Going Sessile

One of the biggest changes in my personality with middle age is that I no longer really enjoy travel beyond local weekend getaways. Almost no destination has a pain/novelty ratio that makes it worth it. On the one hand, I’ve traveled enough that few places hold the promise of real novelty and stimulation. On the other hand, even though travel has gotten way more convenient overall (smartphones, eSIM cards, cashless payments, Uber, Google Translate — though at the expense of phone-loss anxiety), my tolerance for discomfort has plummeted. I don’t like shitty hotels/hostels, awkward couchsurfing, wrangling luggage, driving unfamiliar cars, figuring out transit systems, or spending the night in an airport as I did once in Paris in 1998. I especially don’t like wading through lots of options figuring out food options. The net effect is that I’ve gradually gone sessile. I avoid travel when I can except when one of two conditions holds — either the destination offers some genuine novelty (Antarctica maybe?) or someone, preferably not me, is paying for a business class, high-touch managed experience. If younger friends don’t make arrangements I can parasitically hook into, I tend not to wander far from hotels in new places. I made a graph illustrating my evolving preferences:

Pain beats novelty when you’re young (where the pain is simply lack of adult agency and resources) and when you’re 45+. In the middle, there is a window of 20 or so years when the equation favors exploratory wandering despite pains. For me that was 1998-2018 or so. The bookend travel experiences in those two years were a 3-week backpacking trip to Europe in 1998 and a side trip to Northumberland after a conference in Newcastle (highlight: puffins on Farne islands). The latter was the last time I made personal efforts to go to an out-of-the-way place (it involved inconvenient trains, buses, taxis, and a boat).

I still enjoy being in different places once I’m comfortably settled into a nice hotel with a charged phone and a nice restaurant or two and walking areas scoped out. I just no longer find the pain of getting there and back to be worth it. There was a time when it wasn’t even pain. Airports were exciting! New transit systems were fun to figure out! (The exception is border controls/passports/visas — always painful, even with an American passport).

When I notice people older than me enjoying travel hugely, it usually turns out they can go business class or better all the time, and have handlers everywhere dealing with the friction. Or they’ve spent a lifetime traveling very little, and have a lot of pent-up hunger for novelty to work through in retirement.

The calculus of travel applies to life generally. Growing felt-friction beats marginal novelty in every activity eventually, so you go sessile in one modality after the other. Your music and reading tastes go sessile. Your political openness goes sessile. Your tolerance for weather ranges goes sessile.

Speaking of weather, I’m headed to Singapore and India during peak monsoon for the first time in 25 years. I’m not looking forward to it. Though the Indian monsoon is amazing experienced from a comfortable balcony nursing a hot chai and a plate of pakoras, the same cannot be said of navigating Indian traffic snarls with flooded streets. I expect to be in Bangalore for a few days this time (first visit since 1996 when I interned there) and am not looking forward to the flooding the overgrown city appears to be famous for now.

My pain-vs-novelty utility curve also explains why I am skeptical of longevity tech. It’s not sufficient to extend life. You have to suppress the pain of the friction of life enough to keep it below the declining novelty curve (or manufacture increasing amounts of novelty). Money alone will do the trick up to about 80. Given reasonable health, with luxurious-enough curated experiences you can continue to find things like travel stimulating. But at some point you’ll have pains that money can’t ease enough to make it worth the effort.

Longevity tech as it exists today, even for the wealthiest, seems to require far more investment of time and energy than I’m willing to put in for the “return on life.” Maybe it’s just me, but the equation doesn’t compute. I simply don’t have the kind of appetite for life that can survive arbitrary amounts of friction pain.

To be clear, I don’t think this is a good thing. I occasionally fight the sessile tendencies and am often glad I did. But more often, I don’t, and find myself wondering why I bothered when I could be home relaxing.

Get Ribbonfarm in your inbox

Get new post updates by email

New post updates are sent out once a week

About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter


  1. Identify 100% with this. One aspect that has catalyzed this slide for me has been social media. It has devalued or dethrilled travel like nothing else. In a video-killed-the-radio-star sort of way. It has brought a wrecking ball to any sense of wonder or charm or naive excitement by making everything far too legible for it to be fun. It used to be that you traveled to a place with a sense of anticipation and hope, expecting to be delighted in unexpected ways. That frame of mind helped make light work of all the pain that came with the deal. Now, you go in knowing EXACTLY what you are going to get, and anything that goes even slightly sub-optimally or even just off script adds to the sense of pain and hassle, making an already lukewarm experience even more meh. Another aspect that may not be as universal but is a huge turn off for me personally is another consequence of social media: the number of low stakes, low traction tourists everywhere. That sucks any sense of character out of a place, especially places that would have counted as relatively obscure even a couple of decades ago. I hear how pretentious and near-elitist that sounds, but it is a bigger deal for me than I would want it to be lol.

    • Nature can heal.

      “Another aspect that may not be as universal but is a huge turn off for me personally is another consequence of social media: the number of low stakes, low traction tourists everywhere.”

      They never leave social media anyway. These days one can even simulate a travel: just give a local a selfie stick, let them visit tourist sites and restaurants and then the AI replaces their image with a rendered image of yours. The perfect travel. It takes just one day and is so much cheaper! If this goes productive tourism might collapse since no one believes anyone that they have really traveled. One law of technology which has been explored at length through SciFi is that all human problems become ontological sooner or later.

  2. Honesty is interesting, even when it’s curmudgeonly. Thank you.

  3. Chai and pakoras sound like a real treat… wading in foot high sewage mixed monsoon water agreed less so… May I recommend maybe more internal travel with the assistance of say a micro dose of psilocybin or a day long fast or other method to jump start the default neuronal net work? Walking the same route everyday one will be presented with new glories… no need to travel farther than your house to see something…

Leave a Comment


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.