When one’s job is to write about the travel experience in the hopes of sparking excitement about taking a trip, 2020 has been a tough year. What does a travel writer do when the world is taking the year off? As it turns out, a lot of baking is involved, as is rescuing dogs and taking long walks through the woods. We though are at an interesting point in the year when many restrictions have been lifted across the U.S., which in turn has rekindled the thoughts of traveling around for many people.
There are, however, seemingly countless caveats to this including one’s own health, the health of loved ones and what restrictions may be in place where one lives. This doesn’t shift only country by country, but state by state and even county by county. It’s unnecessarily confusing, which in turn has stopped me many times from writing new posts. How can I write about Portugal when no one in my own country is allowed to go there at the moment? How can I advocate taking a flight to Orlando when many people simply aren’t comfortable with that right now? It’s tough, but there are a few things I want to address and several ideas I want to share.
First of all, people are traveling for leisure again. The fact that this may be a controversial statement is a sad indictment of the times, but it is a fact. The key isn’t necessarily to avoid travel, the key is to travel in such a way that protects everyone involved and is both healthy and sustainable. It is also highly dependent on one’s comfort level. If you have rarely left your home since March, then a trip to Walt Disney World is not a good idea for your first trip back into the world. We as a people have been through a lot, and have been rightfully taught what to do and what not to do during a pandemic. But it’s stressful, and all of these thoughts and concerns come flooding to the forefront when we first start to travel again. So this post is written with different points of view and levels of comfort in mind. For many folks, staying at home is the best they can manage right now and that’s absolutely fine. But at some point down the road that will change, and this post will be as important to them then as to those individuals who wish to venture out a little further today.
There are some assumptions that I plan to make in the creation of this post. First, I assume that you, the reader, are not sick nor do you know anyone who is sick. Second, I assume that you will be respectful and thoughtful when considering your fellow citizens. That means receiving a negative COVID test result before venturing out further than your local grocery, 7-11 or Target stores, as well as quarantining at home upon your return. It also means being respectful of others by washing your hands, using hand sanitizer and always wearing a mask when in public. It’s weird that this has become a political/cultural dividing point, but follow the science and show respect to others by not putting them at risk.
I also don’t know what the future holds in store. Even as I write this, parts of Europe are going back into a state of partial lockdown and I fear the same will happen here in the U.S. as we approach the winter months. But, at some point, the world will reopen and we will travel again, and this post will once again be pertinent. With all of this in mind, here are the travel styles that I see emerging.
Stay at home
We have all been through a lot this year and I firmly believe that as a civilization we are undergoing a sort of collective PTSD. No one can withstand this level of stress for so long and if leaving your house is too much to bear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Mentally recovering from 2020 will be a slow process for all of us and there is no fixed timetable. Even though I have gone on a few trips since the end of quarantine, I still spend the vast amount of my time inside my house, so I understand. But if you do decide that traveling isn’t for you at the moment, do something to help yourself mentally. Go on walks, run, buy a bike, take up yoga – do something everyday that transports you from the endless cycle of bad news and starts to heal your soul, if only a little. It’s more important than you may realize.
As localities start to reopen, so do cultural services like zoos, museums, restaurants and so forth. This will naturally vary based on where you live, so it’s challenging to suggest exactly what to do, merely I think it’s important to do something. It takes baby steps to mentally work back to mindlessly stepping onto an aircraft to see the world, and what better place to stay than in your own community? So, if things are indeed open near you, go patronize them! Not only will it be an amazing break in routine for you, but you will also support these institutions when they need help the most. When this crisis is over we will have sadly lost many cultural institutions like historic sites and museums from a lack of funding/patronage, so anything we can do to help them is critical.
If you’re comfortable going further than the limits of your community, then taking an overnight trip somewhere 1-4 hours away is the next step. This was the first trip I took when I drove two hours away to a remote resort in Pennsylvania. Hotels and resorts outside of major cities are actually seeing a boom right now, and with good reason. Given their size and locations they lend themselves naturally to social distancing and one can enjoy a brief getaway and still feel safe, the perfect combination right now. What these trips look like will naturally differ based on where you live. Californians seem to be traveling to Palm Springs and National Parks en masse, whereas in my part of the country rural getaways to Virginia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania are all the rage. No matter what a long weekend away from home looks like for you, it’s an important part of the travel recovery process. It’s a mental hurdle to once again patronize a hotel or eat in a restaurant, but a necessary one. Also, you may not think you need a mental break but the fact is that you do, we all do and this is one of the best and safest ways to enjoy that escape.
Given the global uncertainty right now, longer trips may or may not be possible for you. And if they are, what they look like differs from individual to individual. My European friends have been able to undertake some limited continental trips, whereas here in the U.S. we are pretty much relegated to traveling within our own borders. There are some exceptions of course. Parts of the Caribbean and Mexico are once again allowing international guests, and many folks have boarded planes to spend a week or so at all-inclusives for some safe fun in the sun. Millions of others have rediscovered the joy that is a great road trip. Long my favorite way to travel, many people are hitting the highways in droves to explore the country without boarding a plane. Although many airlines have instituted fantastic health and safety measures, there’s a mental barrier to them that is hard for many people to cross right now. That’s one reason why RV sales and rentals have skyrocketed in recent months, and I too am planning a fun road trip in December.
That being said, air travel is also possible. I’ve been on a few flights since the end of quarantine and although not the most fun experiences ever, they were fine and I felt safe. As long as you’re smart about the way in which you travel, I think actions like flying and attending theme parks are fine, but it does put the onus of responsible travel on the tourist, always a dicey proposition.
What it all means
Personally, I’ve felt comfortable traveling but it has absolutely been a process. That first trip away from home was nerve-racking; much more than I had anticipated. For many months we have been inundated with the dangers all around us, which was appropriate I think and it still is. However, it’s made us very fearful, so much so that when we first leave the trusted confines of home it’s terrifying. That’s why I suggest people approach re-entering the world of travel in baby steps. When I took that first trip I was shocked by people not wearing masks or getting too close to me; it was just all too much sometimes. But I learned a lot on that trip, and the experience helped me craft future adventures that made me feel more comfortable. Travel right now is more personal and subjective than ever, but there’s also no wrong way to approach it. Just do whatever feels right for you and your situation, do it in the most thoughtful and responsible way possible and you’ll be fine. The key, I think, is to keep moving forward mentally and to embrace the benefits that travel has always provided. We need those brief escapes now more than ever, not only to recover but to also prepare for what the future may hold in store.