I am having a bit of an identity crisis. I’ve been a travel writer for more than a decade, but recently, I’ve wondered whether I can still call myself that. Why? I’m reluctant to travel right now.
My husband and I haven’t traveled for nearly two years. And with transmission and infection rates now increasing as quickly as they did during the height of the pandemic, we just canceled a long-planned, three-week winter getaway to Charleston, South Carolina scheduled for January. Making this recent decision was difficult, and it came with the loss of a hefty non-refundable prepayment.
Our last cruise
On February 11, 2020, we participated in the largest vow renewal at sea aboard a Caribbean cruise on the 3,560-passenger Regal Princess. (I wrote about the experience on Forbes.) The ship disembarked in Fort Lauderdale on February 18, 2020.
Two days later, seemingly a world away, the World Health Organization reported that of the 1,076 COVID cases diagnosed outside of China, over half were on the Diamond Princess, then sailing in Southeast Asia. Of the 14 cruisers who died from the virus, all were in their 60s, 70s, and 80s.
Aboard Regal Princess, we had no idea of what was to come. Although our temperature was checked before boarding, it was an era before masks, before social distancing, before the CDC’s Conditional Sail Order, and before the onset of my pandemic anxiety.
Our last international trip
The last trip my husband and I took on land was during the same month, February 2020. I was invited to speak at an international gastronomy event sponsored by the World Food Travel Association in Pamplona, Spain (yes, where the bulls run). After the conference, we spent a wonderful week exploring San Sebastian, Spain and the Basque Country.
A month after our stay at the 5-star Hotel Maria Cristina, a Luxury Collection Hotel in San Sebastian, we learned that the hotel suddenly closed. The government-owned, landmarked building, open since 1912, was converted into a much-needed temporary convalescent center for patients recovering from COVID. It has since reopened but the CDC has issued a Level 4 Travel Advisory for Spain due to very high levels of COVID.
Everything changed in a heartbeat
We never dreamed we would be spending two years at home after those trips, literally at home, with only occasional outings to parks, and to markets and pharmacies for necessities.
Like many, we underestimated the duration and extent of the COVID pandemic. Of course, we weren’t around for the 1918 flu, which was the most severe pandemic in history until now. Over the last century, so many advances have been made in medicine and public health that we thought this pandemic would come and go. But we neglected to recognize that air travel has made everyone more mobile and global, so a virus in China or South Africa could also travel anywhere and everywhere quickly.
Although the rapid development of vaccines offered the promise of limiting transmission and protecting us all from severe illness and death, we never could have imagined that sound public health measures grounded in science would be so mired in politics and misinformation.
A travel writer staying put for now
This past summer, there probably was a window of opportunity—before omicron emerged—when we could have traveled but we didn’t. Border closures had lifted, more planes were flying, hotels were reopening, and infection rates were dropping. We regret having missed that opportunity.
Now we are resigned to the uncertainty of whether travel will be possible for us later in 2022. The spread of the omicron variant and the specter of other virus mutations make us hesitant to plan a trip.
Admittedly, we tend to be risk-averse travelers even in the best of times. Every traveler has a different craving for adventure and tolerance for risk, and we simply aren’t the types who would choose to venture to remote locations with too many unknowns. We are the ones who always sign up for STEP and pay attention to State Department travel advisories and warnings.
Off-the-beaten-path for us is visiting small towns and exploring side streets and back alleys, finding experiences that aren’t in the tour books, tasting foods in public markets and local eateries, and meeting people from other backgrounds and cultures. We seek out accommodations that are so comfortable, luxurious, or unique that we don’t want to leave them.
Whenever available, we’ve always opted for direct flights, scheduled as early as possible, to allow for easy rebooking later the same day, in the event of a flight cancellation. Granted, it was over a holiday, but yesterday alone, more than 5700 flights were canceled globally, mainly because of crew shortages. When our friends booked a direct business class flight home from Nice, France, to New York in September, it was canceled at the last minute and they were rebooked on economy class flights with two layovers.
Travel always comes with unexpected hassles (and pleasures) but we are reluctant to risk getting stuck somewhere with high rates of infection, limited medical/hospital bed resources, and unexpected closures of properties and borders.
The virus has exacerbated our innate sense of caution. Many might argue that they don’t want to let the virus stop their lives or their wanderlust. That’s understandable. There’s no telling how long this plague will last. We’ve already lost two years.
The pandemic has left no one’s life, work, or relationships unchanged. Tragically, one in five Americans has lost a close relative during this pandemic. Of course, we’ve been more fortunate than many, but my own life and travel writing have changed immensely, too—hopefully, temporarily.
I’ve been able to pivot from first-person stories of luxury travel and cruises to stories that draw upon my past travel experiences and build upon them. In addition, I keep abreast of travel news by reading consumer and industry publications; work closely with other travel professionals to learn about new openings, attractions, and ship launches; and conduct copious research as if I’m planning a trip for myself.
As a result, I’ve been able to write 5-7 stories a month for my Forbes travel column, come up with posts for my blog, MoreTimeToTravel, and edit a multi-authored online magazine, GettingOnTravel, with my colleague Hilary Nangle.
My husband and I have had an abundance of home-alone-together time learning about and writing about the foods and wines of different countries when destinations and food producers are sponsoring virtual tastings and educational sessions for journalists.
We’ve experimented with different foods and recipes that we were introduced to on our travels. and have discovered some new ingredients and dishes. We’ve watched foreign films and read books set in places we’ve been or still want to go, and we’ve traveled virtually with YouTube videos.
With less time on the road. I’ve actually had more time for travel writing, a passion that is hard to extinguish even during a pandemic. Yes, I’m still a travel writer waiting for my next journey.
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