Alaina Kleinbeck: If you like to travel, consider staying home instead
Frequent trips for work or pleasure have a cost, writes the director of the Duke Youth Academy. The greatest is our ability to nurture relationships.
It is so easy, and sometimes affordable, to hop on a plane and spend three days in a different place for work or fun. We scan the photos of friends’ or colleagues’ romps and rests in exotic locales or follow their tweeted tours of a chic city’s coffee shops and eateries. For many of us in the middle and upper classes, myself included, traveling is a part of everyday life. Hypermobility rules our lives.
I write as I pack for a three-day retreat for my church.
I write the day after booking three fall trips; I plan to book one more. Even though most of these are brief work trips, I’ve learned that every trip has a nearly equally long shadow of time needed for recovering and recouping.
Laundry, relationships, homework and community responsibilities don’t go on vacation when we leave town. They don’t register the out-of-office reply. They don’t get the refreshing perspective of the airplane window. And there’s little chance that my travel schedule will align with that of every other busy person in my life.
As I noticed the wear and tear of too much travel beating me down in recent times, I began to ask more-seasoned Christian leaders how they decide to travel away from home. My questions made several leaders uneasy or defensive.
I heard, in those conversations, very little reflection on the merits of staying home versus the merits of hitting the road. Many leaders said they felt compelled to travel as a part of their calling, their work and their evangelistic duty. For others, going out of town meant extra cash -- in the form of stipends and honorariums -- to supplement their pay. For others, the travel was stimulating and offered a chance to gain perspective on their day-to-day lives.
I found all of this deeply unsatisfying and yearned for Christian leaders who modeled more sustainable travel habits.
I am aware that God calls some of us to be itinerant preachers, missionaries and teachers. But for those of us with family, community and pastoral duties at home, could it be that logging air and highway miles is thwarting our ability to live out our deepest calling to be in relationship with others?
In Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s acclaimed novel Americanah, the protagonist, Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman studying in America, dates a wealthy white American man who loves to travel. On many Friday evenings, she finds herself meeting him at the airport to begin a weekend away.
"'Isn’t this great?' he would ask her, and she would say yes, it was great. He was always thinking of what else to do and she told him that it was rare for her, because she had grown up not doing, but being."
For Ifemelu and her boyfriend, the tension between doing and being ultimately wreaks havoc on their relationship. Her struggle reveals that the ability to simply be with ourselves and our daily lives isn’t a lofty goal to attain. It is a requirement for living well.
Staying home feels countercultural because it is. Consuming travel opportunities just because we can is not a marker of faithful leadership.
I still travel quite frequently, and it still wears on me. It’s an unavoidable part of my work and my only means to see my family. Yet I’ve learned to give myself guidelines about how much travel I can take. Though the limits are self-imposed, I make sure my supervisor knows them and helps me keep them.
I’ve learned to appreciate high altitudes as beautiful but unsustainable and have awakened to the gift of a well-nourished life on the ground in my community and home.