When we head back out into the world, we’ll carry what we learned during the pandemic with us.
It can feel crass to search for silver linings during a tragedy. There are, however, lessons to be learned in how the pandemic changed the world and us. As we think about “the new normal” and scope out future travel plans, let’s take a look at 13 travel lessons from COVID.
Book the Damn Trip
In the mid ’90s, my older brother Greg was traveling around Colorado with his wife. They were young and broke, but John Denver was playing at Red Rocks. Back then, Greg could’ve fronted a John Denver cover band—he knew the words to all the songs and even had the feathery hair and puffy vest—but had never seen him live anywhere, let alone this Rocky Mountain high. As money was tight, they agreed to catch him next time. The country singer would die in a plane crash shortly thereafter and I’ve been carrying around a story of regret that’s not my own ever since. The number one travel lesson from COVID is that we should always book the damn trip: buy the tickets and do the things. There are no guarantees in concert, sport, or life. I’m talking about carpe diem-ing the holy heck out of your travel life because tomorrow might not be a day we’re able to safely move about the globe.
Finally, my dad would always emphatically say, “Book it!” whenever I would even half-mention a trip I’d like to take someday. He died last summer during COVID but I’ll be carrying those words and that exclamation mark with me forever. I’ll “Book it!” Dad, I promise.
Enjoy Every Minute
Often overheard while friends, family members, and co-workers are excitedly greeting a new baby for the first time and fondly recalling the genesis of their own parenting lives, this trite phrase has real meaning now thanks to COVID. When we can freely (and safely) travel the globe again, let’s make a promise to enjoy every minute. Savor every flaky calorie of that croissant in Paris, never take a sunset at sea for granted, pet each kitty at the cat café, and bask in the warm glow of watching our giddy kids leap off the dock into the chilly waters of Crater Lake.
There's No Place Like Home(town)
Our hometowns are pretty great, aren’t they? There are all those independent mom and pop restaurants that adapted quickly in the spring and fed us curbside all year long; barbershops that kept us trimmed and safe; the local toy stores staffed by people who actually love childhood and its accompanying toys and games who pivoted to a same-day delivery model during COVID to keep us sane while navigating online school at home; the small but mighty museums that kept us curious; and leafy neighborhood parks with trails that have been getting us outside safely and at least partially offsetting all the cookies and muffins we’ve been eating during the home baking phase of lockdown. Our hometowns were there for us and we shouldn’t forget ‘em once we’re able to travel again to have tapas on Las Ramblas, peruse the Louvre, and hike Machu Picchu.
We Touch Way Too Much Stuff…and Don’t Wash Our Hands Nearly Enough!
From the insides of stranger’s cars as we Lyft about town to the moist, fingerprinted metal poles of subway cars, and every product we see in every store to nearly every inch of our faces: the grossest lesson to be learned from COVID is that we touch way too much stuff. We’ve adapted though. COVID has taught us to keep our hands to ourselves but we need to remember this once regularly scheduled travel resumes and we start mingling with the whole wide world again. A related lesson is that for all we tend to touch, soap apparently hasn’t been at the top of the list. The great soap shortage of 2020 has taught me that you—yes, you—were not washing your hands nearly enough before COVID. Ew, David! Oh, and the can’t-find-any-soap-at-the-store-problem should teach us to stock up on the free tiny toiletries in hotels once we’re, you know, staying in hotels again.
Outside Is Our Best Side
Breathing is easier outside, whether we’re dining al fresco or hiking on trails with nothing but warblers and willow trees for company. Yes, COVID did force us inside our homes for months as we went to school on the sofa and worked at the kitchen table, as we did 1,000-piece puzzles and baked and watched too much Netflix but, at the same time, the pandemic also pushed us outside, out into nature. We’re going to be better off for the lesson that outside is our best side, and we’re going to make outdoor activities a bigger part of our travel itineraries going forward.
