When you coming home dad? I don’t know when, but we’ll be together then: Traveling without kids
Do I have any clothes without formula on them to pack? If you are a fairly new parent like me, you may have wondered the same before the first time you traveled away from home without your children for the first time since they were born. Last week I traveled to Las Vegas for work for a week, the longest I had been away from our boys since they were born nearly six months ago. While traveling with infants can be fairly easy with preparation and planning, traveling without them can be harder mentally and emotionally.
Keeping busy is key. A busy body and mind don’t have time to reflect on how much you miss the kids quite as much. To do this, I combined a busy conference schedule during the day with some running in the mornings and getting out to see the sights outside of the city on less busy days. The conference itself helped with a pretty packed agenda of keynotes, talks, meals, and activities spread across several venues which essentially filled the days. Walking around between the venues itself provided a good amount of physical activity and kept me busy. While a little case of homesickness and missing family is nowhere near depression, the same types of remedies can help significantly. Studies have shown exercise and challenging mental activity to relieve stress and anxiety, and the same is true of feelings of homesickness.
Ever heard the saying “a tired dog is a good dog”? The same rule works for people. Being tired out, significantly different from being exhausted which can increase stress and reduce the capacity for it, can actually make you happier, likely from the endorphins released from the feeling of accomplishment.
The conference was extremely interesting and engaging too. The Amazon Web Services, or AWS re:Invent conference is a huge gathering of software developers and other technical folks who descend on Las Vegas for a week of learning about cloud computing, new AWS offerings, lots of SWAG, and incredibly well organized debauchery. As a hotel employee commented, “I’ve never seen a group who drank so much and had zero credit cards declined.” Not only were there a myriad of companies doling out free shirts, hats, stickers, and even things like drones, the conference itself gave out exceptional hoodies, an Echo Dot, a nice metal water bottle, and a tech running t-shirt for the 5k they sponsored. During the conference, I not only learned more about Amazon’s cloud computing offerings and services as well as how many companies are moving to the cloud, but also saw the launch of several new services. A highlight was when a semi truck was driven onto the keynote stage as a new offering, AWS Snowmobile, which can be used to transfer 100 Petabytes of data into AWS. That’s 1,000,000 iPods.
Another highlight was the finale party. Hosted inside not one but two custom built airplane hangar sized tents, the only adjective I can think of to describe it is insane. Inside were retro arcade games, air hockey, a rock climbing wall, a “lazer maze” to walk through, a ball pit that looked like a beach big enough for dozens of people, people running around in inflatable balls, several video game tournaments, and even a full concert stage where three DJs, including the new #1 DJ in the world, Martin Garrix, performed. All of this under the lights of Las Vegas’s High Roller Ferris Wheel.
When the conference wasn’t keeping me busy, I explored the amazing natural scenery of the Southwest. On Monday, before the conference, I took a car out to Red Rock Canyon, about 30 minutes from the Strip where huge red mountains rise from the desert. The trails here also make for amazing running. Just don’t underestimate how much water you will need, even when cold, the effect of the altitude on your breathing, how hard running on loose rocks can be, and how much elevation change a desert can have. I did all of the above. The effort was all worth it for the incredible vistas and scenery through the run. The feeling of solitude you get in the desert isn’t easily matched on other runs and really makes you feel like you are just running against or perhaps with yourself. The feeling is hard to describe and has to be experienced.
Throughout the week while the conference was in full swing, I ran up and down the Las Vegas Strip. This is not suggested for anyone but the most insane of runners or those who like me are trying to run a streak of 30 days. Running on the Strip means frequently dodging crowds and hapless tourists as well as running up and down stairs for the sky bridges that cross the streets rather than crosswalks. After three days I started to figure out where the real crosswalks are and utilize them instead as traffic in the morning is typically very light. Early morning running is also suggested as the tourists tend to not make it out before 9. While running, I also discovered that the Strip ends fairly abruptly before the Stratosphere, not after it as one would think, and things get interesting fast. Running past the Eiffel Tower, Brooklyn Bridge, canals of Venice, and a pirate ship in about a mile is a pretty cool feeling though.
With this running, it was fairly easy to stay on an East Coast schedule. I don’t think I ended up adjusting to the time at all thanks to my early morning runs, precipitating early nights as well. Thanks to the boys’ consistent and persistent 4:30–5:30 wake up calls, getting up and out of bed to run at 6:30 almost felt like sleeping in. After only a single night of waking up throughout the night and worrying about whether or not the boys were sleeping, I was even able to start sleeping through the night. Maybe the boys need a trip to Vegas.
Finally, at the tail end of the trip, on the last day I had a light conference schedule, so when it ended, I got a car and drove out through the desert to Utah’s Zion National Park. I was utterly unprepared for the beauty there. The drive itself was interesting with a near calamity as the horrible tiny car I had only held 7 gallons of gasoline and stations range from every 5 miles to every 50 at points. It also involves a unique drive through the Virgin River Gorge between Nevada, Arizona, and Utah which feels like you’ve taken a wrong turn onto another planet.
Zion is impossible to describe for me, so I’ll leave it to the expert, John Muir. “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.” Zion was named by Mormon settlers who felt as if they had discovered paradise, and I’m not convinced they were wrong. The park encompasses a canyon which feels like the cradle of life on Earth with fertile land and mountain peaks that rise up to an inspiring height. Early winter is a perfect time to visit as during the busier months, you must park and take a shuttle through the canyon. Accessible at all times by car is a drive up from the canyon through the mountains through an immense tunnel that ends at an overlook of the canyon, and landscape that feels more alpine than the desert. I even saw bighorn sheep at the peak. Let me tell you that bighorn sheep are not afraid of cars. Especially tiny ones with 7 gallon gas tanks. The visit was a bit too short to fully see the park as I felt with a few hikes, it would take days to explore everything it had to offer, but the little taste I got has me wanting to go back.
Staying busy was the most effective way to not focus on how hard it was to be away from the boys, my wife, and the dog. With busy days and tired nights, it was easier to overlook how much I missed them. Frequent texts with pictures of them alternatingly helped and made it harder. Missing milestones like them laughing and reacting to the dog was especially difficult. Right before bed and right after waking up tended to be the hardest times of day when I would think about them the most. I can’t imagine being away from them for a longer period and if anything, the trip demonstrated the importance of maximizing the time spent with them especially in these early days. I worry constantly, like many father’s do, about spending enough time with my kids largely due to work and other commitments that keep me away. To be the engaged and involved father I strive to be, I know I need to minimize these trips away from them. I never want to feel like a stranger to the boys. I want the boys to have great memories of time spent with dad like I do; space camp, fishing, building race tracks and buildings for my cars and then crashing them, and building model rockets then losing them in trees. My greatest fear with the boys, except perhaps weird made up diseases where parts falloff, is that I will realize one day, far too late, that I missed opportunities to form lasting and meaningful memories with the boys. This is what makes traveling away from them so hard. I won’t be spending so much time away again any time soon. The best part of the trip was coming home, seeing the boys, and their reaction to seeing me. For a second, neither seemed to notice, then they both looked me up and down, looked into my eyes, and grinned the biggest grin I’ve seen from them as if I was an old friend they recognized at long last and were truly happy to see. The giggles and smiles that followed and didn’t end until they fell asleep hours later were a great sign that we are doing things right.