Travel long enough and you may start to find yourself looking for routines in the places that you show up in. You may find yourself walking along the same routes, eating meals at the same places, hanging out in the same cafes and bars, and talking with the same people day after day. If not exceptionally busy with research, projects, etc, I usually find myself putting together a nice little routine by about day two in a place.
Here in Lodz I usually end my days by going down to the dinning room of the Hotel Relax and talking a little with Anna. She usually doesn’t have much work to do by that time.
She works at the hotel in three day shifts. For 24 hours straight during these days she will be there on duty, not going home and all or even being able to see her two daughters. She just works.
Anna’s husband left five years ago to go and work in New York. She hasn’t been there to see him and it seems as if he hasn’t been back since. The family is divided in the pursuit of work, and this is normal.
As I travel and talk with people it is clear that we live in an uprooted planet. Families are dispearsed across incredible distances, kids are growing up without really ever knowing their fathers or mothers. This is the age of the remote family, with those who can going off to where the grass is greener and sending the spoils back home so those who are there can live a little better.
This phenomenon is not just for low status migrant workers doing manual labor either. My friend Konrad, who works in logistics, sees his family only once or twice per year. My friend Karl, who runs a dry port, only sees his family one day each month. I can keep going on with examples, which would eventually end up including myself.
This is a phenomenon of our times: opportunity is always over the hill and far away, and those who sieze it are those willing to leave those they love behind. In the end, this is a move out of love, out of the need to provide something better for those you care for. But the sacrifice is time with them — a very hard bargain.
Now, there have been many, many uphevals throughout history where families have been spatially broken apart for economic reasons. When my grandfather was 13 he and one of his brothers were taken aside by their father. They were told that they would have to leave, that the family couldn’t afford to feed them and the rest of their siblings anymore. This was during the Great Depression. They were given a nickle or so each and sent out to the highway. They hitchhiked to California, not returning until the economic situation improved.
But today this phenomenon, for the most part, isn’t an upheval of economic calamity but an upheval of opportunity. We leave our families now not just to make ends meet but to make ends meet better. Most of us could stay at home, do something, and make less money, but we chose to go and reap the spoils of accomplishment.
In Phnom Penh a man named Stephen Evans said something I won’t forget: “Establishing yourself in a new career is an inherently selfish thing to do.”
He is in Phnom Penh, his wife and young child in Vietnam.
He knows this and he’s right.
I’ve missed half of my baby daughter’s life so far traveling doing research for my New Silk Road book — seizing opportuinity, trying to get something more than I would otherwise have. But I don’t view this as something to feel sorry for myself about. I have it pretty good compared to many other pursuers of ambition across the world — at least I’ve been able to be there the other half of the time. In this age that’s pretty good.