We've Been Robbed at 36,000 Feet
When the airline industry got desperate this year, all those oppressive fees we had been charged to change our flights and cancel our trips magically disappeared. Funny how easy that was for them when they were groveling to keep us as customers! COVID demonstrated that we were being fleeced for far too long for simple administrative functions; hundreds of dollars for every basic keystroke needed to alter our plans. Many airlines have promised that some of these fees won’t be coming back so if you’re looking for the slimmest of silver linings, there you go…now off you go, fee-free!
Back to Front
Every human being who has ever stood in line at an airport boarding gate as Platinum Preferred or Silver Elite or One World Plus members boarded first, followed then by a random assortment of passengers scattered all over the plane taking their seats and taking up overhead bin space, knew that none of it made any sense at all! COVID finally taught the airline industry what travelers knew all along, that boarding a plane back to front is obviously the most sensible and efficient way to get us seated quickly and get us on our way to our final destination on time.
Make Our Bed and Lie in It
For the hotels not forced to close due to COVID-19, the pandemic has still had a noticeable effect—chances are their housekeeping staff has shrunk. They’ve changed the frequency of cleanings to keep those still needing to travel and stay away from home safe, and you know what, it turns out that we don’t need daily or, gasp, twice-daily housekeeping to enjoy a vacation. In post-COVID times, we will happily reuse towels, make our own beds, and in the process, do our part to help save the planet.
Patience Is Key
Twenty-five years ago we were enjoying dial-up internet, giddily listening to that iconic sound to see if We Got Mail! In no time at all, we went from that wondrous World Wide Web experience to getting furious if our massive email attachments took a whole 10 seconds to download while soaring high above the whole wide world. Then COVID struck, and while it made us more anxious and worried about our health and safety, in a way the pandemic taught us to relax, too. Because everything is taking a bit more time, and lines are naturally longer looking when we’re all spaced six feet apart, we have learned to become more patient and, dare I say, a bit more kind. The service industry is now finally being seen and appreciated, and we are rightfully thinking of and thanking grocery store workers, delivery drivers, and overworked post office employees who have been at the frontline during the pandemic, putting themselves and their families at risk for minimal pay, so that some parts of society remain functioning and aspects of our lives stay as normal as possible.
Road Trips Are Back
Much like vinyl records, road trips never actually went out of style but when COVID came to our shores, walling us off from far-flung locales abroad (without the ability to even scratch our Francophile itch in Montréal), we were forced to fall in love with the open road again…and we’re still enjoying the honeymoon. And much like vinyl album sales, 2020 was a record year for road tripping.
We NEED to Travel
After months of being safe inside, hunkered down, binging TV shows, and seeing our families and celebrating holidays on Zoom, it has become clear that travel—the mere essence of exploration and pushing our comfort levels as we communicate with others in new places—is often a human need, not a want. Going forward, once the world is vaccinated and a modicum of safety can be assured, those who did explore will go even farther and those who were reluctant to travel will finally spread their wings and fly.
We're More Resilient Than We Ever Knew
There’s no other way to say it, 2020 was a brutal year. And yet here we are, in 2021, still trying, striving, and figuring out “the new normal.” We’re going to need to do our grocery shopping before sunrise? OK, we’ll get up early and follow the one-way route through the aisles. We have to cancel Thanksgiving and Christmas, and spend time with family exclusively on video? Let’s do it. These lessons of resilience will pay dividends once we start to travel freely again because as any traveler knows, things don’t always (read: rarely ever) go as planned. Now, because we’ve adapted in so many ways and learned so much about ourselves during the pandemic, we’ll be able to roll with just about any speed bump we encounter while zigzagging across the globe.
National Parks Remain America’s Greatest Idea
We’ve been flocking to National Parks in 2020 and for good reason—they are expansive, full of fresh air, naturally designed for social distancing from others (save for the most famous sights inside), and as always, they’re downright stunning. While our country’s own gems have been easy to take for granted as we book exciting overseas travel instead, natural places like Glacier, Yellowstone, and Acadia remain our nation’s greatest idea. However, some among us needed a global pandemic to refocus our travel intentions on these majestic National Parks right here at home.