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Is This How Normal People Live?

Experiencing a taste of what the rest of the world eats is sorta neat, I guess.

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ASTORIA, New York- I have a BFF. His name is Erik. He flies airplanes for major airlines.

We sat next to each other once in sixth grade and that was it: we’ve been close friends ever since. We were line mates on the hockey team. He played first base, I played third. I played bass guitar, he played drums. We traveled through South America, Central America together. He introduced me to the girl who would become my wife in Costa Rica. We go to Bills games together — in Cincinnati a few years ago he got so drunk tailgating that we got kicked out of the stadium five plays into the first quarter. No matter where I am in the world I call him on his birthday. I send him strange gifts that don’t have any indication that they came from me (except for the give away that I’m the only one sending him such gifts). He was the best man at my wedding.

I‘m setting up a base of operations in New York City and Erik just bought a house in Florida. We’re both buying furniture (it came as a shock when I discovered that apartments don’t inherently come with beds), hanging curtains, laying rugs.

He texted me one day saying that he was going to be in ROC and asked if I was going to be around. Hmm…I wasn’t planning on heading back there until things settled down in New York City, but it’s only a half day of travel away. Why not?

I told my kids that they were going to visit their grandparents and we starting hashing out a plan. It was complicated. We had to wait for a bed and futons to be delivered. I had to do some things to make the apartment habitable, we had to be back before Rivka’s birthday on August second. I’m scheduling, rescheduling, moving things around, hoping that things arrive on time, all kinds of things to give myself a stretch of five days in ROC.

Then I asked Erik what his schedule was looking like. He told me what he was doing each day.

Wait, where’s my day?

He was busy with other people — his family, his fiance’s family, this and that — and I couldn’t see how I was going to fit in before I would have to leave. We worked it out and opened up a day to take the kids to a waterpark. That works. Then he cancelled because his brother needed him to help with his job. Fair enough.

I rearranged the days of my visit to be there for the end of his stay. But he had other plans already.

It was too complicated. I called it quits.

We decided to shoot for mid-August — I will fly down to Florida to see his new house. My wife squashed that — she’s starting a new job and doesn’t know if the kids can start school right away.

There was always something — some parameter to dance around, something coming up, something preventing the apparently simple event of a traveler crossing paths with an airline pilot in the place that they both come from.

Is this how normal people live?

I know that the sedentary life is complicated. Anyone who says that life is a book and those who don’t travel only read a single page is an arrogant moron who can’t observe what’s right in front of them. The travel life is the simple life. We may read a lot of pages from the book of life but it’s easy reading, low-brow fluff. What people who stay in one place read is an entangled web of words that churn and burn and revolve around the page. They can’t get on to the next page because what’s right in front of them is complicated as f’ck. There are so many parts to it and pieces to the sedentary life that are in a perpetual state of disarray. There are schedules, timelines, shit breaking and needing fixed, drama, prioritizing one person over another …

I never lived this life. I split at 18. But I now know why travel is often viewed as an escape.

I‘m being providing with a glimpse of another way of life here in NYC. But I can enjoy the experience, as I ultimately remain an interloper — an outsider peering in, playing around with a different way of life for a while to learn what I can from it. Getting an apartment, buying furniture, hanging curtains … this is a novelty for me. And I’m kind of enjoying it. Yesterday, I bought an old wooden marble top end table. As I lugged it down the street I thought, wow, I’ve never had something like this before, this is kind of cool.

I’ll put it like this:

It takes a little time to set up a new base of operations. It’s like moving a business into a new office — you blow a few weeks in procurement and set up and then it’s back to business as usual. I’ve done this before — in Taizhou, in Xiamen. I don’t even have a desk to work from right now. I sit with my laptop on the floor. But once these bases of operation are set up they’re set for the next year. Peace.

People need to do a little work sometimes to get what they want. The trick, I suppose, is making that work expand your capacity as a human — to learn something, experience something new, understand something a little better. Without this expansion you’re walking death.

