For most people who love to travel, it’s been a long dry spell, an extended period of being penned in and unable to do the kind of travel we have become accustomed to. It wasn’t only our vacations we lost, it was mobility itself. For a while, I barely went anywhere but the grocery store. For someone who had rarely seen a month go by for years at a time without getting on a jet, it was strange. But you can get used to almost anything if you have to. So, like millions of others, I accepted it. Stillness became my new normal. The First Law of Motion says an object at rest tends to remain at rest, and so it was. The inertia of my life changed from motion to stasis. Being stuck at home became my new normal.
Now things are getting moving again and people are traveling. The continuing twists and turns of this tenacious pandemic continue to create concerns. But for people who are vaccinated, there are sure ways to travel safely and put aside worry.
I’ve been hearing from friends who are traveling about what it’s like out there. They say that after the initial jumpstart they quickly got back into the flow. The key is the safety protocols. When you are consistently in environments where safety guidelines are followed as a matter of course, you can put the worries out of your mind and go ahead and enjoy yourself.
A friend who recently returned from her first trip since the start of the pandemic told me that once she had crossed that initial threshold, she recovered her old groove.
“I completely overpacked for this first trip” she said, “and I’m a master packer. Usually, it takes me maybe an hour or two to pack my bags for a trip. This time it took an evening and a half, and I overpacked. It was like, ‘My God, I can’t believe I’m taking so much stuff with me.’ You get out of practice.”
The hardest part is just getting started.
“The most stress I had on the entire trip was waiting for my PCR test to come back to allow me to travel,” she said. “It was 24 hours of nail biting, thinking, ‘Oh my God! If I test positive right now, I am going to lose my mind. If I can’t travel, after I’ve been looking forward to this trip for so long, I will come unglued.’ But after that initial stressor, it was fine. We had to take a test when we went from country to country, but it was just the first one that really worried me.”
“Once you get out there, you can relax,” she said. “The restrictions don’t feel like a burden. They actually made me feel safer.”
Much of her trip took place in low-risk travel environments. In wilderness lodges and doing outdoor travel, she was never in enclosed environments with unfamiliar people. But safety can be achieved in cities too. With vaccinations, masking, ventilation, and spacing, we now have a diverse arsenal of weapons with which to protect ourselves. Countries of Europe have beefed up their safety mandates to make it safe to enjoy city life.
A friend who traveled on a river cruise in France told me that she had been able to travel in nearly perfect controlled environments. The ship had a mandatory mask policy in place. The only exceptions were when you were outside or were eating or drinking. She said that all guests and staff willingly complied.
Everyone on the cruise had to be vaccinated to join. That’s necessary for traveling in Europe because proof of vaccination is required to enter many restaurants and other public places. Knowing that the environment is controlled for safety creates an underlying sense of security which was refreshed periodically on the trip. Her cruise director arranged for everyone to get Covid-19 antigen tests at pharmacies at every major stop, and coordinated the tests to be in place within 72 hours of their individual departures from France.
The guests all got the French health pass, which gave them access to bars, restaurants and museums, as long as they were wearing face masks. Masks were required to ride on all the coaches and trains, and hand sanitizers were along the routes. The ship was specially arranged to make it easy to maintain social distancing in the dining rooms and other public spaces. People in the travel industry around the world are highly conscious that their livelihoods depend on maintaining safety. They are more than happy to contribute to making it happen.
Those changes in policy were easily incorporated into the routines of travel, and soon became as little trouble as carrying your passport and credit card. But they provided an undercurrent of security and a rational basis for putting anxieties aside and enjoying the trip.
For the most part, all the great sights and experiences that entice travelers from around the world are still there, just as they were before Covid, as they have been for hundreds, or even thousands of years. But there are some things I hear about traveling now that are different than before.
One difference is that places are not crowded now. People say they feel almost as if they have places to themselves, or share them with an exclusive group of people who are out there traveling now.
People at the destinations are happier than ever to welcome visitors. One in ten people globally are supported by the travel industry now. That’s a lot of people who will be happy to see you return. So, you experience so much gratitude just for being there, for being among the first to return after a long dry spell.
One friend who had been traveling told me, “It was amazing. It was good for the soul. For people traveling, it’s so much more than just going and seeing the destination. It’s the people there who really rely on this for their livelihoods. They’re providing an amazing service to us, you know, great food or great wine. We’re getting that from them and we’re actually giving as well. It’s nice. It feels good. People are so welcoming because they’re so pleased to have you back. And also it’s wide open. You’re not going to be in big crowds now.”
And there’s one more thing. I really believe that what we’ve been through over the last year and a half has changed the world in a way. It’s been a trying time for most people, and there’s never been an experience that has been more universal. So, when you get out there again, there are some common experiences and feelings you know that you share with everyone. It gives us a new sense of commonality. I think this period of trial has deepened our capacities for camaraderie, compassion and a greater appreciation for travel.
Of course there is no substitute for it. Once the world of travel has been opened to you, you can’t really close it off again, not if there is any way to do it. And now there is again.
I go forth to discover a new world.