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[Editor's note: This post continues in the future! Read Part II.]
One of the most important events in my life was, as they often are, an unexpected one.
It was early 2010. I’d been living in Hangzhou, China, and my world was beautifully small. It was maybe ten years since I required of myself that I put at least a thousand miles between me and Chicago: a thousand miles from the midwest, a thousand miles from the winters, a thousand miles from the same old same old. As Joni Mitchell said in what became my anthem, I got the urge for going, so I guess I had to go.
Since then, I took a 24-hour trip around Lake Michigan (1,100 miles in a car, listening to Bob Dylan, eating fudge from Mackinac Island). I spent four years in Colorado (1,100 miles away) for school. I traveled for a few weeks to Germany (4,382 miles), the Netherlands (4,110 miles), Belgium (4,114 miles), and France (4,137 miles). For a half a year, I studied Chinese Chess in Kunming, China (7,784 miles). And I took a last hoorah trip with an old friend to Thailand & Cambodia (8,567 miles).
And then I got a job in China, and my 1,000 mile minimum felt like a joke. Over the years I worked in China, I traveled regularly to Vietnam, Hong Kong, India, and Korea. I went to over a dozen cities in China regularly.
All this traveling meant I’d racked up some pretty sweet loyalty points, too. I was United Premier Executive (I still keep the card in my wallet even though it expired in 2012), and Hyatt Platinum which meant when I went to Japan to visit a friend, I got free airfare and stayed in the Park Hyatt Tokyo. One time my brother told me he had no plans for spring break, so the next day I used miles to get tickets to visit him for a week in Scotland.
I felt like I could go anywhere in the world, and I did.
My then-girlfriend (now-wife) and I had been dating, as of 2010, for about three years. While I was doing all this traveling, she stayed in Hangzhou. She didn’t have the urge for going, but I still did. Using miles, we booked tickets to San Francisco, to see some friends and family, to see the blue skies no longer familiar to either of us, and to drink some good wine. And I found a Hyatt promotion that was good for one free night at any Hyatt in the world for every two Hyatt stays, anywhere in the world. So in the weeks leading up to our trip, we took small trips to places we’d never been to stay at the cheapest Hyatts we could find.
The Park Hyatt Shanghai lobby is famously one of the highest in the world. To get to the elevators, you walk through a calm, dimly lit bamboo garden. We told the hotel that it was our honeymoon (it wasn’t), so when they escorted us to our free-upgrade suite, there was someone waiting for us with flowers and a bottle of champaign.
We went to our favorite restaurant in Shanghai that night, which brought us to that event that was so important to me. It wasn’t the dinner, or the swanky free hotel. It wasn’t our upcoming trip to San Francisco, or any of the trips I’d made leading up to it. It was what I saw, coming back from dinner, as we got off the elevator on the 91st floor. There was a small placard opposite the elevator that I’d missed upon arrival because luck had us on the other side.
Man travels the world over in search of something and returns home to find it.
Later that year, we got married. And except for an extended layover in Houston we try to forget, we’ve been living in Chicago ever since, and have no intention of leaving.
*Note: the actual quote is slightly different, which I learned only years later when telling this story, after I showed off a photo I took of the placard: “A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.” Close enough.