To clear something up:

Bases of operation are neither a compromise between me and my wife nor a compromise between my traveling ways and the ways of family life. No way — I’ve never compromised in my life. They are the best thing for me. Being able to travel at the toss of a hat, collect content, and then have a desk that’s all set up to return to, where I can process and publish is key to being able to continue to do the work that I do.

Continuous, streamline travel is nice … if you don’t want to get any work done.

I like what I do, it’s what makes me happy, and I want to set myself up in a situation to optimize this sense of fulfillment as much as possible.

On the first of August I start working full days again. There’s some huge projects that have been lingering that I need to get finished. I’m going into a hole and won’t come out until they’re done.

On the first of September I’m going out on a research trip. That’s non-negotiable.

… Wait, shit, uh … Dammit, that’s the start of … you know what.


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Filed under: New York City, Sedentary Life, Travel Philosophy, USA

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3722 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

8 comments… add one

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  • Bob L July 28, 2019, 9:55 am

    QUOTE: “On the first of September I’m going out on a research trip. That’s non-negotiable.”

    Wade plans and the Gods Laugh.

    Even if your life is simple, as mine is, other people’s lives are complicated. As you get older, you might find that some of your closest friends you have not seen in year. You just cannot make the schedules line up. Real life is complicated. Travel is easy by comparison. Maybe that is why I am running away from home again.

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    • Wade Shepard July 29, 2019, 4:04 pm

      It’s funny because it seems like I wrote that last line as an intentional attempt at irony, but it was actually authentic. I wrote this big game about my next research trip being non-negotiable and all that … and then remembered that Sept is the start of football season and I have tickets for all the home and away games that month. Shit. But it’s cool because those three months in autumn is when I get to reconnect with my roots, I guess … and it’s also pretty crazy fun like nothing else I know of. It also means traveling around the USA with a big group of people like I’m following the Grateful Dead or something.

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      • Lawrence July 30, 2019, 9:10 am

        Just here for the Grateful Dead references.

      • Wade Shepard July 30, 2019, 9:26 am

        Haha right on!

  • Rob July 28, 2019, 1:03 pm

    I’m guessing you found an apartment and enough of what every was required to allow you to rent in NYC!
    Good deal!!

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    • Wade Shepard July 29, 2019, 4:00 pm

      Yes, we did. I will tell that story soon!

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  • Jack July 28, 2019, 10:43 pm

    Ha! I love ya dude. I love this because I can relate. Now i’ll say what I’ll say.

    The sedentary life is so complicated because people choose that. I don’t why they do it, maybe because it feels comfortable in the same way that some people are most comfortable in jail.

    On the road it is simple because it can be as minimalistic as you want it to be. I’m back in the US now, but I’ll never really be back because my greatest fear is to have the complicated life you talk about. That fecking scares me.

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    • Wade Shepard July 29, 2019, 3:32 pm

      That is true. People’s lives are often complicated because they are trying to get too many things that they want / feel they need all at the same time. Traveling can be complicated too … but just the act of clean-slating yourself each time you go to a new destination is beautiful.

      I’m kind of getting a little dramatic in this post. I actually know that this transition phase is temporary. Even though I’m more obliged to do various things than usual, I still wake up in the morning and can pretty much do whatever I want. Today instead of working I took my kids to Central Park. I’m still in travel mode, and I don’t think a base of operations is enough to knock me out of it.

      However, I did start building a non-portable workstation. This is something that I’ve been fantasizing about for years. I got one external monitor last night and I will probably add another to start running a three monitor set up. My stainless steel table (desk) just came today. I’m going to get some big hard drives that I can have everything that I’ve ever done easily accessible. I’m going to get industrial stainless steel shelving for my filming gear.

      It’s kind of like my cockpit. I can step inside and I have everything I need within reach. I go out for a research trip, I come back and start rolling right away without any set up.

      At what point in your life have you come to when stainless steel tables and shelving is part of your fantasy?

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