I'm ready to fly again

But international travel to meet with a big group still isn't an option

A year ago today, in a well air conditioned room in southern Brazil, I said to my team, “Sorry. I don’t think I can hang. I need to go lay down.” I could feel a drop of cold sweat, but my thoughts were entirely focused on the burning contents of my stomach.

“Oh no, you too?” said Raul. I was at Kelsus Camp, an annual team building trip with our software consulting company, and I had just become the tenth person to fall ill.

Hosting Kelsus camp is one of our favorite things about having a company. We love the tradition of getting together once a year along with our families and partners—40 or so people in all—on the coast of Brazil. We spend half of each day doing group training to improve our software abilities and the other half playing soccer on the beach, swimming, sipping yerba mate, and playing board games so late we decide to push the next morning’s meeting back by an hour.

Last February, though, a virus had taken out most of the team. It wasn’t covid, just a brutal and unforgiving norovirus that guaranteed a couple of days of tossing, turning, and wishing you hadn’t eaten from the probably-should-have-been-better-refrigerated breakfast buffet.

Since this was my last experience overseas, it took a little longer than usual to miss the idea of sleeping on a plane to get somewhere far. This week I felt the bug again—no not norovirus, the travel bug! Exactly a year ago we stepped in crystal clear water beneath jungly hills, and I want to go back. I want to see my South American friends, speak Spanish with Portuguese words thrown in, and smile about how the South Americans I know are better at spending time together doing nothing than the Americans I know.

I’ve been unbelievably privileged in my life to mix work with travel over the past twenty years. I’ve worked with software developers in India, Thailand, Argentina, and Brazil. Just for the sake of completeness, here’s an episode of Mobycast where cofounder Chris Hickman and I talk about working with the team in South America and what it’s like.

This non-tourist experience of being overseas has framed the way I like to approach travel. And I’m hoping to find a podcast that can scratch that specific, particular-to-me itch. So I’ve turned to Galen Beebe of the Bello Collective who’s article in WaPo from a few weeks back has a ton of suggestions. There’s got to be something in there that I like.

I was immediately drawn to the section called “If you are a fan of This American Life or Serial without the murder” because it hints that some well-crafted stuff lives in there. So far I’ve tried the first episode of Far Flung With Saleem Reshamwala. It gets into a 400 year old passion play in Oberammergau Germany looking critically at how this play has impacted the local jewish population—not in a good way, obviously, especially during WWII. So while I’ll give this one an A+ for production, and a A for constructing an interesting narrative, it’s gonna have to get a C- for helping me escape from the things that make Americans shout at each other online all day every day. The Far Flung episode list suggests they don’t linger in that political divide beyond episode one, so I’ll give it another chance.

Passport was next on my list, and since Galen described it as having “Sweep you away storytelling,” I was really optimistic. I listened to it on Tuesday in the car with my wife. We thought it was going to be about Jackson Hole, and we were ready to laugh about how little these journalists from Barcelona understood our American West. But holy shit it was about Jackson Hole, CHINA?! In China, in recent years, they have built a town of 10 thousand residents based on the idea of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and called it Jackson Hole.

The hosts Neil and Andrés interview the Chinese marketing mastermind, the American architect, and residents of this manufactured town, and for 30 minutes Kelly and I were not on I-70 driving from Vail to Eagle. Vail itself, where Kelly grew up, is also a town thought up in the 60s and designed to look like Bavaria. Listening to this podcast with Vail as a backdrop felt like entering into a Russian nesting doll of an idealized American West.

Who knows if every episode of Passport will be this fun. A point against it is that the hosts seem to like to do that travel media thing of being greatly amused by other cultures behaving oddly alongside drive-by interest in local history, two things that don’t add up to make a compelling show, but I’ll definitely give it a few more episodes. A+ for story, A+ for production value, and A+ for escapism.

I traveled today!

Thanks for reading and as always I invite you to just reply to talk to me about podcasts you’re listening to or working on, or about anything else on your mind.

Thanks,

—Jon Christensen