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Fail your Duties? Try Duty Free.

December 8th, 2011  |  by  |  Published in Travel  |  3 Comments

Has it been that long? Haven’t posted in a while, am in a travel swoon that must be related to not having posted in a while. Wrapping up 2011 as my most-traveled year probably ever. Not quite Matt Gross mileage, but something heavy. Four times to Russia alone, two times to the Caucasus and to Istanbul. Also: China. And Richmond, Virginia. At the moment, on a layover in Narita coming back from Burma, which I wrote about for another web project that I’ve launched with no business plan.

But this is not about that. This is about the ridiculous amounts of shopping I have done today, in three countries. It started in the morning in Rangoon, when a quick detour to the Bogyoke Market (named after Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, the General) turned into a lacquer-box feeding frenzy. Then at the Rangoon airport, where I didn’t let my ongoing dysentery/giardia/wtf keep me from buying more crap. Then in Thailand—long layover and Duty Free!—and now here in Tokyo, where I have bought (I can write this still because my daughter can’t read yet) a wooden doll, origami paper, sweet bean pastries and more. In all, I may have spent $250 today, which probably be more than I’ve spent on room and board combined over the last week. That is: a huge sum. Money I don’t necessarily have.

I had none of these impulses to gorge on Duty Free on the way over here, nor did I make a plan to do so. For me, this Duty Free thing is totally emotion-based. And at the end of a work trip, a longish trip for my standards (ten days), the overriding emotion is guilt.

Don’t get me wrong: it was a fantastic trip, important and enlightening and I would do it again just like this. But it’s just that back home in New York, we are supposed to be moving this month. We have to pack for another trip the day after tomorrow. My wife has a new job. Our house is in disarray. Things are not critical, but they are in flux. And I am in Myanmar.

How I think a bunch of crap from Duty Free will make this all better is really beyond me. But I think I do this every time: as soon as I lift my head from the story I’m working on and look homeward, I start gorging on tschotschkes.

I often joke that my kids are totally cool with me constantly leaving as long as I bring them presents. I wonder if that’s true. I can’t really know just how it effects them versus how grounding myself would effect me. But that’s impotence of a man whose life choices are either going to hurt himself or his family. You just look for whatever band-aid is at hand. This band-aid happens to be free of all duties and import taxes, as if that helped.


  1. scottstev says:

    December 8th, 2011at 2:52 pm(#)

    Congrats on the new venture, and many happy adventures to you. I came for the yuppie navel-gazing, but stay for the 3 multi-paragraph descriptions of traveler’s discomfort.

    I noted over time, your tension between your wanderlust and desire to provide a comfortable, predictable household for your children. In all honesty, the kids will be fine with travel. My wife travels frequently, and on the weekdays at least, she’s not missing much. The routine takes up so much of the day, that there’s not much left for extraordinary moments. As long as they’re sure of your love, they won’t get anxious. Just make sure you provide your wife with downtime, and get long stretches with the kids when possible.

  2. Raul Colon says:

    December 8th, 2011at 4:09 pm(#)

    I have been lucky the past year became a Dad and have hardly travelled! I would say out of the last decade this has been the year with the least travel!

    On another note I have to say that things on the economical side have been that great! As long as you are sacrificing to provide for your family that should make a big part of that band aid! Interesting post!

  3. Erin says:

    December 13th, 2011at 4:10 pm(#)

    My dad traveled all the time when I was growing up. The gifts he brought home did help. I have a beautiful geisha doll from his first trip to Japan, an Inuit doll made from an Eskimo co-op in Alaska and a million t-shirts from different places. The gifts let me know I wasn’t forgotten and told me about the places my dad had been.

    The travel wouldn’t have been so bad, I don’t think, if he had been more present when he was actually home. Just make sure that when you are home with your family that you are actually THERE. Guilt can keep our moral compass straight, as parents, but must be useful. Use enough of it to motivate you to use your time abroad and at home wisely and ditch the rest of it.

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