Updated: Feb 1
The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has been a global bummer to put it mildly. We've all, each in our way, had to struggle with uncertainty, adjust our behaviors and rearrange our priorities. Suddenly, many of the things we've taken for granted are out of reach / on indefinite hiatus. We had also hoped this whole fiasco would be over by now... but nope!!
Travel is one of those things that many of us assumed “would be there forever” and now, we're staring longingly out of the window of whatever place we're stuck in, wondering if we've dreamt up that whole past life when breathing safely and having fun weren't mutually exclusive events. It feels extra unfair since none of us individually did anything to get “locked up”, but here we all are, trapped and fretful that our travel aspirations have been snuffed for good.
Luckily, one thing captivity cannot take away is the human capacity to daydream (which is its own “trip”, if you think about it). It's important to indulge in some hopeful travel fantasizing – and do it regularly. It's not just a nice way to pass the time, it's mental pep talk / prep to keep the notion of travel in your life during the lock-down, to keep you motivated and looking to a foreseeable future full of possibility.
Also very luckily, we live at a historical era with high literacy rates and a handy sci-fi virtual information portal known as The Internet. That means that, in addition to daydreaming, we can do all kinds of proactive stuff that's directly or loosely related to travel.
So, as you wait for the world to stop being so extra already, consider the following ways to utilize your 21st century privilege and use this period to access and gain knowledge and inspiration as well as take care of all the necessary business, so that *when you finally can go*, there will be nothing holding you back.
1. Get your travel documents in order
It's never advisable to wait till the last minute to obtain one's passport, visas and medical paperwork for crossing international borders – least of which during pandemic times when most government services slowed or shut down their operations! At the very least, if you don't have a passport, I strongly recommend you get one ASAP. Just so that you have it for *when you do go*. If you already have a passport – great!! – just make sure it doesn't expire next year – otherwise, send away for a new one as well (and I recommend taking the '”rich people short-cut” and paying for expedited processing as the extra-cost ones are handled with much more urgency and accountability compared to the non-expedited passport applications).
2. Research your next few destinations
Each traveler has their own threshold on how much / little they want to know about a destination before they get there – but some preliminary investigation is mandatory for venturing abroad. From knowing exactly what kinds of travel documents and materials are required for entry and exit of a given country, to dressing correctly for the climate, to getting a realistic understanding of what things cost, travel requires a bit of planning, so why not get on ye olde interwebs and start looking things up now?
I wouldn't limit myself to just one destination either. Economies rise and fall, internal and external conflicts rock whole generations, national boundaries get redrawn and even countries' names are not guaranteed stay the same. These factors – and of course, the effects of the ongoing pandemic – change how affordable and / or safe a country may be to visit at a given moment. So, don't pick just one “dream destination” – have a whole bunch of them, so that you can be flexible with which to visit *when you do go*.
3. Peruse media that immerse you in travel experiences and / or enrich your understanding of nations that interest you
Travel memoirs, guidebooks, documentaries, fiction and poetry will turn your mindset to the concept of traveling: it's entertaining, it's educational and it will keep you psyched up about your future trips.
Then, reading or watching works by writers / directors from the counties you are planning to visit will bring you closer to the culture, history, politics and art of those places. So many people go abroad with little to no understanding of even the basic facts about their destination of choice. Defy the “ignorant tourist” stereotype by familiarizing yourself with national artists / writers / musicians / movie stars / pop-culture icons – so that *when you do go*, you can perceive things from a better informed perspective, have more in-depth conversations with people and even catch a bit of respect from
4. Walk around virtual maps or people / nature watch through the global network of live webcams
I do enjoy an occasional virtual stroll through familiar and unfamiliar destinations thanks to the "street view" feature on Google Maps. Obviously, it's not the same as being there physically. But, it does have a certain real feel to it. The images making up the virtual streets and roads are a patchwork of drive-through image captures, pieced together from different times of day and year, with changing crowds of people, varied traffic scenarios and random beautiful, intriguing, strange and poetic moments caught by a fleeting glimpse here and there. Much like the ever-changing panorama of real life.
