Rethinking Travel, Finally

rethinking travel
It's been a while. Too long, really. After a year of pandemic isolation and staying away from most all public transit, I've come to a very clear conclusion: I don't need to travel.

Not now, at least.

Coming from someone who defines himself as a travel writer and tourism industry worker, that might seem weird. And it is. I do want to travel again one day, but the rush to hit the road, rails, or skies now, just as things are starting to open up again is not a rush I want to join.

Travel with Purpose

I travel with purpose. Not in a I-do-it-better-than-you sort of way, but I like going places, staying for a while, and even creating little habits in a destination. In the case of China, I traveled to work. In Naples, I went to write. In London, I went to teach. Casual vacations, valuable as they are for many people, don't interest me as much. Sure, I've gone places on a whim for a week and came back refreshed. Even on those trips, however, I like to stay in one place for a prolonged period of time.

Now, in a pandemic, my kind of travel experiences aren't as appealing. That type of travel is hindered by curfews, closed borders, restrictions, testing, and social distancing that make it seem, well, pretty useless now. 

The type of travel people engage in now is escapism and fun and frivolous, and I support that. Sit on a beach for a week? Sure. Go hiking for a weekend? Of course! Visit family for a holiday? No problem. I’m not going to turn up my nose to any of that.

But to sit down a plan a trip in the way I really like, I've accepted that it will need to wait. Everything needs to be too planned and calculated today to make it worth it.

The Big Question

So that brings me to the question we're all asking ourselves: Why do I travel at all then?

The people I meet. The random adventures I fall into. The mindless meandering and precarious situations I discover. Those are the things that get me excited about a place. These things require human interaction, proximity, and openness. We just don't have those things now. Not like we used to, and not like we will again.

I’ve had to ask myself what I really, truly, honestly miss about travel. The spontaneous adventures and carefree nature are features that top the list. Learning from locals comes in at a top ten spot, I’m sure. Feeling like I can become a part of a destination is often a rewarding goal. The often-overinflated sense of limitless possibility is a big draw.

Is it asking too much to want that all again? Now, in a pandemic, yes. It’s not fair to put those demands on my travels, to expect that sort of return when safety and health requirements take center stage – as they should.

So I turn to ask myself if those goals can’t be reached here at home, in New York. Can’t I wander? Can I feel relatively carefree out in the city? Can I make new friends here? Can I become more a part of the city? Can I push further and further to find new possibilities in Brooklyn, Manhattan, or beyond?

I sure can – and a host of unexplored restaurants, parks, and neighborhoods await.

It’s Just Where I’m At

I don't want to travel only to escape and feel refreshed. I live in New York City. I have limitless resources here and, frankly, all that refreshing fades away the moment you get on the subway. Treating this place as a destination and seeing it as a visitor might has gotten be through 2020 and this much of 2021.

Now, we're all rushing to reopen and to go back to altered versions of what we once did, and I get it. People need to work and vacation days need spending. I'm probably just not going to partake in it immediately. Might I consider a trip somewhere soon? Of course, but it will be surface level at best, or else a full retreat into the woods or some Italian village where I'll disappear for a few months. But that's not the travel I want. It's not the travel I need.

It's been a reckoning for over a year to realize that I am fine not traveling. It's not the physical act of getting in a metal tube and flying over a deep dark ocean that I need. It's what happens on the other end. And people are still not doing great. Vaccines are still slow to reach arms. 

Supporting local economies is great, of course, and I will, here in New York. The travel industry is suffering here like anywhere else. I can wander aimlessly for hours. I can hike to Coney Island. I can get locked into a cemetery by accident (again). 

It might not be as exotic as climbing the Great Wall or backpacking through Germany, but it’s where I’m at right now. Being OK with it and managing to enjoy it took some time, but I feel fortunate to be in this situation, vaccinated, surrounded by people who are as well, and knowing that in the near future, I can get back to my kind of travel.

No rush. I haven’t even made it to the Bronx yet and we’re more than a year into this thing…