Thursday, September 18, 2008

There is nothing like travelling for a living to make a person feel lonely. I'm sitting in Boston as I write these words, and I miss Lisa but that's not what I mean so I'm gonna try to explain it a little better.

I mean that it's easy to end up driving aimlessly around a strange neighborhood in a rental car because I don't know where the locals go for fun, but I do know I don't want to sit in my hotel room all day.

Try driving aimlessly around in a strange city and you'll see what I mean about feeling lonely. Maybe that's the wrong word - I feel like I'm just skimming the surface, like I'm most likely missing out on the uniqueness of the place I go to, and that if I only lived my life in more depth, I would be able to somehow absorb more of my environment.

I try to get out and about in our destinations, and for the most part I succeed - when we check into the hotel my first words to the desk clerk are usually "Where would you go if you were hungry" or "What do you do for fun on your time off". When I have overnights with Kitsch he has usually already scoped out the best restaurants in the area, and we are pretty proactive when it comes to exploring, and that helps.

But getting out and about isn't the same thing as feeling like part of the community, or like part of the same species. There are lots of times I feel like an astronaut in my little rental car bubble - I feel outside in some strange way, like I'm a reporter from another planet come to do a story on the bizarre customs and habits of the locals.

There are lots of times I see things at my job and think "Man, I wish Lisa was here to see that" which somehow actually makes things better - it would be a lot more lonely if I wasn't able to go home and tell Lisa all the minute and pointless details of my trips, so I am grateful for that. Sharing it with someone else makes it real, and I guess I must need to do that more than most.

Don't get me wrong - the occasional feeling of loneliness is a tiny price to pay for the incredible satisfaction I get out of my job, and I certainly wouldn't give up flying as a result of it.

...I just wonder if other pilots feel like ghosts once in a while as they are walking down the streets of a layover town, waiting for the next flight to take them back home so they can become people again, with friends and families.


Steve said...

Although I am not a pilot, I have traveled extensively for my career and when I am alone in a new city, it is terribly lonely. There are millions of people around you, yet you aren't talking to any of them. They all seem to have a purpose and going somewhere while I wonder around with no deadline, no real place to go and if there is a place to go I find that I am there by myself.
As with you, I wouldn't change what I do, however, this is one of those things that we all have to deal with for our jobs.
PS - Great blog.

david said...

I know what you mean -- I experience it too with my business travel -- but I find that it helps a lot to leave the car and walk. I'll sometimes spend hours walking around a new city until I start to get a feel for it.

Boston's a fantastic city for walking, and it won't take long to stumble upon the local spots like Charlie's Sandwich Shop.

Tangozulu said...

I second the walking. I used to do that a lot when traveling on business. I've had pigeon chines conversations with shopkeepers in Beijing, and found out that a place in Calgary is one of the leading suppliers of moon cakes in this hemisphere.

Another tip: in a restaurant, ask the wait staff what they like to eat there - then order it. You get more interesting stuff in a Chinese restaurant that way!

In other news, there's some news (google it) about algae produced jet fuel. This might make your jet carbon-neutral!

Julien said...

Amen to everything that was said before on this thread. Business travel can be lonely. I know about that 'astronaut' feeling. I can clearly remember my first time in Japan on a one-day layover.

New country, new people, can't read the language on street signs, shopwindows or soft drink cans... eery feeling. And then you come across a street scene that strikes you as very familiar. Only to realise that it's because you've seen lots of typical Japanese streets in anime movies.

I think blogging is part of the solution. What about dropping a note on your blog for a meet-up with like-minded pilots and aviation enthusiasts a few days before you fly to a new place for a layover?

Anonymous said...

Very interesting perspective on loneliness and viewing the world from a private bubble.I actually like the removal from the familiar and from other people I might know. But then introversion thrives on the long view.Something about our natures to seek others or to step back and observe as though invisible, I guess.Travelling offers a chance to be a camera with a microphone, to take in and refect without any distraction of the known. Love your BLOG

Tyler Lyman said...

The past two weeks I have been in five countries all over Asia. I speak Chinese and Japanese and even still know just what you mean when you say lonely. There is just something about the only connection being ESPN.

Safe travels

Aviatrix said...

I don't identify with this feeling. Maybe it's because I almost never drive a car in the unfamiliar place.

If I am on standby to fly at the client's whim, then I am exercising or surfing the net in the hotel. If I am released for the day, I rent a bicycle in the vanishingly few places that rent bicycles, or I walk or take the bus. I act as if I have come here on purpose, and I go off to see what is here. I like history museums, and zoos, and parks. I guess I never find myself wandering aimlessly because I make up missions for myself and wander on them.

And then there's the evil internet.

Chris said...

You owe it to yourself to check out It's a great way to meet people all over the world so that those lonely trips will be a thing of the past. I love your blog and I would begin flight training immediately if I only had 65k to start at allatps.

Windsor said...

Being out on the road is lonley. After a while, it's all a blur. With my job, I rarely get more than 10-12 hours in a layover city, so thats not a lot of time to see the sights. You kinda get used to the airport-hotel-airport shuffle.