Traveling

Today’s featured image: Sunset from Slottsfjellet (“The castle mountain”) where the only remaining tower of a 13th-century fortress stands as Tønsberg’s most iconic landmark.


I’m on the move again. Our full train car is barreling across the Swedish countryside toward the capital, where I will catch another train to a ferry and finally disembark in a city that almost feels like home. As we glide along our sleek steel rails, the brilliant greens of the late spring foliage stream past the window in a colorful motion picture of perpetually calming motion. I love trains.

Indeed, I love travel. I hardly slept at all last night. I felt like a kid the night before going to Disneyland. It also didn’t help that I spotted a job opening that I think could only be more perfect if it were posted a couple months closer to my earliest start date of October 2nd. But I was excited to get back on the move. It wasn’t about leaving Tønsberg. When I left Visby the first weekend of April, I was ready to get out of that house. When I left my room this morning, I looked back at the empty studio with a quick smile, remembering my first night of proper solitude I spent with my guitar, the writings I produced at that desk, and the meals I prepped in the small but surprisingly functional kitchenette. These moments punctuated a life of incredible learning in the WindSim office, exhausting exercise at the gym, cozy weekends at the Bare Barista cafe, and blissful moments in the Norwegian forests. Tønsberg treated me well, and I would have been perfectly happy to remain there for a bit longer. I’m already looking forward to the couple nights I will spend there during the conference late next month.

This summer is set to be full of travel. I’ll be on the move for each of the next few weekends, and I won’t be in one place more than six days until I get to Krakow on June 26th. I generally try to keep my expectations low (I’m fully expecting next week, which I’ll spend in Bergen, to be five nights getting rained on while living in a tent), but it’s hard not to look at the plans for this summer and think, “This is going to be the best summer of my life.”

Now that I think about it, this past year has been the best year of my life. Before it, that year had been the best year of my life. Jimmy Kimmel once joked that “you know global warming is real when the hottest year ever is whatever year it currently is.” Well, my best year is whatever year it currently is. I see no reason for that to change, even as I settle into a bit more of a stable lifestyle and a more demanding job.

But this won’t last forever. I will get myself back on the road someday. Whether it’s a mid-career suarez that takes me to some exotic corner of the globe for a few weeks or it’s a pseudo-retirement in which I take a sort of sabbatical just to travel the world for a year (or two).

My recent ponderings got me to that point as well, and it got me to two important considerations: family and formal education. Now that I’ve already burned my 500 words, I’ll explore that.

(hey, I didn’t sleep last night, remember?)

Now that I think about it, starting a family might be a very real possibility for me as long as I save it for later in life. Sure, I’ll be older than most of the dads of my kids’ friends, but so what? I’m hesitant about going through child rearing once. Maybe I’ll get out of having to do it again when they decide to procreate if I just get old and die before they get around to it.

But there’s also a more significant reason to be older. I’d really like to raise my kids during this pseudo-retirement. People squirm at the thought of traveling with kids. They’re demanding and finicky. They get uncomfortable and make a scene. They’ll derail plans just because they didn’t get some snack they wanted. These are challenges all parents face, regardless of their state of motion, and I’d much rather face them when I can devote all of my time to family instead of juggling it between my and my partner’s careers, hobbies, and other pursuits.

These issues tend to compound when people consider doing this long-term. Not only does the challenge become something long-term, but it means that the kids are going to miss out on their formal education. What would that do to their development? How would they reintegrate? Wouldn’t it just ruin the experience of traveling the world while setting the kids back in life? Who wins here?

Everyone, that’s who. The thing about prolonged life changes is that we suck at estimating how much they’re going to affect our lives. We tend to assume that they’ll either ruin everything or make our lives better forever. Indeed, we humans have the incredible ability just to get used to things. It would actually be easier to travel with kids for a few months than for a few days. Once you get used to the routines and learn how to handle the challenges, which will probably happen in about a month, the rest of it is just life with the typical ups and downs, but with the added satisfaction of building all the life experiences of world travel.

