Podcast #166 — What Is The Meaning of Travel?

Reindeer are ruining my cabin porn

Trying to plan an August trip amidst dueling state quarantine lists and rapid lockdown changes while writing off my September plans for Barcelona. What’s worse – hotels cutting back on housekeeping or breakfasts? And talking with Emily Thomas about her new book The Meaning of Travel: Philosophers Abroad. All this and more, or listen to it right here by clicking on the arrow below or by following this direct link to download the podcast file .

Here is the transcript of TravelCommons podcast #166:

  • Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
  • Coming to you from the TravelCommons studio in Chicago, Illinois after managing to front-run the city’s quarantine order on Wisconsin. Went up to Milwaukee to meet up with some friends and do a bit of biking a couple of weekends before the Chicago Health Department added Wisconsin to their list of 22 states where you’re required to self-quarantine for 14 days after returning from a trip. Mind you, they’re not setting up roadblock checkpoints like New York City is — at least not as of the time of this recording. Reasonable people can differ on this — New York’s governor claimed similar efforts back in March by Rhode Island and Florida aimed at New Yorkers were “unconstitutional” but seems OK with it when it’s pointed the other way — but it does make travel planning for law abiding citizens a bit more of a challenge. And making me wonder about our downsizing move into Chicago last year — was missing the yard, the extra rooms, and the basement gym in the suburbs during the lockdown earlier in the year; now after Chicago’s quarantine rules, am missing freedom of travel.
  • All this adds a couple orders of magnitude of complexity to our efforts to plan a week out of the city in a couple of weeks. Not only do we need to check Chicago’s quarantine list, but also the quarantine plans of any potential destinations. While New York isn’t on Chicago’s quarantine list, Illinois is on New York’s. Mapping it all out, we take the “clean destination” intersection of that quarantine Venn diagram and then look at what restrictions are in those places; if nothing’s open, it’s not worth traveling there. I’ve eaten more meals in my hotel rooms over the past 3 months than I have in the last couple of years. 
  • But things are changing so fast, that even after you figure out what’s open now, we then start following local papers on Twitter to get any early warnings on new restrictions. Which also means paying a lot more attention to hotel cancellation policies than I ever did. And then overloading our itinerary with outdoor activities like hiking and biking so last-minute closures or restrictions don’t leave us with nothing to do. Which means spending more time trolling the AccuWeather and Weather Channel web sites because an outside-heavy itinerary is more vulnerable to big storm fronts and hurricanes. And to think I used to bitch about having to navigate TripAdvisor ratings.
  • Bridge Music — funkyGarden by Jeris (c) copyright 2020 Licensed under a Creative Commons Noncommercial Sampling Plus license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/VJ_Memes/61356 Ft: airtone, SackJo22, Analog By Nature

