weddings, reunions, visiting friends and even — gasp! — taking a vacation with my wife and/or family.
I travel so much that when I have a month I’m not scheduled to travel, it’s a minor miracle (not this month, incidentally — aside from Columbus I have a NYC trip scheduled to do a bit of business and catch up with a pal).
It was, as they say, not always thus. In 1998, I rarely traveled at all — I would travel to New York once or twice for client work that couldn’t be handled over the computer or phone, and Krissy and I would travel to Ohio for one of the major holidays, and that would pretty much be that. When we moved to Ohio in 2001, I think I had one trip to NYC for business, and one trip to Nevada that was cancelled because it was scheduled the week 9/11 happened. I don’t think I traveled anywhere in 2002 at all.
(And before 1998? Well. I almost never traveled as a kid — traveling costs money and we were poor — and I didn’t even get east of the Mississippi before I went to college at the University of Chicago. It was, literally, the furthest away from my home I’d ever been. My first trip out of North America was three years later when I took a college press junket to Israel, and aside from a connection at Heathrow, the first time I was in Europe proper was 2005, for the Worldcon in Glasgow. Australia would wait until 2010. I still haven’t been to Asia (unless you want to point out that technically, Israel is in Asia, which, sure, okay, but come on, dude) or Africa or South America. Or Antarctica. I don’t think I’ll be going to Antarctica. Ugh. Cold.)
I actually didn’t start traveling extensively — more than a couple of times a year — until 2007, when I went on my first book tour*, for The Last Colony. That tour had me out on the road from April 23 through May 10, which happens to be my birthday; on the last stop of the tour, in Richmond, VA, the bookstore presented me with a birthday cake, which I thought was a delightful touch. Around this same time I also started getting Guest of Honor invitations at science fiction conventions; my first actual GoH stint was at Armadillocon in 2008, but others rapidly followed.
The travel started to pile on. And here’s how I knew that my travel life had changed: In 2007, just before that first book tour, I actually had to get a cell phone. Prior to then I made do with using a special dial-in number at pay phones — hey, remember pay phones? — but I figured (correctly) that when I was on tour really the last thing I would want to do after an event was track down a pay phone to call Krissy and Athena. It’s hard these days to imagine life without a cell phone, and I note it’s hard to imagine me, a bona fide tech nerd, not having a cell phone at the earliest possible date. But again, until 2007, I never really needed one. Why? Because, mostly, I was home.
My full travel madness really started happening in 2011, when (after a three year hiatus) I started publishing novels on a usually-once-a-year basis, and each of those novels included a book tour lasting anywhere from two-and-a-half to five weeks. This years’ tour for Head On was actually the shortest one I’ve done since 2007 — just nine stops! — but that’s mostly because Tor has me putting out two books this year, and the Consuming Fire tour will have me out long enough to make up the margin. The tours have come on top of a generally full schedule of conventions and book fairs and festivals and trade shows and so on, with other travel, including personal travel, shoveled in there as well. Since 2011, I figure I’m away on the average of a week every month; a full three months of the year, not at home.
Which is not all bad! I like to travel and see new places and meet new people, and catch up with friends at conventions and events that they also happen to be at; I would not see probably ninety percent of my friends as much as I do if I stopped traveling. I like that when I travel on book tours or for events, people are happy to see me; that’s great for my ego. These days much of my travel goes through a speaker’s bureau, so I also get paid when I travel, which honestly is pretty great. Often I get to take Krissy with me to things, so she gets a vacation while I work, and then we usually have a couple of days where we both get to be on vacation, which is also great. And in a larger sense I like that my job means I get to see the world, which was a wholly unexpected aspect of the gig. I thought my gig was about sitting in a room, writing on a computer. It is, but it’s more than that too.
On the flip side: Going places is cool, but the actual travel is a pain in the ass a lot of time. Airports are a drag, even with TSA Pre. Flights get delayed or cancelled, fucking up everything. I get to travel to cool places, but a lot of the time I don’t get to see more than a hotel, often near the airport. After three days I start missing Krissy and it makes me cranky, which I have to keep to myself. When I’m traveling for work, when I meet people I’m in “on” mode, because that’s the job, and that’s exhausting because I am actually an introvert. It’s difficult for me to write when I travel, so that’s less time I have to do the real work that I’m meant to do. When I travel I’m generally swathed in hand sanitizer, because I don’t know where the people I’m with have been and they don’t know where I’ve been either. Traveling can be lonely. Room service makes you chunky.
So basically, surprise: There are pros and cons to travel.
I travel a lot but I know people who travel more. I have musician friends who have to constantly tour; I have actor friends who if they’re not on a set somewhere have their weekends claimed until the heat death of the universe by media conventions where they have to sign and/or take photos — likewise comic book and indie book creators who rely on those conventions for sales and commissions. I honestly don’t know how they’re not exhausted and sick all the time; maybe they’re extroverts with immune systems made of steel. I do know I’m happy to let them keep their own travel schedules, and I’ll keep mine.
Ironically, I would like to travel more. It’s just that I’d like for that to be personal travel. Krissy and I have decided that we like doing the tourist thing in moderate amounts, and there are lots of places in the world to visit. I think my goal for the next twenty years will be more travel of that sort. It’s a nice planet; it would be nice to see more of it.
But don’t worry; I’ll still be traveling for work too, for the foreseeable future. You’ll find me out there.
( *My first book tour was actually in 2000, but it was cut short two stops in and I was sent home — not because of anything I did wrong, mind you — so I tend not to think of that as my first actual tour.)