Here’s how 2020 changed how we’ll travel
A year as big and unusual as the past one can certainly leave an impact. After months and months of laying low close to home, it’s no surprise that a lot of us have taken some time to reflect on how we might travel differently in the future. Maybe 2019’s bucket list isn’t as appealing anymore. Maybe you’re more mindful of how you travel, where you travel, and most importantly, why you travel. We checked in with some of our past contributors and influencers to find out how they’re doing and how the past year has shaped their views on travel. These are all people who make a living out of going places and sharing their travel tales and images with the world. So it’s safe to say they’re having some feelings about it all.
Montréal has been one of Canada's major hotspots throughout the pandemic, and I haven't done any travelling for almost a year now. Staying put has helped me realize why I used to travel so much; I enjoy exploring new places and talking to strangers, but—more than anything—I love running away. Commitment is hard for me, but I've found healthier ways of dealing with it now instead of heading for the hills. Next time I travel, it'll be for the right reasons!
I’ve been based in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, throughout the pandemic. Living in a tourist epicentre in Mexico has shifted my view of “essential travel” during Covid times. While many people around the world might view travel as a luxury or a privilege, the other side of that coin has people whose livelihood depends on travel. Those who work in hospitality and tourism in developing countries often don’t view travel right now as irresponsible. For many, it’s essential to feeding their families, and the risks that come from Covid are significantly less life threatening than the consequences of people not travelling.
As the most vulnerable people around the world receive the vaccine, and we figure out ways to get back to exploring the planet, I would encourage everyone to take a deep look into how they travel. Which countries need your tourist dollars the most? Can you find local tour companies instead of buying excursions through your travel agent? Are the restaurants you eat at locally owned?
Personally, I can’t wait to get back to safely and responsibly travelling. I’m more aware than ever that my soul was not made for putting down roots, but in my future travels I’m going to be much more conscious about where I spend my money in order for it to have the most meaningful impact on local families.
I've always favoured a slow travel approach, and I think I feel even stronger about that now. I think that Covid has taught us to totally slow down, notice (and even appreciate) the little things and be satisfied with living more simply. The way I see it, this applies to travel where, instead of the quick in-and-out, one-stop-shop luxurious vacations, we might instead choose a local, off-the-beaten-path paradise. Or, for those of us who do venture beyond Canadian borders, maybe we decide to stay a little longer, hire guides from mom-and-pop small operations and actually make an effort to get to know the cultures and communities better. I hope that we move towards making our travel really count and really slowing down to notice the small details that make up a cultural identity.
2020 left a wanderlust-shaped hole in many of our lives, but there are ways to keep feeding our souls. We must continue dreaming of travel so that when we feel safe and able to venture out again, we don’t take a single moment for granted. Reminisce on old experiences, seek inspiration for future trips and keep building that bucket list, baby. I’m hopeful that the world will be safe for all travel lovers to explore again—not today, not tomorrow, but some day.
I personally have been blessed to keep the travel dream alive this past year, although it looks a bit different now. I explored corners of my backyard that I’d been foolishly putting off until the pandemic, including backpacking the Rocky Mountains, hiking the Juan de Fuca Trail, and road tripping Vancouver Island.
My digital nomad lifestyle means that I am not tied to an office, so when I felt safe and compelled to take the next step, I took advantage of Mexico’s open borders and posted up there for the fall. I wouldn’t recommend for everyone to get on a plane during a pandemic, but as someone whose career and happiness are directly tied to travel, for me this was the right decision. After going back to Canada, spending two weeks in self-isolation and then Christmas with my family, I got my negative Covid-19 test, got on a plane and am now based in Cape Town, South Africa. This is the place where I’ve been dreaming of all quarantine, the place that feeds my soul and where inspiration and opportunities flow, and I know there’s nowhere else I am supposed to be. I hope other nomadic souls can find a way to safely keep the dream alive as well.
When the vaccine kicks in, I will be on the first plane out of the Canadian Rockies. Not to travel for the sake of it so much, but to go home. To see my mum and dad and everyone I love in Scotland, where I'm from.
Outside of that trip, which I hope will be long and slow and lovely, I'm not so interested in flying to Portugal or Australia or Thailand or anywhere anymore. Before the pandemic, I was already thinking hard about the carbon cost to viewing my personal happiness as being, in George Monbiot's words, “worth the sacrifice of the biosphere and the lives of the poor." Dreaming of how we might redefine travel, I was reading essays and studies about how the world could look, for example, with networks of high-speed trains instead of planes taking people across countries. I was reading about how fairer societies, where regular people have more free time and fewer financial worries, would mean vacations “would cease to be the only source of pleasure in an ordinary life.” That way of living feels a long way away. But that's what I've been thinking about.
I figured I may as well use this time to see if not moving can be as good—as exciting and fresh and new—as travelling somewhere new. To find out, I've been learning to track animals, clouds and all the other moving things where I live. I've been digging into ice, literally. Often I'm still dreaming of Atlantic light. I'm still dreaming of Portugal, of custard tarts and sitting alone on a sun-filled veranda. Other times, I really feel that the rocks and rivers and paw prints around me can be enough. They can really be enough. It's this feeling I hope to bring with me as we come out of the pandemic.
