I’m on an airplane right now, in my preferred aisle seat (I’m somewhat claustrophobic), trying not to knock elbows with this young man seated next to me. I’ve got two trips planned for this month, one for work and one for fun. I’m halfway across the country, on my way to the work trip, and I’ve been reflecting on how different travel is now, with the kids out of the house.
I remember, when I first went back to work part-time, I had a work trip to Chicago for a tradeshow. I had actually managed the company’s booth at that same show for ten years before I had children. I was excited to go back to one of my favorite cities and not actually be in charge of anything. The kids were middle school-age and younger, and it was so much work to prepare for a trip like that! There were carpools to rearrange, travel to sports to plan for, not to mention making sure that all the laundry was done, and the meal plans set with some easy dinners for Gary to make while solo parenting. And then there was the mom guilt of leaving the kids for the first time, with Chloe in tears, worried that I would die in a plane crash.
I looked forward to a few days where I would not have to cook, clean, or do laundry—but always with some guilt that I was dumping it all on my husband. It got easier when they were older—but it seemed like whenever I had some sort of trip planned—I would inevitably miss some activity or another.
In fact, three years ago I did this same trip—in January 2020. The trip had been set for months when all of a sudden Ben had a concert scheduled for the week I was away. The concert was for an audition-only jazz ensemble that he was a part of through the Colburn School of Music in LA. So it felt like a big deal that I was missing it. Gary recorded the concert and I pushed away the guilt, knowing that I’d be there for the next one, in May. Well, we all know how that worked out! The program was canceled due to Covid, and there was no other concert. Sigh. But the upside of that was that was the meeting that launched my business. I’m the mom that never wanted to miss anything, but there are always trade-offs.
But now—travel is so much easier and with so much less guilt. I’m looking forward to this trip, a chance to reconnect with some clients that I haven’t seen for three years. I’ll admit that all the laundry was done before I left, but mostly so that I had maximum choices for packing. Gary is fully capable of cooking and feeding himself while I’m gone, so no worries there. (I’ve also been freezing quart jars of soups and chili for a couple months, knowing that these trips were coming). I do leave behind two dogs for Gary to deal with on his own—but the flip side of that is that I think they will keep him entertained.
I traveled quite a bit before had kids and was able to see many parts of the country (and the world) that I would not otherwise have had the opportunity to see. I’m feeling a bit more like that now—excited to shake up our routine with some travel, and then all the fun and relief of being back home. I love traveling with Gary, but I also enjoy these trips by myself. There is really no time to get lonely–it’s all long days of meetings and company dinners. When I do have some time in my room, I’ve got some knitting, a bar of dark chocolate, and a full season of Vera downloaded on my iPad–not to mention a huge jacuzzi tub!
This month, I get to come home and turn around less than two weeks later to head to Atlanta for QuiltCon! I’m so looking forward to this trip—and rooming with you! That brings up another difference from the child-rearing years. The fact that I feel like I can afford to travel across the country and share an Airbnb with a group of friends just for fun is another blessing of this season of life. Every season has its blessings and challenges!
I used to travel quite a bit on business, going to schools and talking about my books and being a writer, or else going to library conventions like ALA (American Library Association) and IRA (International Reading Association). Not exactly Succession-style stuff, but I’m a children’s book author not a media mogul.
Sometimes I was out of town for two days, sometimes for four or five. My friends were jealous. A hotel room all to myself! Room service! No carpool to drive, no dinner to cook, no homework to supervise! Bliss, right?
I’m sorry to report I didn’t find it the least bit blissful (except for room service–that’s a little piece of heaven right there). First of all, I often flew to these places, and I hate flying. I’m not scared to fly; I’m scared of throwing up while in flight. I’m someone who gets dizzy when the hair stylist spins the chair around too quickly. Let’s not talk about the effect of turbulence on my inner ears. Suffice to say, it’s not pretty.
If I was going on a school visit, I knew I’d have to get up at 6 a.m. and drink lots of hotel coffee in order to be functional by 8:30. Not just functional, but charming and entertaining. Later in the day, I would have to keep 8th graders amused after lunch period. There is nothing more soul-killing than talking to 8th graders fresh from the cafeteria. (The fact that I looked like their mothers killed any possible interest they might have had in what I had to say.)
If I was going to a convention, I spent days beforehand fearing that no one would stop by my booth when I was doing a signing. I saw myself sitting by myself while a mob of lovestruck librarians stampeded past me on their way to the John Green queue. (People always showed up to my signings, I’m pleased to report, though I did once see dozens of librarians trailing John Green past my booth, all of them trilling with giddy delight about The Fault in Our Stars.)
The fact is, as much as I longed for a room of my own in those days, I wanted that room to be in my house. I wanted everyone to be on the other side of the house from my room, but I wanted them around. Traveling alone made me feel disconnected. Discombobulated. I never enjoyed it.
Here’s the nice thing about being empty nesters. The next time I travel on business, I can just take Clifton with me. Like a lot of people nowadays, he works from home, and he can work just as easily from a hotel room or an AirBnB rental. It will be like taking home with me.
I do like to travel, and I don’t mind traveling by myself if a) I’m driving; and b) I’m heading to see people I love. For instance, I’m looking forward to going to QuiltCon–I’m looking forward to listening to music and audiobooks in the car, I’m looking forward to stopping off in Greenville, SC, for lunch at a bookstore cafe, and I’m looking forward to being roomies with you in Atlanta! It’s going to be a great four days, and at the end of those four days (one of which I’ll spend with my brother and sister-in-law), I will very much look forward to getting back home, where my room awaits me.