I’m a creature of repetition. I’m a beast of habit. I am a record with a single groove. I admit that here, up front, before I extoll the virtues of a grounding song. So know that before I go any further – I like things I can count on.

It started about four years ago. I was in New York for work for about the tenth time in as many months. I had a night off and decided to go see my friend, editor and brother from another mother Adam Korn sing with a friend of his at a basement club in Greenwich Village. It was his friend’s show, but he joined to sing Rufus Wainwright’s “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk.” I’d never heard the song, but loved it immediately and downloaded it to my phone before I made it back to the hotel.

I was just starting my traveling back then, just getting going with my crazy Sky Miles lifestyle, and I often found myself homesick and feeling alienated. There’s so much time alone when you travel like that – airports, cabs, anonymous hotel rooms and waiting rooms. I’d often get antsy, jittery, anxious. I felt surrounded, engulfed in strangeness when I traveled like that. I just wanted to be home. I just wanted to explore. I needed a friend and, frankly, there were only so many times I could call my wife before it became disruptive to her day.

With two more days in New York and a lot of time to myself, I found my thumb unconsciously hitting repeat on the song. I listened to it until I memorized the lyrics. I listened to it until I didn’t hear it anymore. And as I walked the city and sat in cabs, I didn’t feel quite so alone. I didn’t feel as anonymous. I felt like I was walking through a movie, like I was on an adventure, not just a stranger in a stranger place. It was like my trips had a theme song.

Since then, I’ve found a grounding song for almost all my trips.

Romania – “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show

Japan – “Beth/Rest” by Bon Iver.

Sao Paulo – “Everlasting Light” by The Black Keys

Singapore/Kuala Lupur – “Rivers and Roads” by The Head and The Heart

London – “Blackbird” by The Beatles (duh)

San Francisco – “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots part 1” by The Flaming Lips

Raleigh, NC – “99 Problems” by Jay-Z (no official video available on YouTube)

Toronto – “Ends of the Earth” by Lord Huron

The songs aren’t always good and they usually aren’t the same just because I go back to a place. It’s different every time I’m in New York or San Francisco, Atlanta or London. And they aren’t always good. This last Tuesday, during my 21-hour there-and-back odyssey to New York, I listened to “The Promise” by When In Rome more than 20 times.

Yeah, that song.

The benefit of having a grounding song while traveling is a sense of familiarity when nothing else seems familiar. The benefits after I travel are that every time I hear the song, I remember specific details of a trip. Every time I heard the lyrics “and if I die in Raleigh, at least I will die free…” I think of the cobblestone streets of Sighisoara, Romania, birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, and the view from the top of the hill onto the bucolic Transylvanian valley below. When I hear “cause she knows that it’d be tragic if those evil robots win” I think of standing on the old battery, wind blasted and in awe of the Golden Gate Bridge. If I heard the opening riff of “Blackbird” I’m taken to Southwark and the little pub tucked down the alley where the drunken vet complained about British foreign policy to anyone who would listen – whether they wanted to or not.

There’s no science to picking a grounding song. In fact, trying to plan one out never works. It’s a discovery in your own song library. But having a song to play on repeat to set and capture the mood of a place and time, is like taking your blankie with you – a little piece of home wherever you are.

I set the alarm for 3:38 and took a Tylenol PM at 8:30. The app wasn’t letting me get updates on my flights and snow had blown in, upping the possibility of delay. I needed gas. I showered quickly to account for the time. Usually, it’s about an hour to the airport, a little over 40 miles and a state away. At this time of morning? Who knew. But among my biggest phobias is missing a flight.

A quick stop for gas, just me and the attendant up and out at 4:05 AM. A quiet world blanketed in four inches of fresh snow. It was me and the truckers on the highway. No police officers, no highway patrol perched by the side of the road waiting for speeders to snare in their web.

I put on a podcast, but didn’t listen. It’s hard to listen so early in the morning, hard to listen when you’re facing the machinations and intertwining steps of an out and back to New York in February. If we got snow in Cincy the night before, it would be hitting The City at around rush hour the next evening. I had to plan for that, think through check-in, settle-in, the flight, the landing, the cab to Manhattan.

My first meeting wasn’t until noon. If all went to plan I would land at 8, but there were no other flights leaving later. Where would I go? Probably to the office to sit and write, to catch up on e-mails and with colleagues there. Drink some coffee, call the kids. Hail cab down to 23rd and Park for lunch with strangers. Hail another one back to 52nd and 6th for a meeting with my boss’s boss’s boss. He wanted to meet. It was his idea. He’s the reason I set the alarm.

Maybe I could get him to move the meeting up, stand a chance of catching an earlier flight home, maybe miss the snow. Maybe. But probably not. His life is measured in 15 minute increments and I have two of them back to back later in the day – something not a lot of people I work with get a chance to claim.

A day in the City, many young people’s dream. For me, it’s just another day away from home, surrounded by strangers, sitting in uncomfortable chairs, uncomfortable rooms, uncomfortable situations. Try explaining that to your wife and kids, how the gleam is off the rose, how the City’s lily has rusted for you. How you see the trash not the lights, the crowd, not the people. Trying explaining to your friends and family who don’t get to go places like you do that you’d rather be at home, training the dog, carpooling to practice, helping with homework.

No one would believe you. You’re an asshole if you try.

I love to travel. I love the process and the planning, the adaptation and improvisation. I love the feeling when you first take off and the pilot pulls the yolk back twenty degrees. You’re pushed back into your seat, you feel the ground disappear beneath you, the landing gear spin and retract. That never gets old. Neither does the rush of what to do next – deplane, get your bearings, find a cab, remember where you’re going. Even on such little sleep. Even when you’d rather be home.

It’s easy to get jaded, to take for granted our extraordinary times and the way we live. A trip to London? We’ll have you there between breakfast and dinner. Going to the City? There’s hardly time for your coffee to get cold. It’s astounding when you step back and think of it.

But it’s hard to look forward to when you’ve gone to bed worried just after the kids. It’s hard to look forward to when you’ve set the alarm for 3:38. It’s hard to look forward to when you rub the dog’s ears, kiss your wife and kids heads and slip off into the cover of darkness across a blanket of freshly fallen snow.

The only thing you can look forward to is retracing your steps, parking your car and kissing their heads when you sneak back in after midnight. You rub the dog’s ears, eat an apple from the fridge, slip off your clothes and back into bed without bothering to set the alarm.