For environmental reasons, I avoid recreational long-distance travel. When asked “Are you traveling now that you’re retired?” I simply say that I prefer to stay closer to home. This response almost always results in condescending chuckles of pity that my life is so small and boring. Is it worth trying to explain my decision? Books, films, music, and meeting people from diverse backgrounds enrich my life in ways similar to physical travel, but people don’t seem interested in this point. I do not want to judge, and always listen with enthusiasm when friends talk about their various trips. I’d like them to give my feelings equal respect.
L.S. / Cambridge
What a splendid question! We could discuss it in person, neighbor, at one of those Cambridge coffee shops that are so deliciously deserted in August. Maybe we could even get into Bagelsaurus! I don’t really travel either, you see, and I am sympathetic to the snobbish attitudes of globe-trotters. Lovers of travel, in my experience, are like Leonard Cohen fans — biologically incapable of grasping that not everyone might share their tastes.
It can be frustrating and a bit insulting to have friends act as if you are provincial and dull, but don’t let that bait you into responding with “Oh, but I do love faraway places, enough not to sully them with my carbon emissions and plastic waste, you monster!” one-upmanship. I’ve found “Meh, what I get out of travel isn’t worth the hassle these days,” is a sentiment highly relatable to all but the very wealthy or very young. Then offer to dog- or cat-sit for them — that’ll keep neighbors sweet about your homebody ways.
With closer friends, it might be worth having a discussion about your real reasons, a conversation in which they can also share what they do to make the world a better place. Don’t focus it on travel per se, but on how we are all trying to do something — and avoid other somethings — in order to make the world a better place, and how do you choose?
While we’re both giving ourselves enviro cred for eschewing air travel, L.S., I bet you, like me, find it a pretty easy thing to forgo. As an off-the-charts introvert with a vengeful digestive system and a spatial-cognition deficiency, I’m a waste of fossil fuel! But a close friend of mine flies from Kansas to the ocean for her activism and work with marine life. My husband flies to Europe and Asia to give talks on science humor, teamwork, and critical thinking. I want them to keep doing what they do.
The Talmud says “It is not on you to complete the task [of repairing the world], neither are you free to desist from it.” What part of “the task” are your friends taking on, and how do they budget their time and attention and other resources for it?Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.