It was March 1, and I was riding high on a connecting flight from San Jose to Seattle. I had just spent five weeks in Guadalajara, Mexico, getting a certification to teach English as a foreign language, and I was proud of myself for mastering a new skill while navigating life in an intense, gritty city. Looking back, I was aware that the coronavirus had arrived on the West Coast, but I was only slightly alarmed by two people coughing nearby: one directly behind me, the other beside me.
Mercifully, I didn’t catch a virus on that flight, and as I write this in late March, no one I know well has fallen ill—a fact I pray will remain true as the tragic health tolls of this crisis are tallied. But for many of us who live to travel, being unable to do so has been a tiny death of its own.
Just a few weeks into the pandemic, I had to choose whether or not to scrap plans I had made to visit Boise, where I would see my daughter and volunteer at the annual Treefort Music Festival in late March. The very day I decided to cancel my flight, festival organizers announced the event would be postponed until this fall, so I knew I’d made the right decision. Yet the festival was incidental, and the real question remains: When will I get to hug my daughter again?
Our travel plans are often tightly bound to life events, and many trips have been forsaken this year amid circumstances far more painful than mine. How many weddings, memorial services, graduations, and vacations-of-a-lifetime have been canceled or delayed? How many people have been unable to physically gather with loved ones, both distant and close? It’s difficult to fathom what we have lost.
I have passed time this spring reading books about distant places and taking solace in my travel memories, stashed in trip journals and photo files and my social media feeds. Here is the list of more than 100 train songs that Tom and I brainstormed while riding Amtrak’s California Zephyr. Here’s a video clip of the Beatles cover band my daughter and I saw at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, and a photo of the Oregon hillside where my friends and I waited for the solar eclipse.
Here’s a journal entry about seeing my landlady in Prague quietly shedding tears as she watched a televised concert of an orchestra playing Má vlast (“My Homeland”) in 1993, just a few months after the Czech people regained their sovereignty. And here by my bed is the last thing I see before I go to sleep and the first thing I see when I wake up, a photo of a sunset on Camano Island. If, by cruel fate, I never again take another trip, I have decades of memories to enjoy.
But odds are I will live to take more trips, and you will, too. So let’s take this time to dream about and even plan for the day, hopefully not too distant, when we will again be “free to move about the cabin,” or to book that rental cabin. Some people will likely be reluctant to schedule a trip anytime soon, out of fear that their plans could be disrupted. But many of us will feel more keenly than ever that the time to travel is now—or soon, anyway, as soon as we are confident that the coronavirus threat has diminished.
So go ahead. Spend some time revisiting your fondest travel memories. Then study your maps, survey your favorite travel-planning websites, and bookmark the pages of your future adventures. If you could only take one more trip, where would you go? Whether it’s a getaway with grandchildren or a long-deferred dream vacation, how can you find a way to make it happen? Odds are good there will be bargains galore once travel resumes in earnest, and travel will be a sign of hope, a leading indicator that our world is on the mend.
I have a postcard on my refrigerator here in Seattle; it was on my fridge in Guadalajara, too, and on the mantel of the Airbnb I ran a few years back as well. The picture is of a 1970s-era Gremlin (which was also my first car), yellow with white racing stripes, in a seaside parking lot. “Travel is never a matter of money but of courage,” the caption reads, quoting the Brazilian author Paulo Coehlo.
Now more than ever, that seems true. May we all be brave.
Julie Fanselow is a writer in Seattle. Read more from her at surelyjoy.blogspot.com.
Some tips for armchair trips
Your travel plans may be on the back burner for now, but here are a few ways you can stoke your dreams of future journeys.
Go to Google Maps and find somewhere you’d love to visit. Click anywhere on its satellite image for a street or beach-level view of that spot.
Watch travelogues at RickSteves.com—his public TV shows are available online, too—or listen to Rick’s interviews with fellow travelers, also available via his website.
Take a two-hour vacation via a travel-themed film. Some good ones to watch (or see again) include Shirley Valentine, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Trip, Faces Places, The Straight Story, The Way, Thelma & Louise, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and Last Cab to Darwin.