Still A Travel Writer…Even While I’m Not Traveling

Published on: December 27, 2021 |
A travel writer is stymied by the pandemic

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 the Regal Princess, February 20, 2020, before the pandemic

On the Regal Princess, February 20, 2020, before the pandemic (Jerome Levine)

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

Lobby of Hotel Maria Cristina

Lobby of Hotel Maria Cristina in San Sebastian, Spain (credit: Jerome Levine)

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

Vaccinations seemed to offer hope

Vaccinations seemed to offer hope (Adobe stock)

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

The now-grounded travel writerun

The now-grounded travel writer (Jerome Levine)

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.


Preparing for a virtual Prosecco tasting

Preparing for a virtual Prosecco tasting (Jerome Levine)

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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  • Reply
    December 28, 2021 at 10:01 am

    You’ve expressed so well the topsy-turvy state of travel, travel writing and all things that make up the lives of those of us who love travel and writing. How often have I struggled to find a travel topic to write about but then wonder if more who aren’t traveling will resent the article rather than appreciate an armchair getaway. We have taken the approach to use every window of opportunity that opens for travel, taking every safeguard to an extreme, as you point out we’ve lost precious travel time already. I have found that the government regulations, the required safeguards, (vaccination and testing requirements, contact tracing) are so intense on this side of the pond that they can make one ask if they are worth the effort but in the end, we do feel safe boarding planes and trains here. . .perhaps more so than we do shopping at a supermarket back in the States.

  • Reply
    Irene S. Levine
    December 28, 2021 at 10:05 am

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. This was such a tough post to write and think about. I’m sure that “where you sit” also has bearing on confidence about travel but I suspect a large part is also due to personality.:-)

  • Reply
    Sue Reddel
    December 29, 2021 at 3:37 pm

    You’ve certainly hit the nail on the head with this post, Irene. We like you haven’t “traveled” in a long time. Our last official trip before we moved to Portugal was to a town 30 minutes from where we lived. If we only knew then what we knew now, right? Fortunately, being in Portugal, we feel pretty safe with about 90% of the population vaccinated. But we still take precautions which many think are ridiculous but everyone has to do what they feel is right for their family. I hope that we all get back to it sooner than later. Really enjoyed your post.

    • Reply
      December 29, 2021 at 4:17 pm

      Glad it resonated with you, Sue, but sorry you are in the same pickle:-)
      Only 52% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated as of this week. Pretty stunningly low and surprising how much vaccine hesitancy there is! Stay well and enjoy your new place.

  • Reply
    Judy Freedman
    December 30, 2021 at 7:51 am

    Sorry you decided to cancel your stay in Charleston. Traveling now isn’t the way it used to be.. Your travel writing has taken on a new dimension and that’s a good thing. Sometimes new challenges bring new opportunities. Always enjoy reading your posts. Have a happy and June’s year.

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      December 30, 2021 at 9:17 am

      It’s hard to predict the coming weeks but all indications suggest they’ll be difficult ones for everyone. I guess the cancellation will give me three more weeks to write! Thanks for your wishes!

  • Reply
    Anita Breland
    January 3, 2022 at 5:53 am

    Loved this, Irene. You’ve expressed, very well, our feelings about travel over the past two years. Tom and I have not felt comfortable encouraging others to travel during a time when we were compelled to stay put ourselves. We still feel this way, as we recall our months-long travels in Southeast Asia and India, and the two-month train journey around Europe that we cancelled when the pandemic landed. We feel very fortunate to be in highly vaccinated Portugal, ready to venture out when the shadow of Omicron lifts. Extended downtime has motivated us to rethink our travel priorities and we are happy to note that some things—our interest in food, wine and cultural traditions, wherever we go—has not changed one whit. Thank you for the travel-writing inspiration!

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      January 3, 2022 at 9:43 am

      Happy you’re in a place that can fill much of the pleasures of traveling! What a tough time for everyone right now and we are more fortunate than most. xo

  • Reply
    Cindy La Ferle
    January 6, 2022 at 9:28 am

    You nailed it, Irene — well said! I wondered if you would be taking your Charleston trip or not … You’ve expressed the experiences and feelings of many of us, even if we’re not travel writers (or frequent travelers now). My husband and I had hoped to book a few trips too, but the pandemic put an end to our plans and pipe dreams for a while. We took a couple summer road trips — we love road trips! — after getting all of our vaccinations, but now that the omicron variant has taken over everything (plus, it’s winter), road trips are not on the calendar for a while, either. That said, part of the fun of travel is dreaming and planning, as you’ve pointed out, and now is the time to do just that. Can you imagine how much we will enjoy traveling when things settle down and return to somewhat-normal again? Cheers and thanks for your writings!

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      January 6, 2022 at 10:16 am

      It’s a tough time for travelers and the industry! Although opinions are very divided on whether or not to travel, like everything else that’s pandemic related.

  • Reply
    Cindy La Ferle
    January 6, 2022 at 9:30 am

    P.S. Another thing I forgot to mention, re air travel. Given the recent reports of unruly, volatile airline passengers who are angry about wearing masks (etc.), my family and I are hesitant to book airline flights for a while.

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