Almost every week I’ve been making five-hour drives from my current home in Washington, DC, to New York for about two months now. My fiancée’s family lives up on the Shore, and she and I are in the process of moving from Our Nation’s Capital, where we’ve lived for several years, to Jersey City, the town right across the Hudson from New York.
The drive’s gotten slightly more excruciating each time. There’s the always-traffic-clogged DC-Baltimore corridor; the bridges and tunnels over and under Baltimore’s slowly rusting port; the totally unremarkable hour-long stretch through northern Maryland (I’ve formed zero memories ever about this stretch of the drive, despite it having taken up days of my life); the tall, ugly green bridge that lifts me out of Delaware and sets me down in Southern Jersey; and then the two hours through New Jersey, where my fiancée inevitably insists on listening to New Jersey 101.5 — “not New York, not Philadelphia, but New Jersey’s own radio station! Featuring Big Joe Henry, livin’ large (VERY large!), telling jokes, and playing New Jersey’s favorite rockin’ oldies!” — until finally we reach the gray moonscapes of Newark and the New York sprawl and enter into JC so we can find a bar to drink away the stress of the trip.
I hate moving. I’ve done way too much of it over the past 10 years. My current home is a 300-square-foot studio with no kitchen that I share with my fiancée and work from. It’s what hell will be like for me if hell ends up existing. It’s cheap for DC, sure, but I’ve hated it since the day I moved in, nearly two years ago, making it the longest I’ve lived in any one place since I left my parents’ house at age 18. Why would I stay in such a tiny, shitty apartment for so long? Because I fucking hate moving.
The paradox here is that I love traveling. If I could do one thing all the time, it’d be traveling. And I’m not just talking about going and experiencing new cultures and trying new foods. I’m talking about the actual act of travel. Because of the physical discomfort, I don’t really love planes, but train and car and boat travel is my jam. One of the best trips I’ve ever done was a train trip around the US. I’d bought an Amtrak pass that allowed me to do eight legs in 15 days, so I stretched it as far as I could. American trains aren’t dependable or timely, though, so the vast majority of my time was spent on the train itself. I spent 16 hours waiting for repairs in a field in Montana at one point. It was incredible.
Moving and traveling are fundamentally the same thing. They’re the relocation of your person from one place to another. The former is stressful. The latter is something we do to relax after doing something stressful like the former. So what’s the difference?
I used to work for a pro-immigration nonprofit, and we had a saying: “People move.” People have always moved. At first we were hunter-gatherers, and we had to move with our food resources. Then we expanded out when there got to be too many people around. Then we’d relocate because of disease, famine, war, or simply because we thought we could do better somewhere else. Immigration and emigration now are basically the same thing as they were then. Moving is just as natural to humanity as art and music are.
But travel is a vast improvement on moving. It used to be that if you were moving, you weren’t doing it because you wanted to but out of necessity. Once we figured out how to get all of our necessities in the same place, we realized we still wanted to move anyway, so we invented travel and started moving for fun. It took all of the stress out of moving. It required less luggage. It required fewer one-way tickets. It required fewer major life changes.
When I’m in motion, it feels like I’m getting stuff done. It feels like I’m getting somewhere. I can watch movies and read books and hang out in the dining car where I can get drinks with the other passengers. I’m living, but I don’t need to really do anything because the train’s doing the thing I need to be doing. It’s moving me through the world. My participation is unnecessary.
But now that I’m moving instead of just traveling, I’m forced to realize there are plenty of things I need to be doing as well, that I have to be an active participant instead of just a privileged layabout, and that’s terrifying. That’s why I hate to move.