Following Up

  • First, a couple of shout-outs to folks who are helping me spread the word about the podcast
  • Thanks to GHLGB, an apparently long-time TravelCommons listener, who gave us a 5-star iTunes review the day after the last month’s episode dropped, writing:
    • “Mark does a great job of relating the world of the road warrior with a bit of branching out to those of us who are miles and points nutty. Always a calm and reasonable voice one that’s been in my ears for four years”
    • Thanks for that. I appreciate the words, and the effort of wading through the iTunes interface to leave them
  • Also, in last month’s episode, I mentioned Kev Monteith, a TravelCommons listener and Amtrak travel blogger, but didn’t thank him for calling us out in his 2020 Favorite Podcast list on his Travels With Kev website. So, I’m fixing that right now. Thanks, Kev! Check out the show notes for links to his site.
  • Back in episode #164, we talked about how hotels are pulling back on housekeeping during stays — the Hampton Inn in Spring Hill, TN said they’d be 3 days between room visits while the Residence Inn up the road in Franklin said 7 days, which seems a bit excessive; more like a COVID-washing a cost-cutting move. Replacing the breakfast buffet with a “grab-&-go” breakfast bag makes all the sense in the world, but here again, hotels are grabbing the opportunity to trim costs. Most of what I’ve seen is a brown lunch bag with a bottle of water, a NutriGrain breakfast bar, and an apple — a banana if I’m lucky. But the Residence Inn in Wauwatosa, WI, just outside of Milwaukee, was having none of that a couple of weeks back. You had 4 options for the main breakfast course in your bag — a turkey and waffle sandwich, a peanut and strawberry sandwich, an egg and cheese quiche, or one of 13 kinds of cereal boxes, accompanied by your choice of chocolate milk, or orange or apple juice. I’m not passing judgement on the food choices, but I was awfully impressed by their ambition — yeah, we can’t lay out a breakfast buffet spread, but we’re gonna try our damndest to give you a decent alternative. I just had to give the turkey & waffle sandwich a go. I had visions of a Fyre Festival-like trainwreck of a sandwich — a deli slice of turkey breast between two Eggo waffles. But it was a little more reasonable — a small wrapped sandwich of turkey sausage between two small waffles, meant to be heated in the microwave. I grabbed it on the way out for a bike ride, so missed the microwave step, which, I think, was critical. But like I said, I give that RI team huge props for the effort.
  • But outside the Wauwatosa gang, if this stripped down hotel service stays the norm for the next 12-18 months, it’s probably going to drive some big changes in the year-end traveler gift guides — shifting from Away luggage and Aesop travel kits, last year’s big recommendations, to sets of wine tumblers, collapsible bowls, and camping mess kits. And, of course, all sorts of upscale sporks.
  • Back in episode #161, at the end of March, still in a bit of shock from the COVID lockdown and trying to figure out how long it was going to last, I said “I’m nothing if not an optimist. In the midst of this week’s unraveling, I found a deal on a direct American Air flight from ORD to Barcelona — 8½ hr 787 flight — so I booked it — 2 weeks in Barcelona at the end of September.”  But here we are five months later and as we all know, things haven’t “re-raveled”. At the beginning of July, American announced that direct 787 ORD-BCN flight won’t restart until next summer. I checked our reservation on the AA iPhone app after I read this. It still showed us on that direct flight — until I clicked through, which then, I guess, forced the app to pull the latest information from Dallas, and now showed us flight BA through Heathrow. Not that it really matters. The EU isn’t letting Americans in any time in the near future, and, last time I checked, Barcelona is in a voluntary lockdown because of a new spike in COVID cases. News articles are showing shuttered-up stalls at the La Boqueria market; like I said earlier, if nothing’s open, why go? It was a gamble, and really, not even a big one. There’s no change fee, so it’s a push. We won’t lose any money — unless American goes belly-up, but that’d never happen — would it?!
  • Last year, in episode #150, (these show notes are gonna be chock full of backlinks), I talked about switching my carryon bag — from a Timbuk2 backpack to a Timbuk2 messenger bag. I gave two reasons for the switch: I wanted to carry something a little smaller that would stand up under a plane seat; and I wanted a non-black interior, I kept losing things in my backpack — my tablet, my Bose headphone case. But also because the backpack was breaking down a bit – the seam on one of the side pockets had blown out and one of the strap clips had broken. I was going to pitch it during our last downsizing binge before moving into the city and a friend said “You know, Timbuk2 bags have lifetime warranties.” Huh. So I hung onto it because I still like the bag. And about 14 months later, I finally got around to sending it back to them in San Francisco. I wasn’t sure if they’d re-opened their factory, so I was ready for it to take awhile for them to process the bag and repair it. Tracking the package, I could see they received it on a Friday. I got a note from them the following Monday saying they’d inspected it and yes, it was covered by the warranty, and had the bag back in my hands that Saturday. I have to tell you that I am pretty damned impressed. I won’t be switching back from my messenger bag, but I have found that the backpack can carry 4 four-packs of 16-oz cans, perfect when I’m biking a circuit of Chicago microbreweries using curbside no-contact pick-up to grab whatever’s their newest thing. Timbuk2 is definitely “TravelCommons Approved.”
  • And if you have any travel stories, questions, comments, tips, rants – the voice of the traveler, send ’em along — text or audio comment to comments@travelcommons.com — you can send a Twitter message to mpeacock, post your thoughts on the TravelCommons’ Facebook page or our Instagram account at travelcommons — or you can post comments on the web site at TravelCommons.com.
  • Bridge Music — Xena’s Kiss / Medea’s Kiss by mwic (c) copyright 2018 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/mwic/58883

The Meaning of Travel

  • This seems to be the existential question for a lot of travelers — why do we travel? — now that can’t, or at least can’t as easily and, well thoughtlessly is too strong a word, but when we could travel without having to plan as much. It’s been a whipsaw — from overtourism to 36% unemployment in the travel and hospitality sector in the the US — so a bit soul-searching/navel-gazing is to be expected, if not encouraged. So when I saw the new book, The Meaning of Travel: Philosophers Abroad by Emily Thomas, I immediately bought it and read it — and then thought that I needed to have her on the podcast. Lucky for me, she’s a very nice person and agreed to spend a bit of time talking about “the meaning of travel”. It was a fun conversation; I hope you enjoy it.
  • Discussion topics
    • Frequent travelers often build travel bubbles around themselves that isolates them from the places they travel to; doing it in the name of efficiency, but also perhaps to keep themselves safe from experiencing what philosophers call “the otherness” of travel
    • Henry David Thoreau, Walden, Cabin Porn, and Solitude
    • Global homogenization – every place seems like the other, but is this an old complaint?
    • Future topics on the philosophy of travel — ethics of climate change, and impact of space tourism on our view of the Earth


  • Closing music — Pictures of You by Evangeline
  • OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #166
  • I hope you all enjoyed this podcast and I hope you decide to stay subscribed.
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