COVID, cancellations, “Cave” Syndrome…and return to travel? When? How?
I love to travel. Live for it, in fact. That’s what I always said–and did. One trip would barely end before I was planning the next…and the one after that. I didn’t really begin to travel until I was 50, so I had lots of catching up to do. Nothing was going to stop me.
Until COVID-19 happened.
When the world shut down in early 2020, there was no way to predict how long the nuisance of the pandemic would last. We all sat tight, stayed indoors, and waited for summer. Summer turned to fall with tiny advancements: carry-out food, open parks, hybrid classrooms. Returning to the grocery store was cause for gratitude and celebration. There was talk of vaccine development. Surely life as we knew it was back on track.
Not so fast.
Cancelled trips, dashed hopes
My son and I had intended to take the older grandkids to London in July 2020. It’s amusing now to recall how we waited until mid-June to cancel, somehow still thinking the virus was going to magically disappear. And that all those grounded planes, locked hotels, closed attractions, and laid-off workers could suddenly flip a switch and pick up where they left off. We were still that naive.
October came and went, taking my trip to Peru with it. In March 2020, when the shelter-in-place order went into effect, a reservation seven months away seemed secure. My hiking tour of Vietnam in February 2021 was cancelled before Thanksgiving. By then, it was clear that 2021 wasn’t going to be the Year of Travel Comeback.
COVID-19 surges and viral variants continued. Finally, my September journey to Scotland got the axe. I’m not young anymore–there’s not a lot of wiggle room in terms of how much time is left for independent travel. Two years have been hijacked so far. Dashed hopes for sure. The bucket list must be adjusted accordingly.
Between the surges, I did get in a couple of short escapes and wrote about them to encourage others. The first was to Starved Rock State Park, which I optimistically titled “My First Post-Pandemic Getaway,” as if we were all in the clear. When the start of school was delayed in September, I took my grandson, William, to Springfield, Illinois, for our annual adventure. With lots of outdoor activities, timed entries for attractions, and 50% restaurant capacity, social distancing was easy. It felt safe for both of us, but entirely satisfying.
Passing time during the pandemic
The truth is, I did okay during the pandemic. As an introvert, my need for social interaction was satisfied with social media, emails, and old-fashioned written correspondence. I had some freelance writing gigs, so my time was structured. When we were allowed, I took walks and rode my bike. Painted bathroom cabinets. Brushed up on my French. Bought more plants. And like the rest of the world, I baked until we all ran out of yeast.
Virtual travel exploded and I hopped aboard. Museums offered and expanded their online tours. National parks have lectures and live cams. My “Armchair Travel Guide” was popular–all of a sudden, we didn’t have to pay or stand in line to see the world’s masterpieces. A pleasant way to pass the hours. COVID-19 caused many changes; I hope these virtual opportunities will endure.
After binge-watching “Outlander” on Netflix, I paid $36 to attend a lecture on the Scottish locations used in the series–Lallybroch to Crainesmuir” by a Scotch history professor. Very interesting and helped with the timeline of the Highlands. (Check out Context Learning to see all their seminars and classes. There are cooking classes and art history courses, too.)
Road Scholar has short lectures on travel topics, as well as multi-day “tours” of regions, cities, and focused topics. The lectures are about $25 for 1-2 hours. I find the multi-day prices to be high, about $100/day/person for a 4-hour session–but if there’s a topic you love and you can’t wait to get there, spend away. You have my full support.
At any rate, COVID-19 brought traditional travel to a grinding halt, yet gave us some interesting alternatives that will probably remain. “Normal” trips will likely never return, so each of us will have to decide how to get our fix. And how much risk we’re willing to take when we do resume.
Now comes the “Cave” Syndrome
You’d think that as every trip fell away, I would be devastated. No one was more surprised than me when that didn’t happen. I shrugged, rescheduled, and carried on. It didn’t bother me to have long-awaited reservations postponed. I started taking the train into Chicago for just a few hours of exploration, walking the local Wauponsee Glacial Trail, taking my grandson to the few museums that were safe and accessible. Honestly, I fared better than others.
Then I learned about the Cave Syndrome. It explained everything.
“Cave Syndrome” was coined during COVID-19. It originally applied to vaccinated citizens who remained fearful of venturing out, despite being immunized. The American Psychological Association found that nearly 50% of vaccinated adults were apprehensive about returning to their former lives. Later, the syndrome’s meaning has expanded to include those of us who aren’t anxious or hesitant, but simply not eager to jump through the required hoops to get someplace else.
Apparently, the more we hunkered down, the more we appreciated our homes. Our “caves.” We became fond of our local lives and nearby places. For dyed-in-the-wool travelers, we were suddenly forced to stay put and explore what’s nearby. We ventured to spots that we’ve bypassed for more “exotic” destinations…we’d never bothered with our own back yard explorations. Too pedestrian. Too banal. The traveler’s version of “A prophet in his/her own land…”
We learned that all this time, we didn’t need to get on a plane to have an adventure. And we’re enjoying it. Less hassle, less expense…more convenient. More’s the pity that it took a pandemic to reel me/us in.
End of travel? Absolutely not!
As I type this, new variants are prevailing. Just as the airplane pilot turns off–then on–the seat belt sign, we’re in an uncertain travel pattern. When the announcement is made and the seat belt light goes on, we simply buckle up again. No worries, it’s just a bump.
It’s a lesson.
If I can’t get to Vietnam or Scotland, I can visit my own country. Certainly there are states and regions I haven’t been. For example, if I never go to Las Vegas again, I’ll be happy. But New England is virgin territory for me. I told you why you should go to Prague in the autumn, but I haven’t yet been to Maine or Vermont. In fact, much of the East Coast deserves time and attention. Heck, there are places in my own state that I’ve neglected, because I was focused on foreign travel.
Then there’s the Civil Rights Trail. And it’s been decades since I walked the Freedom Trail in Boston. Native American cliff dwellings. The more I think about it, the more American cities I want to visit. I want to try and understand what is going on in my own country during these troubled times.
Make no mistake. I still intend to see the world…as much as I can, for as long as I can. I have three trips booked for late 2021 and 2022. By now, I’m no longer crushed if there are cancellations. It’s more important right now that we all work together to end this plague.
Please get vaccinated. Follow all safety guidelines. Despite COVID, cancellations, “Cave” Syndrome…we CAN and WILL return to travel.