In terms of their education, I couldn’t think of a better way to educate a child than to pull them out their stuffy classroom where they spend all day looking at pictures, watching videos, and reading static words on a page/screen that represent the real world. Instead, we can actually show them the world. What do you remember about Africa from geography class? Anything useful? What might you learn from a six-month tour through the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa? You’d make memories about the people, places, and natural world that would be impossible to forget. Certainly, there are valuable lessons to learn in mathematics and science that are practically taught with a flat piece of paper (or a flat screen), but an internet connection and good teacher will go a long way (hell, just the internet connection will get a lot of people to where they need to be). I don’t mean to sound conceited, but I’ve heard I’m a pretty good teacher, and if I can get my kids to the point of understanding tensor calculus and fluid mechanics (which I just wrote a master’s thesis on), I think they’ll be alright. And then there’s the fact that anyone I would consider having kids with will almost certainly be smarter than me.

The hardest part would, of course, be reintegration. Assume I brought my two kids for a year of sailing around the world. They’ve seen hundreds of species of animals most kids only see pictures of if they’ve heard of them at all. They’ve tried foods that taste of spices unknown to most of their classmates. They’ve picked up words in languages from countries their classmates couldn’t place on the map. Some of their closest friends are now pen pals (or the internet age equivalent) whom they met on the far side of the globe. Reintegration would be brutal because their classmates would be so far behind that it would be tough to relate to them. However, their global education would have put them in contact with cultures utterly foreign to them and people even less exposed to the wider world. They’ll be perfectly understanding in their classmates’ ignorance, and as soon as they are old enough to set out on their own and meet more of their ilk who know the world as they do, deeper and more intimate relationships are sure to form.

So why would anyone take their kids on extended travel?

The question really ought to be why would anyone confine their children to a life without it?

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Sailing

The array of sails danced about the rippled water in elegant organic coordination. They weaved around each other in a busy but beautiful swarm, gliding silently along the narrow channel. As noon approached, the sun lit the gleaming white sheets and sails with a majestic intensity below the clear blue sky. The only sounds coming from the water were the occasional shouted command and rippling of a luffing sail. The crowd on the boardwalk chatted amiably as they saw off their friends and family or found their way to the waterside restaurants for lunch. It was a perfect day for a regatta; the winds were just enough to power the sailors along at impressive speeds but only ripple the surface of the fjord. I watched the dance attentively as I made my way up the boardwalk, intentionally slowing my steps to prolong the peaceful moment.

It’s a holiday weekend here in Tønsberg. My lack of familiarity with the less well-observed Christian holidays leaves me a bit unsure of exactly what was being memorialized on Thursday, but I expect most of the Norwegian vacationers who have converged on this quiet little town over the past couple days don’t really care why they had the days off. I walked out to the office in the late morning after my last WOD at Øya Crossfit, partially because I like to do my job searching there and partly just because it’s a nice walk on such a beautiful day. My walk takes me along the harbor, where dozens of boats of amateur sailors were warming up for the day’s regatta. I don’t know the details, but I never saw them come back, so I think they’re racing all the way around Nøtterøy. (By the way, I actually asked, and it doesn’t quite translate to “nuts island”; apparently, it comes from “njóta”, which in Old Norse translates as “to enjoy” or “to benefit from”.)

I’ve forgotten how clean and peaceful a mode of transportation sailing is. Assuming, of course, I find my way into the financial means, I could see myself owning a sailboat. It wouldn’t be just a hobby for me, though. It would become a primary mode of transportation. Indeed, it could become a primary residence as well. A proper ocean-going vessel would be a similar investment to a small house, or perhaps the result of selling said house.

I’ve complained many times about the financial impediment of crossing oceans without commercial air travel. This could be my solution. Perhaps that’s how I retire. I’m not exactly planning on retiring, but if I get to the point that I don’t want to work for a while and the travel bug bites again, a lap around the world in a 40-footer sounds like one hell of an adventure.

However, I’d need a crew. Maybe I’d put together a few friends or locate a few able seamen looking for free passage. Or at that point, I might go with my family. I’m still very ambivalent about the prospect of having kids, but I might need a couple deck hands…

Thought to be continued.