Whenever international travel returns to something resembling normal, I’m not sure I’ll be rushing to the airport to hop on a plane halfway around the world. A cloud of uncertainty will linger over the globe for a little while yet and many destinations (and the airlines that get you there) will take their time to bounce back.
That doesn’t mean I’ll stay tethered to the couch like we all have been over the past year, though. Instead, I plan to explore a little closer to home—all those local places that you tell yourself you’ll visit one day, only for big overseas trips to get in the way by sucking up all your savings and all your vacation time. So I’ll be ticking a lot more domestic destinations off my bucket list before I head abroad post-pandemic.
Being brown and desi, I’ve always thought of travel as a huge privilege because I didn’t really experience it at all growing up. Even today, for many Indian families around the world, travel and holidays abroad are considered a luxury—something not everyone can afford or prioritize. But little did I realize until 2020, that somewhere along the way, I too began to take travel for granted. After being a frequent traveller for the last eight years, a part of me began to believe that I could go anywhere, anytime, and the world would be waiting with open arms. 2020 was a major wake-up call and offered so much perspective. I realized how grateful I should be for the privilege of travel and the privilege of having a home base when borders around the world closed down.
The pandemic also made me realize how us travellers need to think deeply about our impact, and reject the idea that it is limited only to ourselves. In the beginning, and even now, when I hear of spikes in Covid cases in a certain country because a traveller decided not to be honest or careful and therefore put a whole lot of other people at risk, it makes me very angry about how casual some people still are about non-essential travel.
The pandemic made it clear, more than ever before, that cities such as Venice that previously struggled with mass tourism need time and space to breathe. When travel opens up again, I plan to continue to visit second cities and smaller towns, remote locations where there is plenty of nature, and generally places where crowds can be avoided.
While my selfish reasons for travel will always be to see beautiful landscapes and experience the kind of nature I don’t have access to at home, I feel drawn to travel to participate in projects related to ecotourism, climate change and the environment, where I can contribute through my time and skills—something I did in my mid-20s but have not done in recent years.
Throughout the past year we've been forced to globetrot through our imaginations while staying at home in various stages of lockdowns and quarantines. I think we've become more nostalgic than ever before. We’ve had to relive past experiences and look back on them with a new eye and a new sense of gratitude (hence all the Instagram throwbacks we’ve been seeing all year). Lately I've been desperate to meet strangers from corners of the world I've never been to, who have a completely different viewpoint and life from me. I miss learning from those moments. I miss the spontaneity of meeting people on the road, whether it’s in my hostel or out in the world. Those are the moments Instagram doesn't really capture.
The pandemic has brought up a lot of feelings about travel for me. My partner and I intend to travel to Ireland first, where his parents live, as soon as possible. They moved back to their home country five months before the pandemic kicked in, and we haven’t seen them since.
At a time when nobody’s really allowed to travel, I think travel has become more important than ever.
But beyond that, we're looking forward to longer vacations if we can swing it, and slower travel plans that aren't necessarily centred around big cities. On our Quebec summer drive of 2020 we discovered so many amazing gems in the countryside, and looking back on those moments, what I experienced in rural Quebec changed the way I saw the province itself. We love the spontaneity of road tripping, so we're looking forward to integrating more of that into our international travels.
I really hope vacation culture changes in North America. That is my biggest dream, because I find those short one- or two-week vacations lead people to make potentially destructive choices, like taking as many low-cost weekend flights as possible to see everything in a short period of time, or overcrowding port cities with massive cruise ships. I wonder how employers will react to their employees wanting to take (potentially longer) periods of time off after the pandemic is over. I pray that people collectively demand more vacation time and get to have a much-needed break from all this. We’re all going to crave it more than ever.
We're at a point in history where we need to think about things differently—the global health crisis, systemic racism and oppression, climate change. Travel helps us shift our viewpoints and adapt, even if imperfectly, to different situations. Much like the pandemic has, travel shows us that change is the only constant. It illuminates our connection to one another through our shared humanity, even though we’re farther away from each other than ever before. At a time when nobody’s really allowed to travel, I think travel has become more important than ever.
- Erin Pehlivan, founding editor of Return Trip
The pandemic made me realize how things can change in a second and that we can’t control it. I really am more concerned about our quality of life, but also our environment. I’m more concerned than ever about global warming and waste, so I try my best to travel sustainably.
I’ll definitely take this opportunity to explore more places in my own country. I went to the Rockies last summer because I couldn’t fly to California where I had planned a two-week road trip. It wasn’t really on my bucket list, but I’m so glad I did because it’s one of the most incredible places I've visited.
My reasons for travelling haven’t really changed, but I’ll consider going to see my family in France more often. You never know what might happen and I don’t want to have any regrets.
That said, I don’t think I’ll head to the airport as soon as I’m vaccinated. I want to make sure the country or city I want to visit is safe but also that the economic situation there is ready for travellers. I don’t want to put locals in danger just because I want to travel.
I can’t wait to socialize again, talk with people and listen to their travel stories. But I also realize that I love being alone, too, and I need to take time for me. It has shifted the kind of vacations I’m interested in to more dynamic ones. Chilling next to a pool under the sun isn’t really what I’m looking forward to doing!