Safe at Home and not Liking it
For those who depend on travel --not just for work but for emotional well-being -- missing out on untold adventures and personal connections during the pandemic has taken a psychological toll. Even the absence of joy found in merely anticipating travel has been palpable.
This is not to minimize the true hardships and misfortune so many have endured, the lives tragically ended or profoundly altered. We will never forget this time. That includes how much we missed the things we love to do.
“I became really depressed over not being able to go anywhere,” said
Kristi Dabertin, a CPA from Hammond, Indiana, who usually took four or five international trips each year, plus a few domestic ones.
Dabertin knew she would be a lifelong traveler starting with her first trip decades ago. “As soon as I was home from one, I started thinking of another,” she said.
Dabertin said her 2020 travel plans included a girls’ getaway to the U.K. in June and later trips to Egypt, Jordan, and Taiwan with her husband. She remained hopeful during the first phase of the lockdown that at least some of her plans would come through, and moved forward with the June trip.
“In the beginning, no one thought that COVID restrictions would last over a year,” she said. “But I booked with caution and held off on concrete plans for later trips.”
Dabertin eventually cancelled her June trip, hoping she might travel later in the year. When the weather warmed up, she made up for the lack of travel with outdoor bike rides, which at least kept her spirits up and her travel legs in motion.
“In the summer, while the sun was shining and we could be outdoors, I could still keep my perspective and sunny disposition,” she said.
As weeks turned into months, however, Dabertin realized she might be grounded for longer than she thought. By November, when colder weather hindered her biking, she hit a tipping point. She found it hard to even look at the social media posts of friends who somehow managed trips to fun (and warm) places like Mexico and the Dominican Republic
As much as Dabertin wanted to travel, she refused to skirt the rules.
“Did I want to be part of the problem or the solution?” she said. “So we stayed home. Facebook taunted me with shared memories of places I couldn’t go. My phone started showing me pictures from years of travel.”
Bekah Wright, a Los Angeles-based travel and entertainment writer, hit the road by car to feed her travel fix. The strategy had mixed results. “I really miss the whole experience of traveling,” she said. “The road trips helped, but even then, the experiences themselves were disarming. The hotel set-up on one trip involved being the only guests on the floor -- can you say, ‘The Shining?’ -- A lot of restaurants and venues were closed, so it felt like being in a ghost town.”
Wright added that unanticipated changes in public policy heightened the disappointment. “California switched restrictions midway through the trip,” she said. “So the hotel's restaurant closed, followed by the hotel closing. The second half of the trip—to other destinations—had to be canceled altogether.”
Fellow Angeleno Stephanie Steinhaus, who frequently traveled as an independent manufacturer’s representative for several major and boutique yarn companies, said she could do without the work travel. But not traveling for pleasure has been difficult.
“Lack of personal travel has made me sad,” she said. “We became empty nesters just as the pandemic hit, and our plans for modest, purely vacation travel evaporated along with everything else.”
Another side-effect of the travel void, perhaps more subtle, is an identity crisis of sorts Said Dabertin, “Aside from our professional identities, perhaps even more so than that, our friends, families and colleagues associate us with travel.
“Pre-COVID, when we talked to friends or acquaintances, the first question would invariably be ‘Where have you been recently?’ or ‘Where are you going next?’ And we would launch into stories. Now we talk vaccines and what we should watch next on Netflix.”
Wright said she takes solace in knowing that even if she can’t do what she’s known for, she is hardly alone.
“No one is traveling now, so I feel like part of the status quo,” she said.
Or, as Steinhaus put it, “Maybe COVID has leveled the playing field on personal identity. Aren't we all just masked people at this point?”