I love traveling, all of it — from the dreaming to the scheming to the part where I pack my life in a 22-inch protective, polycarbonate shell. Like many of my hyper-mobile peers, I have gotten into a rhythm of leaving home one or two weekends a month and, usually, with good reason.
Either I am tacking a few days on at the end of a work trip to visit old friends and family, or I am taking a few days off to visit new towns and terrain. This seems to be the case for the majority of my middle-upper class friends who sly-sigh how busy they are for the next x number of weekends, yet can’t say no to the weddings, showers, reunions, retreats, marathons and getaways that promise to make for “can’t miss” memories.
With summer travel in full swing, I’ve started to wonder, what are the costs of our worthy weekends away?
1. We under-invest in new friends.
Making new friends at age 30 is hard enough with everyone’s mismatched schedules. Many of us are more invested in our jobs, committing hours and hours just to prove our passion. Others are more invested in our family, protecting any extra time to serve their needs.
The kind of regular, unplanned interactions that built close friendships in high school, college and even apartment living, are harder to come by when a Friday-night dinner date has to be scheduled two months out. No wonder I think of old pals as higher quality friendships than most of the ones I have now; I gave them more quality time when I was younger and still answered ringing phones.
Every time we go “home” for the weekend (assuming “home” is as scattered across the country for you as it is for me), we put another deposit in the old friend account and shortchange the new friend account. Until we make ourselves more available to the friends where we currently live, we’re likely to believe home is always somewhere else.
2. We overuse our share of resources.
Have you ever asked yourself the question, “If everyone made the decision I’m making right now, would it be sustainable for the planet?” The answer is an obvious “no” when it comes to many of the choices we make as Americans like owning a car or booking a flight.
Still, it’s a question that invites us into compassion for others and, ultimately, ourselves as we learn to honor our limits. Usually the only question I ask when deciding whether or not to drive to the beach for the weekend is, “Would it be sustainable for my wallet?”
By recognizing the ability to get out of town on the weekends as a privilege, and, one that, if exercised, impacts our neighbors, we are freed to be more discriminating when deciding what travel invitations to accept and which ones are more faithfully declined.
3. We neglect relationships with the less mobile.
Like all privileges, mobility has its hidden disadvantages. By choosing to live a hyper-mobile life we miss out on the surprising gifts of relationships with the less mobile.
The less mobile in my community include neighbors in poverty, seniors in assisted living, and families with small children, among others. It is these people, people who Flannery O’Conner described as living with “less padding between them and the raw forces of life,” that shatter my illusions of control.
Too often my weekend trips involve getting away from “the raw forces of life” and retreating to a private destination where I am comfortable in my surroundings and in charge of my agenda. When we stick around to encounter the poor, weak and needy among us, we become hospitable to holy encounters we could never have planned.
4. We avoid learning from our loneliness.
Many of us are afraid of stillness. To be still is to see and be seen for who we are — apart from our noble efforts to plan an epic adventure or to be a drop-everything-and-come friend. Some of the fears that drive my compulsive desire to be anywhere but here include: fear of missing out, fear of boredom and fear of being alone by necessity, not choice.
But a funny thing happens when we still ourselves long enough to become lonely. With nowhere left to go, we go to God. With nothing left to do, we do what has been left undone. We call our fathers; we make bad art; we get some sleep. We learn loneliness is the fallow ground out of which life grows, and not just for us but those around us, too.
In his CBC Massey Lectures, activist Jean Vanier observed, “Frequently it is the lonely man or woman who revolts against injustice and seeks new ways. It is as if a fire is burning in them, a fire that can only be fueled by loneliness.”
There’s nothing sexy about loneliness, least of all during the summer when everything is sun and sheen and swimsuit commercials. But in my effort to have “can’t miss” weekends, I end up missing out on the very thing I long for most: a deeper sense of belonging with God, others and myself.
“We may yearn for community,” Parker Palmer writes in The Promise of Paradox, “but we yearn even more for the social and economic prizes individual mobility can bring.” The thrill of constant travel has its costs. It’s hard to remember this when another friend-of-a-friend wedding invitation arrives in my mailbox and I proffer another unthinking “yes.”
Summer, like the weekend, is an invitation to get out of rhythm, unpack our bags and risk new discoveries.
There’s a world of discovery closer than we think.
The opinions expressed in this piece belong to the author.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.