A year ago this week, I traveled to southern California on a business trip. While I felt a little nervous about going based on the news reports I was reading, I took my chances. I brought my husband and two preschool-aged daughters with me, and we had a wonderful time, eating at crowded restaurants along the way. I attended my conference during the day and my family spent time on the beach and at the pool.
By the end of the week, though, we were speeding up Highway 101 back to our home in the Bay Area, assuming we’d be locked down in our tiny apartment for a few weeks. Well, reader, you know the rest. Hindsight is, quite literally, 2020.
Throughout the pandemic, I’ve had the immense privilege of working remotely—and I’ve had the good fortune of staying healthy. Since December I’ve been hunkered down at the Sea Ranch, a community on California’s northern Sonoma Coast. Out the west-facing windows of the cabin where we’re staying stands a canyon filled with old oak, pine, and redwood trees, with peek-a-boo views of the Pacific Ocean. (You can stay here too, just as soon as we leave.) More than once, the light filtering through the trees has stopped me in my tracks and the setting sun has reminded me—just when I needed it most—that tomorrow is another day and maybe, just maybe, it will be better than the last.
We’ve all been hurt and humbled by this year in one way or another, some more acutely than others: the travel, tourism, and hospitality industries have been decimated by the pandemic, but of course, nothing compares to the heartbreaking loss of life and illness wrought by COVID-19. The number of lost jobs (disproportionately felt by Black and Latina women), shuttered restaurants, and small business closures have been well documented. We’ve been forced to face a specific kind of collective grief in ways new to many of us. I believe we’ll be feeling the repercussions of this challenging time for many years to come.
Yet today, a year into this terrible plague, I’m feeling cautiously optimistic and guardedly hopeful about the future, heartened by vaccine distribution and experienced federal leadership. Travel bookings are slowly increasing; some countries are creaking open their doors once again to American travelers; and the pent-up demand for celebratory trips is enormous. As the world slowly begins to reopen, travel feels within our grasp again.
As I think about traveling again, I yearn for so many different types of trips: a weekend away at a cozy lodge with my two oldest friends (and no kids, no dinner prep, and lots of good wine); a week alone in a hotel to, ironically, catch up on work (and finally, maybe, just maybe, zero out my inbox?) without the distractions of home; a road trip through the southern half of our country to give my girls real-life history and civics lessons about Indigenous and Black communities; a deferred family trip to Japan, where we were supposed to go last April; and an overdue sojourn to Ireland, to sate my nostalgia for a university year abroad 20 years ago. This is my list. Every traveler has one.
Here’s the travel I don’t want to go back to: endless back-to-back business trips from the “before times” that took me away from my kids; those trips that I packed with too many different places and too much moving around to feel like I was really there for any of it. The thought of hoarding stamps in my passport to impress someone else seems even more ludicrous than it did a year ago. I want to travel more slowly, more purposefully, and more intentionally. (Not coincidentally these themes will roll out all year long in AFAR’s coverage of travel’s resurgence.)
It is perhaps my biggest hope that we come out of this time with a renewed sense of our global interconnectedness, our shared humanity, and a sloughing off of some of the artifice we carried with us along with our hard-shell suitcases.
One thing I’m sure of: Travel will return, and it can be better. Travel can intentionally do more good than harm. Travel can be radically inclusive and celebrate all of us. Travel can strengthen the economic resilience of local communities. Travel can empower all of us to be part of the solution. Travel can transform lives. And travel—at its best—can prove we have more in common than what we think divides us.
Travel’s comeback could be great—if we do it right.
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