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The Pandemic Made Me Recognize an Unexpected Reason I Love Travel

PHOTO: Photo by Fabio Mangione on Unsplash

I hadn’t anticipated this less obvious yearning.

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here are the obvious (yet no less special) reasons that most people enjoy travel. Exquisite and unusual sights to see. Delighting in new food and drink. Feeling present and in the moment. The opportunities to talk to people you might not otherwise meet. Embracing adventure. 

There haven’t been too many of those for yours truly in the last year. 

I managed to have a baby just months prior to the pandemic’s worldwide pandemonium, and with a now-immunocompromised toddler and no under-5-years-old-vaccine in sight, life in Los Angeles, a city that was once the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S., meant not just relinquishing travel, but generally withdrawing from public and social spheres. 

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As a travel writer by trade, I never considered what life might be like without the possibility of exploring the world. In my adult life, I’ve never not had a trip planned, even if it’s just a mere whiff of a scheme wafting through my brain. It smells like potential. And it pushes me through each day and makes me look forward to the next. But come April 2020, the world closed up when the pandemic burst out. And I was stuck at home. And I am…still there. 

Removing the thrill of escape from my daily grind quickly curdled my calendar. For my family and me in the last year, there’s been a lot of the same sights, the same food, the same people, and a construct of time that has been utterly shattered. I finish each day grateful for my family’s good health, yet longing for all of those obvious and special reasons that people enjoy traveling. But there’s one more not so obvious thing I love about travel that I hadn’t realized that this murder-rampage, border-closing, virus-spreading, locked-down pandemic had stolen from me. 

And that is the magic of the daydream. 

The daydreams begin almost immediately after I’ve booked a plane ticket, or otherwise solidified a departure date. For the briefest of moments, my stomach drops and my toes tingle. Here we go, my brain says. Something is going to happen. There’s that golden time between making a decision to go somewhere and executing it that is full of magic and wonder. The space between the steadfast decision to do something and the actual doing, offers unbridled possibilities and creates a space for daydreaming.

It’s that “something is going to happen” feeling that worms its way into my daydreams. The potential for adventure, for expansion, for connection—just a few of the meaningful ways that travel can induce feelings of euphoria. Sure, travel can have its foibles, from the inconvenient to the terrifying, but not in my daydreams. In my daydreams, stray kittens lead me over cobblestone paths on a street art tour of Istanbul. Autumn fog rolls down the mountains of Japan, tumbling over red bridges and wisping around pagodas. Warm waves rush up to soak my feet over pink or black or white or red sands. Strangers are always kind, friends are always celebrating. In my daydreams, I am always styled and polished, the trains are always on time, the weather is always perfect. There is so much to be open to. There are so many possibilities for things to be marvelous. 

I was surprised to realize that daydreams had slipped from my routine. I’m not sure why my imagination needs some sort of guaranteed action (i.e. a booked flight) in order to function at peak fantasy. But even with the lack of strict structure and a more comfortable space to occupy at all times, I couldn’t visualize stone kasbahs against shifty desert dunes, or imagine turning my collar up against the light Irish rain, or conjure the energy of motorbikes roaring across Ho Chi Mihn City, or remember the tropical smells of frangipani and coconut. Everything felt gray and flat and far, far in the distance. 

I couldn’t put my finger on it at first. Why had my wanderlust gone into hibernation? My bucket list is miles long, yet I couldn’t find myself lost in its many options. They were too removed and opaque for me to envision. The details were missing. Those details, I’d come to realize, solidified the brainstorm and made it easier to envision my wayfaring. Though I did not particularly enjoy the perfunctory, requisite undertakings of trip planning, I suddenly craved the tangibility of tickets, schedules, and concrete plans. What was it about setting the intention to travel that I missed?

That’s when I realized that establishing a plan to travel serves more than its incredibly valuable logistical function. It provides a space for imagination. Planning allows our creative mind to run wild with potential—we can be free to dream up what a trip might be like, carefree of troubles and with luck on our side. What will it be like? What will I see? What might give me goosebumps, make me gasp, fill my heart, and push me to act bravely? Travel gives us opportunities to expand our limits by providing a space outside of our routine. 

I understand that my personal pandemic restrictions have been, at the least, fairly unique, thankfully benign, and mind-numbingly boring. My loving and locked-down family helps me to maintain my sanity, but routine has never been my strong suit. I thrive in challenges. I’m an explorer, by golly, a jetsetter, and I needed to get out of my setting. 

So my daughter and I started Adventure Every Day. We pretend to be tourists to our neighborhood, to our city. We stop to check out every nook and cranny, pause to chat with the locals (our neighbors), we buy food from random vendors, and seek out the urban beauty of Los Angeles. These are the central skills it will take for my daughter to someday be a good traveler when the world resumes. It starts basic. Look around: what do you see and why does it look that way? How does it feel to have the sun shine on your face or a cool breeze on your skin? Stop and take it in. Say hello to fellow humans, friendly animals—it’s exhilarating to be in the presence of others. Where have you been, where are you going, and how does one inform the next? Block by block, we practice. 

There’s no countdown of days until the end of the pandemic. There’s no time of departure date to plan for. The pandemic has me searching for something I didn’t realize I’d had in spades before: the thrill of anticipation, the promise of possibility. The quixotic daydreams of travel are rivaled only by the promise of love. There is so much future to look forward to. Anticipation is so much more than being excited about some impending fun. Anticipation breeds hope. Hope makes us idealistic and that’s why I believe travel has such a profound impact on our individual lives. When we look forward to the future, the human heart has a tendency to be its best self: generous, thoughtful, positive, optimistic. Without the promise of an exciting future, the present can feel far less momentary and far more intractable, and that sort of inflexibility can make a person stiff. 

Until I am able to really loosen up again and daydream with abandon, I’ll keep teaching my kid how to stretch her wings. Maybe when she sees how exciting life is out there, she’ll start to daydream about what’s to come. 

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