In thirteen years of seriously traveling, I’ve amassed some 2.1 million miles under my belt. There’s no plane named after me, but I’m past the point of caring.
Gone are the days of mileage running: This is what it is like to be on the other side after hitting all of those travel goals. Status is something I’ve forgotten about. Finding time to spend at home, however, is the new gold status.
Besides being consistently tired—though I suppose this might have something to do with being middle-aged—my priorities have changed.
The most interesting part of it all is that I don't know when I hit the one-million or the two-million mark. How is it possible not to realize that? It’s actually an easy answer: The trips start blurring all together after a while, then add the cherry of a global pandemic on top.
Starting with my first international stop in South Korea in 2010, I have traveled 2,081,103 miles over 884 days across 158 different trips. That’s a record of 2.42 years on the road, not counting the 3 years I lived abroad.
According to Delta, it takes the average customer 22 years to travel a million miles. That means, more or less, with persistence, the average person will cross a million miles if they remain dedicated to their traveling journey.
It also means I crossed that threshold some 71% faster than the average person. Just writing that, again, makes me feel tired.
Over that time, I've supposedly visited 25 countries over 107 cities. If they sound like numbers to you, they are numbers to me as well. I say supposedly, because I know it’s missing at least five countries, and how can you forget five countries? Here's a quick spoiler alert: You can.
Unfortunately, TripIt now reports my carbon footprint, which don’t need to be aired on the world wide web. Here's what it's like on the other side.
I don’t actually know how many flights I’ve taken or places I’ve been to.
My best guess is that I’ve been to 30 countries, which isn’t a totally incomprehensible number by normal standards.
Personally, I like to make return trips, spending time with the places I love, balancing it all against discovering new places. (In fact, a London friend once recently remarked about "the time I lived in London," to which I replied, I have never lived in London.)
At some point, you just take so many flights, you lose track of it all.
The problem is that I’ve rushed through places faster than someone can sneeze, and have sometimes taken the extraordinarily long way—like flying in the opposite direction around the globe—just to get somewhere.1
Though you think there would be a record for about everything in this day and age, there are logistical challenges documenting my path. It would take someone an astronomical amount of time recreating my path around the world.
Even though I have saved every physical boarding pass I have, as a fun activity for my loved ones to reconstruct my life when I die, there are plenty of mobile boarding passes I don’t retain a record for.
My first passport, in which I managed to fill the entirety of 52 pages in under 10 years, was stolen.
My TripIt records is missing at least five countries, because *gasp* I used to cheat on it with other trip management software. This means I have traveled significantly more than the 2.08 million miles it reports.
I literally don’t remember some of the places I’ve been to.
Ever have a fragment of a memory from your early childhood, but not being able to place it? That’s what traveling a million miles is like.
Recently, in the last year alone, I’ve declared two statements to friends and colleagues that turned out to be unequivocally false: I’ve never been to Amsterdam! I’ve never been to Germany!
In both cases, it took me over a week to realize that I once spent a week visiting a friend’s family in Amsterdam eight years ago, and three or four short days visiting a friend in Munich.
Recently, my phone displayed a catalogue of photos from 2016 from a beautiful mountain range—worthy of any National Geographic spread—a traditional market, and a mosque.
I assume these photos were taken in the Middle East, but I can’t remember where. Are they from different countries in the region? I’m terribly embarrassed to admit I don't know.
The worst part about is that there is a woman in traditional garb selling her spices, and I still can’t place it. That's how bad it is.
I’ve stopped caring about airline status or collecting miles.
It turns out when you have enough of something, you kinda stop care.
The bell curve of travel is just so miserable most people don't realize that the goal of status is basically to keep high-volume fliers sane.
I do have a vague recollection of having some arbitrary travel goal in the beginning. The hallmark was shooting for enough miles to redeem an around-the-world ticket. Then the mark was achieved.
By the time I accumulated enough airline miles to redeem two around-the-world tickets, I shifted my focus from accumulating miles to spending and actually using them.
These days, my main priorities have completely changed, or are more centered around my home life.
I spend more time trying to stay at home.
It turns out, after years of being on the road, I like having a consistent community.
Several years ago, I met another million-miler in first-class—courtesy of an upgrade, of course—who averaged 500,000 miles per year.2 I remember asking him the very same question: He said he gave more of those miles away to his family, versus using them.
He personally loved sitting at home in Maine.
I’ve become that person.
My favorite hobbies are cooking, baking, gardening and spending time with my friends. They are home-centered activities, though ironically, a lot of it revolves around recreating atmospheres and cultures from trips abroad.
Traveling is a fantastic, educational experience that changes the course of most people's lives. That said, I believe most human beings are more inclined to escape their reality, and when traveling becomes your dominant reality, home becomes the escape.
FOMO is no longer a thing. I recently was offered a two-week trip to South Africa, and though I would have been thrilled to go, I turned it down because of the timing.
I’d much rather go when all the conditions are right, and I have time to properly experience a place.
It is a tremendous first-world problem when you assume travel will always be available for you: You know the future opportunity still exists, notwithstanding a catastrophic disaster, war, and extreme political turmoil.
In really basic terms, I compare traveling to eating pizza. It's freaking fantastic. However, after eating pizza all the time, it is not totally unusual to crave something else, like a salad.
Flight attendants recognize and know me.
This is my favorite part of being a million-miler. It's really all about the people that you meet.
Though I love meeting people from all walks of life, I naturally gravitate toward cabin crew, mostly because those are the only people that I feel like really get my lifestyle. Often, my favorite person is the pilot on the plane commuting on a jump flight to his working route.
At times, when I've been privileged to have a set route, I was also fortunate to get to know a few flight attendants one-on-one.
It's kinda like saying hi to your bus driver every day.
Some of those relationships have been significant enough that some of them have joined my Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn networks.
They've been with me and congratulated me on life milestones, and gotten me to through to places when I really needed to be there for family in the toughest of times.
On my first post-pandemic flight, after two years,3 I'll never forget the warm welcome and smile from the JetBlue crew.
Those are the things I'll cross the world for.