When Travel Means Great Sacrifice: A Tale of Loss, Redemption, and Pointy Elf Ears
My lifestyle of indefinite travel made it impossible for me to play my beloved Dungeons & Dragons — until I finally found a way.
When Michael and I decided in 2016 to leave the United States and travel indefinitely, there were really only two things I worried I'd miss.
Having a cat, for one. I've always loved cats.
And also getting together with a group of five of my buddies to play the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons.
The six of us had been playing together since we were — get this! — fourteen years old. After we graduated from high school, we got together for entire weekends, going away together three or four times a year.
For the next thirty-five years!
Yeah, I was going to miss the rest of my Seattle area friends and family, but I knew I'd see them regularly every time I was in town (and I have). It was going to be harder to get together to play D&D on my brief visits back in Seattle, especially whole weekends.
And when I think about the Most Positive Experiences of My Life, these D&D weekends would absolutely be in the Top Five
I've always felt a little defensive about my love of Dungeons & Dragons, because when my friends and I first started playing, in the 1980s, America was in the midst of a full-fledged moral panic over the game.
Plus, everyone thought we were dorks.
But the game ended up being way more influential than most people know. Almost every video game is now basically based on it. And thirty-five years later, dork culture — superheroes, Star Trek, Game of Thrones, Star Wars, and all the rest — has come to completely dominate mainstream entertainment.
The part of the role-playing game I like best? The human connection. It’s an aspect that video games just can’t replicate.
As it happens, these weekends were also a great excuse to hang out and catch up with some guys I've known, and who have known me, for most of my life.
I confess, when I left America, part of me wondered if the guys would continue getting together. Frankly, I'd always been the one to do most of the organizing for our weekends. These are five straight guys, after all.
But what do you know, they did keep getting together. The nerve. They somehow managed to carry on with their lives without me!
And I was jealous.
Yeah, I was now out exploring actual dungeons, and I even lived for two months in a real-life-castle. I was having real adventures of a sort, maneuvering my way through ancient cities, foreign cultures, and forgotten ruins.
But I still really missed those weekends.
We managed to get together a few times when I happened to be in town, but it kinda felt like I had to make it happen — and like I was interrupting their lives. I saw one guy only once in three and a half years.
On one hand, I got it. I was interrupting their lives. They couldn't just throw everything aside whenever I happened to be breezing through town. Life is about making choices, and I was the one who chose to leave.
On the other hand, have I mentioned how I really missed those weekends?
So, a few weeks ago, over a group text, I calmly and rationally explained to my five friends how much I missed playing, and would it be at all possible for them to try harder to accommodate me?
Okay, fine, I threw a hissy-fit. The basic gist was: You guys are ignoring me!
But when I finally explained how important those weekends had been to me, they did see where I was coming from. How they would feel if they were in my shoes.
Then Steve piped up with a suggestion: "Why don't we start playing together online?"
And everyone ignored him. Because as much as we like each other, we're not always so great at listening. We are men, after all.
"No, really!" Steve interjected again. "Why don't we start playing together online?!"
I liked this idea a lot. And everyone else finally heard him too.
What's interesting about this solution is that all of us basically work in media, and most of us talk regularly on Zoom or Discord anyway, but this had never really occurred to us before. The human "connection" aspect really is an important part of the game’s appeal for us.
Anyway, we've now been playing online, using a "virtual tabletop" called Roll20, with video via Discord.
And while it's not the exact same experience as in-person playing, it's surprisingly satisfying. Although those time zones can be a real killer, like now, when I’m living in Istanbul. Yesterday, we played at 7 PM their time — and 5 AM my time.
But I’m not complaining. And none of this means we can't also get together in person.
In fact, Scott soon said: “We’re not getting any younger. I think we should all set aside an entire week once a year and go away somewhere to play.”
When we were kids, I remember us saying stuff like this all the time: “When we’re older and have money, let’s get together and play for weeks at a time!”
But adulthood was different than we had envisioned. Careers, kids, and — in my case — being a digital nomad all got in the way.
Fortunately, my little outburst had caused a period of reflection among my group of friends. Not many people have what we have: a tight group that's been doing a beloved activity for almost our entire lives.
Now we’re all openly admitting that to each other, appreciating what we have. Because — let's face it — one day, one way or another, these get-togethers are going to come to an end.
Eat, drink, and roll those saving throws, because tomorrow we may literally die.
I think for Michael and me, our decision to indefinitely travel the world came from the same impulse — the realization that our time on this planet is limited.
We asked ourselves: How did we want to spend the time we had left?
And the answer was: We want to see as many interesting places as possible, and meet as many fascinating people. And we want to eat a lot of really great food.
Here’s the thing. Your priorities in life? They’re not the things you say are important, the things you tell yourself and other people you really care about.
They’re the things you actually do.
I mean, duh, right?
As for the "cat" issue? I really do miss living with a feline friend or two.
On the plus side, I've now met different cats all over the world.
It’s not the same, but life really does mean making choices. And so for now, it will have to do.
Brent Hartinger is a screenwriter and author, and one half of a couple of traveling gay digital nomads. Visit us at BrentAndMichaelAreGoingPlaces.com, or on Instagram or Twitter.
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