Near Yellow Mountain

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Dog Tales and Random Travel Observations

My current trip starts in Thailand which is about as far away from North Carolina as you can get. I took back to back overnight flights and spent almost 30 hours in transit. I left on Friday and arrived on Sunday with the 12 hour time change. Yet when I landed in Thailand, I still wasn’t really “there” yet.

"Suffering in comfort" on the way to the other side of the world

I disembarked in Bangkok at 5:55am, had a fast track pass through customs and a quick ride through the empty Sunday morning streets. The unfortunate result was two or three hours of extra “free” time in the Executive Lounge at the hotel while I waited for my room to be ready. At least I had a comfortable place to hang-out. Normally the super early check-in isn’t too much of an issue but this week the hotels are close to 100% occupancy with many Chinese tourists taking advantage of the long Lunar New Year holiday to take in the sights of surrounding countries. The five tour buses queued at the hotel entrance at 6:30am was a sure sign that Bangkok got a full allocation of Chinese tourism money this holiday. Writing a blog post seemed a good way to spend the time until my room key appears.

This is my first international trip of the year and my 20th anniversary of using “Around the World Tickets” which if you learn details of the fare rules and pay attention to the fine print can save thousands of dollars and keep you in the air for up to 12 months on one ticket. I usually have two such tickets going at the same time but since I didn’t intend this post to be about “RTWs” I will refrain from going into greater detail.

When I first started traveling to Asia my daughters were 3 and 6. The day before I left on a trip, I always felt guilty about leaving them for 10 or 12 days but found ways to bridge the distance by taping bedtime stories for them to watch for each night I was gone or asking my elder daughter to give me a topic to write a story about and then emailing it to her after I arrived so she could read it to her little sister. My wife was an expert at keeping the girls busy with all sorts of activities. I also used to ask my elder daughter for permission to travel before I went on long trips so she felt some level of control (or at least that was my intention). The girls came to accept travel as normal especially after we moved to Asia and almost all their school ex-pat peers had one “traveling” parent.

Now that we are empty nesters I feel a guilt when I travel I never had when the girls were young – leaving the dogs. We had two dogs back then and we have two different dogs now. Years ago, the kids kept the dogs busy as playmates, confidants and victims of “dress-up” experiments that often went wrong. The dogs always had people around so my absence wasn’t an issue except that it kept them from getting their daily run.

Yuki refusing to look at me after seeing the suitcase come out
Things are different now, the girls are grown and living on their own. I work from a home office when I am not traveling. My wife is working too so not around the house as much as she used to be. When I am not traveling I have more or less hourly interaction with one or both of the dogs. I have to keep conference calls on mute when I am not speaking because our younger dog will sit at my feet chewing on a squeaker toy or munching on a liter plastic bottle which is her “go to” chew toy. The bottles are surprisingly loud. More than one client has been on the other end of a conference call when FED-X or UPS rang the doorbell and a cacophony of protective dog utterances filled the air.

The dogs are used to the “new normal” and so am I which is why instead of being in a phase of life that includes “guilt free” travel – just the opposite is true. 

The look says it all
As soon as my suitcase comes out to pack for a trip, I start to get the baleful looks, the deep sighs and general moping until I am out the door to go to the airport. As foolish as it sounds, I have come to dread the day before I leave for a trip because of the guilt heaped upon me by two canines. Of course being raised catholic probably has something to do with the guilt level.

Fortunately the feeling of guilt lifts about the time I clear security at Charlotte Airport. I know when I walk in the house after a 12 day sojourn, I will be greeted by two wagging tails that seem not to remember they were unhappy when I left.