I was lying in my bed in Brooklyn when I got the call. “Dude, I don’t think you should go to Mexico this weekend,” my friend Zoë said when I picked up the phone. It was the morning of March 13, 2020 – the day I will forever remember as the day everything changed – and Zoë, a healthcare executive, was concerned that traveling to another country may put me and my husband Rahul at risk for COVID-19.
“This thing is looking really bad,” she said, “and it looks like it’s going to keep getting worse. If I were you, I would definitely postpone your trip.”
My heart sank. Rahul and I had been heavily leaning in that direction already, especially after watching Dr. Anthony Fauci caution the world on the news the night before. But Zoë’s call confirmed our gut instinct. We would actually cancel our plans. We would pull the trigger. We would not go to Mexico for our winter getaway after all. Goodbye, beautiful Puerto Escondido beaches. Goodbye, mouthwatering Oaxaca City tacos. Goodbye, sunshine daydreams and artisan craft markets and all mezcal everything. Travel – or at least travel as we knew it – was canceled.
It’s been nine months since that fateful early morning phone call, nine months since COVID-19 grounded the globe and travel came to a complete and utter standstill. As a freelance travel journalist, I watched in disbelief as my beloved global community suffered a devastating amount of losses, both of actual lives and the lives we once lived. To steal a line from LA-based songwriter Phoebe Bridgers, it’s been a time of “emotional motion sickness,” one that has made it possible to go from feeling okay to depressed to anxious to nostalgic to fearful and back again in two seconds flat. Yet despite this rollercoaster of capital-E Emotions, I’ve been surprisingly grateful for this time at home, too. For all of the worry 2020 has caused, for all of the unease and the angst and the sadness, this year of no travel has also brought me some much-needed inner peace.
I was traveling for the majority of 2019, right up until the December holidays. It wasn’t just any travel, either: It was high-stakes travel. Nerve-wracking travel. I was on the road to research and report my first book, Destination Wellness (out April 6, 2021), which is about health and wellness philosophies from around the world. For the book, I traveled to six different destinations – Jamaica, Norway, Hawaii, India, Japan, and Brazil – to interview locals and cultural experts in the area about the well-being principles and practices that define their lives.
This was a 27-flight solo trip, a trip that spanned four continents and multiple time zones and quite literally circled around the world. And for the most part, it was epic, a life dream realized. I met the smartest, most inspiring people on the road, the kind who make you analyze your own life by telling you about theirs. I stayed in the dreamiest of places, waking up to the sound of the waves crashing on the beach in Hawaii, the call of the mountains in Norway, and the smell of freshly-baked pao de queijo (cheesy bread) on a farm commune in Brazil. I took more than 5000 photos, and filled my iPhone notes with pages upon pages of deep-thought revelations. But even though the trip was filled with instantly lifelong memories, it also filled me with anxiety. In the back of my mind, I knew I still had to go back home to New York and actually write the book I was reporting – what if I couldn’t do it? Or worse, what if I could do it, but the advice I gave wasn’t actually good? Most first-time authors will tell you that imposter syndrome is very real, and I am here to confirm that statement. As much as I tried to will it away with my logic, reminding myself that I was qualified to write this book and to write it well, I was still riddled with doubt.
But then 2020 happened. And in a weird, counterintuitive way, it healed me. Not traveling healed me.
I handed in my first draft of Destination Wellness on January 15, 2020, just about two months before everything changed. And for the first time in a long time, I was actually home for long enough to test out my own advice after that. One of the biggest themes of the book is that you don’t need to travel to get your global fix, that it’s possible to adopt an international mindset wherever you are. And guess what? Not only do the tips and tricks check out, they truly helped get me through the pandemic. By the time I handed in my final draft this summer, my imposter syndrome had all but vanished, because I’d proven to myself that the advice was 100% worth taking. When the pandemic began, I wasn’t sure how lurching from a life of constant motion to a life of complete stillness would translate to the page, but in a fateful case of book meets moment, the advice now rings even more true than it did when I first wrote it.
In an attempt to recreate the onsens (natural hot springs) I came to love in Japan, for example, I have leaned into the bath life at home, calming my nerves with a steamy, Epsom-salt soak before bed. Inspired by the Rastafari natural living philosophy Ital, Rahul and I have tried to limit our processed food intake over the past couple of months inside, choosing instead to whip up wholesome soups and stews using only fresh ingredients. To prepare for the cold and snowy winter ahead, we’ve adopted the Norwegian philosophy friluftsliv, which encourages people to live as much of their lives outdoors as possible, all terrible weather aside. Ultimately, these international healthy living philosophies have done double duty over the past few months, helping both of us heal our way through the trauma of the pandemic and satisfy our massive case of resulting wanderlust at the same time. After all, if you can’t go out into the world, you can always bring the world home to you.
As travelers, it’s understandable to want to explore as much of the world as we possibly can. We are a particular breed of human that feels most at home when we are not at home, most comfortable when we are surrounded by the unfamiliar. But if 2020 has taught me one thing, it’s that so much of the travel magic actually happens after the travel, once we’ve given ourselves the time and the space to process what we learned while we were away. To be clear, I know that recreating a Japanese onsen in your bathroom is not exactly the same as experiencing the real thing. I miss real travel just as much as everyone else, not least because I miss the me that real travel brings out. But looking ahead into 2021, I want to be sure to keep this “travel at home” vibe with me, too. As countries open up again and stay-at-home orders are lifted and people get vaccines and the sun begins to come out from behind the clouds, it’s going to feel tempting to pack a bunch of trips in to compensate for those that never were (RIP my Mexico trip).
That’s why I’m making a promise to myself now: I’m going to take it slower. I’m going to remember how nice it was to have the time to let the lessons I learned abroad marinate in my mind at home. I’m going to remember that, although it’s thrilling to jet from one place to the next, there’s beauty in the in-between, too – beauty that may be just as special as the trip itself.
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