Tapping into various live webcams around the world is another enjoyable almost-travel-activity to try. Watch pedestrians and traffic on busy city streets or peep on arctic bears catching salmon in the stream: there's something for everyone out there (for me, it's watching sunsets at random hours of day or night :))
But it's not just fun -- it's useful for travelers who feel intimidated by getting orientated in a brand new place and need some practice – as well as those who simply want to “preview” destinations of interest from the ground. It's an environment with no social pressure nor any physical challenges, so, in a way, it's a “safe space” to ease into travel prior to *when you do go*.
5. Get yourself an international pen pal
I know, this is sooo old-fashioned – but haven't you heard? – the “roaring 20's” are back, what's old is new and the epistolary art is making a comeback. I'm kidding, the epistolary art never left – only now it's mostly typing emails (though postal exchanges are still a thing). There is something unique and intimate about writing a “traditional” note with a beginning, middle and an end, conveying something of personal nature, intended to be enjoyable to read by the receiving party.
By now, there are any number of online pen pal clubs you can join, but social media also offer plenty of (free) opportunities to snag a new friend abroad. Facebook has penpal groups, while in Instagram, you can advertise your interests on your own profile with hashtags such as #lookingforpenpals, #penpalswanted, etc. Some prefer the convenience of email, others the longing anticipation of “snail mail” – it's all up to your taste.
I've had incidental pen pals for most of my life. I would meet someone “on the road” for five minutes and we'd end up exchanging emails for years afterwards, talking about our adventures and sharing ideas and impressions – it's another way I stay “plugged in”. For shy people or introverts, keeping pen pals is a non-committal way to have low-pressure chit-chat with like-minded people around the world – with a chance to exchange “insider” cultural knowledge and practice foreign languages. And if you really hit it off, you'll have a local bud to show you around a bit *when you do go*.
6. Take guided tours online
If you have a few bucks to blow on “travel entertainment from home over the internet”, there has been a boom in people offering custom live activities from all over the globe. For example, AirBnB has been growing its “Online Experience”, where you can sign up for an astonishing variety of real-time guided virtual events from all over the globe. From having the front seat to a “Piano Meditation Concert Live from Paris” to the boozy “Drag Queen Bingo Live from Madrid” to the pandemic-time-unique chance to “Follow a Plague Doctor through Prague” – there are so many ways to have exotic / foreign interactive fun without leaving home. No need to wait until *when you do go* to feel like you've been transported to a different country, if only for an hour or two.
7. Focus on your health, fitness and overall wellness as a “travel investment”
There's nothing like getting in good mental and physical shape before a trip: it will ensure your having enough energy to see all the sights, do all the activities and socialize with all the awesome peeps serendipity collides you with along the way. In truth, mental and physical wellness is important in everyday life, so you can't possibly go wrong by taking good care of yourself!
No pressure – for real – this is not meant to add to your current load – life is hard enough! But if you need a new motivation to get exercising, eating well and maintaining high-ish spirits – doing it as a favor to your future traveler self is a great cause. Start getting healthy and in shape now and by the time the pandemic lets up and when you do go, you'll really enjoy spreading your wings because you'll know that they're shiny and strong and will carry you far without collapsing out of the sky (that metaphor ran away from me but you get the point :)))
* * *
The bottom line is that the pandemic didn't “cancel” our travel plans, just postponed them without providing a definitive new date of departure. But we will get there, we will travel again. In the meanwhile, when we line up all sorts of travel intentions to look forward to, it makes the wait more bearable, makes it easier to remember that this too shall pass, that there are brighter, more exciting days ahead.
The key to precipitating those “better days”, though, is not to hold your breath until they come! Focus on the things you can do (as opposed to can't do) right now, get some preliminary research done, pick up new skills and hobbies that will come in handy, take up a foreign language just for fun – whatever you can realistically do during the pandemic that keeps you busy, sharp and growing as a person. And don't forget that the future, as uncertain as it may look, is wide open for all sorts of exciting travel adventures – and that's an excellent reason to hang in there today.
Happy travel dreaming and planning <3