Reader Request Week 2022 #3: Travel in the New Age

Transiting through ORD. Note the mask on the dinosaur.

James asks:

I’m curious about your experience with travel. How has your experience of travel changed now that you are able to travel again after a year or two of break? Are there things you do to maintain normalcy during heavy book tour travel? Do you try to get other things done while traveling, or is your attention mostly just focused on touring?

Having just come back from touring, and having several more trips to book festivals to go before the end of May, I have to say that the dynamic of touring this time was pretty much the same as it was before: I showed up, did my schtick, signed books and chatted with people as I did so, went back to the hotel to sleep, went to the airport, wash, rinse and repeat. When I tour I’m focused on touring, and not on doing other stuff, and that didn’t change this tour; aside from the occasional business email which couldn’t be ignored, I was in a tour bubble, and happily so.

What was different this time, and will continue to be different with the festivals I’m attending, is that a lot of my things were “back at it again” events. At several of the bookstores I went to on the tour, my event was the first live event that they had hosted in two years or more. When I go to the LA Times Festival of Books in a couple of weeks, that will be the first time they have done that festival — the largest book festival in the US — in a live setting since 2020. And so on.

None of it is new, but all of it is happening again after long enough of a pause that in a sense there was an uncertainty about it all. As in: Will people show up at all, or are they still staying at home? Alternately, if people show up, will they throw a fit if they are asked to wear a mask (as many if not most of the bookstores on my tours asked people to do)? Will people remember how to be people in front of other people, or will we revert to grasping savagery? And so on. And as it turns out, the answers have been: They will show up, albeit maybe not at completely full capacity yet — my events were running at about 80% of the attendance of my last live tour — the people who show up will have no problems wearing a mask (one assumes if they had a problem with it, they just didn’t show up, which may explain the 80% thing), and the people who showed up seemed to be able to people just fine, or at least, as well as they ever did.

In a larger sense, my feelings about travel now are roughly what they were before; with the exception of currently still having to wear a mask at the airport and on planes (to which I have no objection, and fortunately haven’t had to share airport or plane space with anyone who does), it feels about the same. Bear in mind that I didn’t take a plane trip for 18 months, during the time when air traffic was severely curtailed, so by the time I did get back to it, in September of ’21, most of the rough edges of COVID-era travel had been smoothed down, and most major airports were no longer ghost towns (smaller airports are a different story, still — my local airport in Dayton lost a huge amount of its activity, both in terms of its shops, and where planes go. Now, if you’re not going to Atlanta, Chicago, Charlotte or Dallas/Ft. Worth, you’re taking a connecting flight).

But certainly there was a moment of adjustment. The first trip Krissy and I took together after more than a year of lockdown at home was last July, when we took a (belated) anniversary trip to the far and exotic city of… Indianapolis, to which we drove. It was at the point where friends of ours who lived there had all had their second shots, so it felt safe(r) to hang out and enjoy each other’s company. It was a modest trip, in terms of travel, but it was also the proof of concept: It could be done. Our next trip was to Dragon Con in Atlanta, and that was a bit of a cannonball into the deep end, since it was 40K+ people. It was an enjoyable time! And not a super spreader event! And another proof of concept: As long as people weren’t complete dicks, and followed some basic hygienic guidelines, travel could be a thing.

At this point I have done several conventions, a Caribbean cruise, and, of course, a book tour. I have not caught COVID, and thanks to two shots and two boosters (and other factors), I’m am not too worried that if I do, that I will end up in a hospital (I would of course still quarantine if I caught it; I’m not going to give to others if I can avoid it). It’s fine. Everything is mostly fine.

Which is to say, again, with the exception of masking still being a thing, travel no longer feels strange or odd or a new wrinkle into the life routine. It’s just… part of what we do again. Which is nice. I hope it lasts.

— JS

(It’s not too late to get a question in for this week’s Reader Request Week! Go here to find out how to do so.)

8 Comments on “Reader Request Week 2022 #3: Travel in the New Age”

  1. I enjoyed your appearance in Chapel Hill! I”m glad you’re able to go out and about again in a not too inconvenient fashion.

  2. I used to travel in and out of Dayton frequently for business at Wright-Patterson AFB. I imagine a large chunk of their business was similar trips; at least I used to see lots of people I knew through work in the airport going to and fro as I was doing. If the USAF has discovered how to minimize travel for meetings/conferences/reviews there will be a large, permanent and consequent drop-off in traffic through that airport.

  3. I’m planning to fly to Chicago for Worldcon (even at current gas prices, driving may be cheaper but parking at the hotel definitely isn’t!). I don’t know if airlines will still require passengers to mask up, but I’m ordering a box of KN-95s specifically for the trip.
    The dino-mask reminds me — last fall, the family drove to Estes Park for a visit. At the Fall River Visitor Center (Rocky Mountain National Park), someone had come up with a mask for the bull elk in a diorama, and almost everyone who came in was taking selfies with it.

  4. One thing that needs to be mentioned because it has happened three times since December, first two me and then to two other friends. Namely, the F#cking airlines cancels your flight and, buh bye, you are on your own. We couldn’t possibly care less how (and if) you get home, we’re not going to give you as much as a food voucherr for a cup of coffee let alone help you get a hotel room, just f#ck the hell off. My wife and I had to scramble in New Orleans to get a hotel ion Metairie and pay to get there and back and hope the flight the next day took off (it did). The same has happened to two different friends of ours, getting home from New York.

    So yes, there is a difference. Travel now is even worse than it was before and we will be avoiding airline travel for the foreseeable future.

  5. I am worried, as even with increasing cases, and even here in California, where masks were required, now that they are only “recommended” many people are ditching masks entirely. I have been vaccinated and boosted as soon as I was eligible. I also got the flu vaccine, and haven’t stopped masking. The thing is the mask protects others more than yourself, and now I’ve caught something, confirmed not flu, not covid, not strep, surely because someone was out while ill, probably had symptoms, and they didn’t care to wear a mask.

  6. Kevin rs said, “The thing is the mask protects others more than yourself…”

    I wish more people would realize this. I’m fond of reminding coworkers that surgeons wear masks not to protect themselves, but the patient. I know PSAs were made, but I can only fantasize about a world where the leaders of the U.S., from the president on down, had taken the pandemic more seriously, instead of worrying about the optics.

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