The Middle of Somewhere: Why I Hate to Travel

nyworld 15 The Middle of Somewhere: Why I Hate to TravelIt’s a little early to call it a phenomenon or a syndrome or even a drift, but when I admit that I hate travel, people seem slower to write me off as an listless, incurious slug. With more conversation, I can usually bring them around to that conclusion, but travel aversion alone doesn’t smirch like it used to.

Ten years ago, disliking travel branded you under some dullard’s version of Megan’s Law. The admission hot-wired people’s nervous systems: eyes zoomed in and dollied out on you; delete buttons fired in whatever part of the brain controls dinner-party invitations; body language suddenly spoke fluent English: You hate travel? You hate travel? You hate travel?

Yes and yes and yes but … times are changing. People seem more tolerant of the hunkered down. They’ve gained an empathy for inertia freaks. Some have even slouched toward the “staycation,” a handy detour around the shame of parochialism. Not long ago at a super-high-thread-count dinner party in Martha’s Vineyard (O.K., I went to Martha’s Vineyard—I’ll explain later), a woman said to me, “I still like travelling but sometimes it’s like marriage … not all it’s cracked up to be.” I half-jokingly, or three-eighths jokingly, said I didn’t know that either were cracked up to be much and … she smiled. No really, I’m pretty sure she smiled.

At first knee-jerk, reasons for a travel backlash are splashing everywhere: recession, 9/11, gas, brawny euros, scrawny dollars, malaria, aisle seat fees, security-gate shoe-removal. “One wacko booby-traps his Nikes and we have to remove our shoes for eternity? It’s sick.” Yes, getting there is half the agony. Being there is the other half.

Popular bothers aside, my travel problem is more internal: I just don’t like going anywhere. As an aspiring agoraphobic, I like being home. The sweet habit of home holds life’s potential. Preferring to be available to my own life, I’m pretty sure news about an optioned screenplay won’t reach me in Tuscany. It doesn’t reach me at home, either, but at least here, self-delusion makes some sense. Other people may like being in the middle of nowhere. Not me. And my atlas shows maybe four places in the world that aren’t in the middle of nowhere.

And yet, people continue to ask, what about daring adventure? Well, when wars break out, I do envy those action-junkie photojournalists snapping away through sniper fire then hurdling headlong into desperate combat romances, but those aren’t the adventures we’re discussing here. We’re on the level of an Antarctic eco-tour, which is just running away from oneself for two weeks of life on gelid hold. And anyway, as Eudora Welty said, “… all serious daring starts from within.” Granted, just because Eudora Welty said it doesn’t mean it’s true, but in this case, I really think she was on to something.

People then ask about the oxymoronic concept of a pleasure trip (and I’m not so sure of the oxy part). Here, the implications are twofold: Home lacks pleasure, a dreary scenario only exacerbated by resorts with better amenities than your own home; and that a change of scenery does a person good. In Normandy (O.K., I went to Normandy), I learned that the French refer to such travel as a way to “change les idées”—change your ideas. Granted, just because the French say it doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but in this case, I really think they’re wrong.

Case in point, a few years ago, yoga freaks everywhere seemed to be lugging their purple mats to India precisely to “change les idées.” I was asked along on several such trips but declined. India is no doubt fascinating and the people sound very nice over the phone but … thanks for asking and godspeed. As it turned out, the only changes in ideas I heard from returning travelers dealt with multiplying the recommended dosage of Imodium. The best idea was an advanced formula called Explodium.

On the upside, I learned enough about India to close my eyes and convince myself I went there and never needed to go back. One imagined trip was enough. Really, it’s staggering how much you can learn about the world by avoiding it. Without moving a muscle, I know St. Bart’s is “so restful,” Machu Picchu “so transcendent” and the Masai “so cheerful.” I don’t see why I have to confirm it all firsthand. You’ve rated the hotels, reviewed the meals, described the felonious cab drivers … why see the movie? Which exposes another dimly lit truth: The high point of any trip is when it’s over. People like travel but they love saying, “I just got back from Uruguay.” With open access to exotic locales, travel has become a seedy form of exhibitionism, more something to recount than experience. I know this because I’m as guilty as anyone.

A few years ago I went on what others referred to as “a vacation” to Vietnam. (O.K., I also went to Vietnam.) Back home, everyone got a dose of “I just got back from Vietnam.” They’d ask how I enjoyed the trip and I’d say, “Actually, I don’t know what all those Vietnam veterans were whining about…I had a great time.”