As I’m writing this, I’m 35,000 feet in the air, on my way to – play games. Well, no I’m not – and the fact that that’s not what I’m doing has a lot to do with this article – but I’m flying to California, and when I’m there I’m going to play games. A week from when I write this, I’ll be flying to Ohio, and playing games, and then on to South Carolina, where among other things I will – play games. And then, two weeks later, I’ll fly to Tennessee, and play games there. By the end of the year, I’ll likely have played games in Colorado, New York, Oregon, and perhaps other states as well.
Which makes it sounds like I’m going to lots of gaming conventions. But while I go to more than some, most of these trips won’t be the result of conventions. Most, rather, will involve travel for other reasons – business travel, family travel, or visiting relatives. When I travel, I look to get in gaming.
Why is that? Well, some of it is, obviously, an enjoyment of playing games. But the bigger factor for me is the opportunity to meet friends, and friends-to-be. When I started traveling on business regularly, mostly to Northern California, I didn’t know anyone in the area more than casually. And, over the decade I was traveling there, I made a number of friends – and became an irregular but recurrent member of multiple gaming groups. When I started traveling to Fort Collins on business, I had the advantage of already knowing good friends in the area. But since then I’ve had the opportunity to make more friends, as well as discover that a co-worker in the area is a gamer, and host him for gaming when he travelled out East. I’ve just started traveling to Columbia, South Carolina on business, but again I’ve connected with a friend who is local, and I’m starting to get to know other gamers in the area.
I must admit that I’ve never enjoyed business travel, but I’ve done enough of it that it’s at least a familiar problem at this point. But it didn’t take me long to realize that social interaction – and not just with co-workers – helps the time go by much faster. So, when I’ve found that I’m going somewhere new on business, my first question is – who lives near there? Local is ideal, but if I need to drive a ways, so be it. A good friend of mine lives in Fresno, so I’ve driven from the San Jose area down to Fresno a number of times. Other friends live around Los Angeles, so I’ve sometimes routed through LA to stop by. When I ended up at a convention in New Orleans, I stopped by to visit the Schloessers, back when they lived there.
But the gaming really is secondary; I’ve gotten together with my friends in Fort Collins multiple times, without a game ever breaking out. Games are a way for me to get around my shyness, and get to meet folks. And they make a great excuse for getting together. If all you’re looking for is the games, though, there are plenty of online boardgame implementations, requiring much less effort and equally available when at home. (While I have nothing against online boardgaming, I’ve never found it compelling enough to take part in, beyond a rare Black Vienna game, because I want to see and interact with the people I’m gaming with.)
So, how do you find opportunities for gaming while on the road? The first step is to make connections – ideally amplified by meeting in person, at conventions. But even if it’s just an online connection, it helps tremendously to know someone who lives where you’re traveling in advance of your travel. That’s not always possible, though, and while not as ideal, finding a local gaming group can be an equally strong start to making local connections. If you’re only traveling somewhere once, though, just finding a group is unlikely to prove more than a temporary – if enjoyable – distraction.
Once you’re connected, I would recommend participating in local mailing lists. When I was traveling to California regularly, I participated (mostly lurking, admittedly) in a mailing list for the group I first started attending; I’m still on the mailing list for a private group I last had the chance to join back in 2008. I’m a member of the Northern Colorado Board Gamers, and I try to let folks know when I’ll be out. I also follow the geeklists the group regularly posts, to see what’s hitting the table there.
The tough thing is when business travel plans change. I used to get to California regularly, but I haven’t been there on business since 2008. So now I try to get out at least once a year, on my own, to continue to connect with my friends there. It’s not always possible – I’m going to miss a bunch of folks this year, as family commitments will prevent my usual trip – but overall it’s been a great way to keep in touch.
Another advantage, for me, of making far-flung friendships is the opportunity to get to various local conventions. Many folks seem to enjoy large conventions, but my preference is decidedly with smaller venues; there’s only one convention I get to regularly that attracts much more than 100 folks, and I’ve been attending that convention since it was still in the range of 100 attendees, such that it still feels reasonably intimate to me.
And finally – getting to know folks from across the country also gives you the opportunity to _host_ folks. I have a good friend in Albuquerque – one of only two gamers I stopped to see during a family trip across the country back in 2009 – and recently his business took him within a short drive of Massachusetts. I’ve previously hosted folks from New York, Texas, Ohio, California, and Colorado; hopefully I’ll have the chance to host many other friends in the future.
Because, in the end – it’s all about the people. If you’re travelling, and just want to play games, take your PC or iPhone and you’ll be fine. If you want to spend time with people, though, better to pack some games…