How can there possibly be any worthwhile travel lessons from the godawful Covid-19 pandemic? Maybe lessons on overcoming boredom, rationing toilet paper, or finding a suitable mask. But travel? Really?? Yes, I tell you. Really.
The time we now call “Before”…
“Before,” we simply went. Bought a guidebook, made an itinerary, put down a deposit, booked a flight. Packed lightly and off we went. For some of us, our biggest concern was finding time to get a REAL ID before the October 1 deadline. (No worries, now we can procrastinate until 2021. Plenty of time.)
Few saw it coming, this virus and its devastation. As late as a week before the governor of my state ordered us to shelter-in-place, I was introducing my granddaughter to Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at Chicago’s magnificent Auditorium Theatre. We took a commuter train, rode the “L,” ate in a busy restaurant, stopped in a Walgreen’s, and sat with a few thousand other Ailey fans. Sure, we washed our hands, like normal. Before eating and after using the restroom.
About a week later, I would have a dry cough, headache, chills, aches, fever, and overwhelming fatigue. There weren’t tests available yet. And there still isn’t a reliable way to know if I have antibodies. So, my quarantine began a little ahead of yours. Lots of time to consider some travel lessons from the lockdown.
If we can’t go anywhere, are we still travelers?
So…here we are. Confined to our homes and communities. Constrained by a submicroscopic snippet of DNA. Confounded by the sudden lack of options, at least for the foreseeable future. Expert opinions vary, but it could be two or more years before we’ve settled in to a “new normal,” whatever that will be.
Maybe that’s okay.
If travelers are anything, they’re nimble. Accustomed to adapting to weather, strikes, protests, holidays, renovations, and closings, we carry on. We make substitutions. We take another route. Many times, we’re delighted at the detours. Can we take that skill–and attitude–and apply it now? If we’re worth our salt, and our traveler’s belief that adventure is wherever we go, then the answer is simple. Yes.
My travel lessons from the lockdown
Look back and remember: I take thousands of photos on my trips. Maybe you do, too. Everything is fascinating, from UNESCO landmarks to everyday grocery stores. It’s a way of journaling and a way to remember. The thing is, I don’t always take time to look at all the photos.
During the quarantine, I grew frustrated at the inability to make plans; it’s important for me to have something to anticipate. But one rainy day, I decided to revisit my trips. What a revelation, to realize how fortunate I’ve been.
Perhaps I’d lost hold of the fact that I didn’t begin to travel until I was fifty. Maybe I was constantly comparing my trips to others who were able to start sooner, were better financed, or had an enthusiastic partner. Never mind, as I looked at nearly 20,000 (told you I was prolific) images, it was overwhelming to think that I have, indeed, been somewhere.
I could almost always recall where I’d been when I took the photo: the sun, the air, the scent, the shadows. Who else was nearby. The feel of the stones, the details in the carvings. What I learned. How advanced other civilizations had been. I was transported back.
After that day, I “revisited” all my trips. Honestly, I wouldn’t have done it without being restricted to my home. It was a powerful lesson on taking time to remember and reflect.
Visit virtually: One of the gifts of travel is that you develop the ability to look at pictures or videos of a place you’ve not (yet) been and understand it. For example, consider the photo above, of a tiny Norwegian town on a fjord. A non-traveler will say, “Nice picture, but it looks gloomy.” A traveler? They’ll see an opportunity to experience life in a remote village–without a single souvenir shop. They’ll imagine getting there by a small boat; the cool air; the rugged landscape; the night sky; the daily life; meals created from what’s available.
The worldwide pandemic brought exciting opportunities to our doorsteps. We could step inside museums, pop into zoos or aquariums, wander national parks, or explore ancient sites. Again, having experience and perspective, we can effortlessly become armchair travelers. Another of the lessons from the lockdown.
“Travel” in your kitchen: What do we look forward to when we travel? Food! We seek it out, savor it, and figure out how to make it at home. We take cooking classes. We photograph the heck out of it. We talk about it when we return. We remember it fondly.
One of my travel lessons from lockdown was a return to some of my favorites. After I recovered from my bout with Covid-19, and when grocery stores offered special hours, I dug out the cookbooks and recipes I’d gathered over the years and got busy. Cooking is both comforting and therapeutic. It’s something useful…and in crazy times, something I could control.
The sight, smell, and taste brought me back to happy times and places. You have your own food memories, but if you need inspiration, try one of these:Blueberries: From North America to the World–and a Fresh Blueberry Pie Recipe
Stay domestic: I’ll say it straight out: I’ve been a travel snob. I preferred foreign destinations, especially in places where I didn’t know the language. Before I even returned to U.S. soil, I was wondering where to go next. As I write this, my next trips are supposed to be to Peru, Vietnam, and Scotland.
Let me say that I’m perfectly aware that the United States is chock-full of wonders. When I’ve visited such a place–Yellowstone comes to mind–I’m blown away. New Orleans. Olympia National Park. Santa Fe. Upper Michigan. San Antonio. Niagara Falls. My own Chicago. Anything Frank Lloyd Wright. I’ve barely scratched the surface.
I love my local and “stateside” journeys. But given the chance, I’ve always opted for foreign travel…it simply seemed more exotic and exciting. Now I’m ready to rethink my priorities. Staying in my own country seems less like a restriction and more like an opportunity. I’m already behind, so I better get cracking!
Reframe the future: We all face one of the most important travel lessons from the lockdown: Do we sit and mope about where we can’t go…or do we reinvent how we see the world?
Whether the world opens up in three months or three years, it’s not going to be the same. Just as we now go through airport security and pay ridiculous fees to choose a seat or bring a suitcase, there will be new rules about health certificates and border closings. I expect everything will become more expensive, as well.
Does that mean we won’t be able to travel wherever we want, whenever we choose? Maybe. Probably. A virus showed us how vulnerable we all are as it breezed around the globe, with utter disregard for governments and passports. It makes absolute sense that there will be more restrictions. Given that many places were being “loved to death” by over-tourism, maybe that’s okay.
For sure, it’s a time of uncertainty. A dedicated traveler won’t be discouraged or disheartened…she’ll discover in a new and different way. And maybe it will be better than ever.