Over the past few months, we’ve learnt to live in a post-travel world, relying on nothing but our immediate surroundings for stimulation, adventure and exploration. But with many countries tentatively reopening borders, businesses around the world carefully beginning to trade again, and airline bosses doing everything within their power to fill seats on flights for the summer holiday season, will travel soon return to business as usual? Or, more importantly, should it?
Has our time in lockdown caused us to reflect on the privileges we once took for granted, and wonder if it’s time to make some changes? From a new-found appreciation of solitude to the dramatic reduction in global pollution levels, we take a look at how the lessons we’ve learnt since the world shut down could change our travel habits forever.
Lesson 1: How to be content in one place
It is a rare individual who has ridden out the tidal wave of lockdown in a state of zen and haze of calm, feeling entirely content with their world being reduced to the square footage of their living room. However, as the weeks have ticked by, we have all had to find some way of accepting and being content with existing in just one place for a prolonged period. With this in mind, what will become of the nomadic, multi-destination backpacking trips, fast-paced, sightseeing-packed city breaks, or epic excursions to famous sites that were once staples of the traveller’s agenda? "We will see people hop from one place to another less. You’ll stay longer in each destination. You’ll look at more offbeat places," posits Shobha Mohan, Founder of RARE India, in a piece for CN Traveller.
Perhaps being forced to stay put will mean we are more willing to immerse ourselves into a singular destination, with a newfound ability to discover and appreciate smaller details and characteristics of a place we may otherwise have driven past on our way to the next stop. It’s worth considering how this phenomenon will affect the – until coronavirus interfered – worldwide affliction of overtourism. If travellers have learnt to appreciate where they are, (not to mention their newly developed fear of large crowds due to risk of infection), they’ll surely be less inclined to flock to renowned sites and popular beauty spots. Our travel schedules could well become less jam-packed, and the mental and spiritual benefits of really soaking in a new destination could begin to outweigh the niggling need to tick off ‘must-sees’.
Lesson 2: How to slow down
The thing about moving vast distances in short spaces of time, a.k.a travelling, is that doing so creates a faster, more frantic pace to our lives. Lockdown has taught us what it is to slow right down, to take each day as it comes, and to suddenly have pockets of *gasp* spare time. Does this mean we will embrace slower travel? It could be that we will take longer to plan our adventures, shunning the spontaneous, over-in-a-flash weekend breaks that we once saw as normal. When interviewed recently by Vox, Rafat Ali, Chief Exec of Skift, admitted "it’s going to take a long time for [travel] demand to even come close to what it was."
After growing accustomed to far less varied schedules and infinitely more time on the sofa, we’re unlikely to want to return straight away to packing our lives with frenetic trips. Instead, we may wish to travel much closer to home, hopping in the car to journey forth rather than checking-in online for a red-eye. Even Tony Wheeler, Lonely Planet’s co-founder, is sure that travel will experience a dramatic shift – "we’re not going to swing the doors open and go back to what was happening before," he told the Financial Times recently, "I don’t think that "where shall we go in Europe for the weekend?' approach is going to come back in the same casual manner."
Lesson 3: How to explore our natural surroundings
For those cooped up inside, craving a change of scenery, local green spaces have recently come into their own as havens of natural beauty. For those without a garden, terrace or even balcony however, they’re nothing short of lifelines. Having our freedoms restricted, our time outside controlled and our reserves of fresh air severely depleted, has triggered a whole new appreciation of the nature we can find just outside our own front doors. Instagram and Twitter have recently been peppered with greenery-dappled shots from people discovering and uncovering their home town’s areas of natural beauty, enchanting woodland glades, river walks and secluded parks that have always existed, but which we’ve never taken the time to find.
Perhaps now then, our travels will become more nature-focused. We may start to incorporate more exercise and outdoor activity into our holiday regimens, having discovered that a family walk, if everyone really tries, can actually be fun. This could be another supporting factor in the likely future upspring of domestic trips, as we realise that the best adventures can often be found right around the corner, rather than across an entire ocean.
Read more: 7 reasons staycations are going to be our saviour in 2020
Lesson 4: How to appreciate travel more
The ability to travel is, undeniably, a privilege. Although many of us have grown accustomed to its consistent presence in our lives, and have fully integrated that steady countdown to the next trip into our daily schedules, being able to hop on a plane, train or into a car and be transported to an entirely different culture in a matter of hours really is something quite special. Now that we have been forced to live without it, and had our pre-planned adventures brutally snatched from our passport-clutching hands, we might be starting to see travel for what it truly is – a gift. Maybe now we’ll start to value each and every trip, whether just a short car ride or a long-haul plane journey away, as something we are lucky to have, rather than something we deserve.
This may result in us planning less trips, putting more meaning into each one. We might think longer and harder about where we’re going, and why. We might learn to value experiences above all else, and turn away from our previous country-counting ways in favour of revisiting places that hold real significance and treasured memories. Being able to do something we love less, invariably results in us appreciating it more. And this can only be a good thing.
Lesson 5: What we have been doing to the planet
Major cities around the world are reporting record lows in air pollution and overcrowding. The vast majority of airlines have severely reduced their flight schedules, or are grounding their fleets altogether. Wildlife, be it flora or fauna, is slowly remerging in destinations it had previously abandoned. Even the most idealistic climate change activist could never have dared dream that one day our rampant human consumption would all but stop, to such remarkable effect.
Possibly the most positive change to our travel habits that could come from months of lockdown, would be sustainable and responsible travel practices becoming top of our priorities. How this will manifest, it’s hard to say. Perhaps we will begin to seek more sustainable ways to travel, taking less flights and cruises, paying to carbon offset, and investing more into overland trips. ‘I think road trips are going to become a huge thing, especially in the summer,’ Jessica Nabongo, founder of Jet Black told Vox, "there’s going to be a bit of corona hangover, with people afraid of [...] being in loud crowds, going to airports." Potentially, we will also look at how best to have a positive impact on the destinations we visit. With many global economies devastated by the reduction in tourism, we may take the time to think harder about where best to put our travel funds, so that we can ensure they are going to the people who need them most.
Lesson 6: How to connect with loved ones when apart
The stories of families being ripped apart by social distancing’s callous demands have broken hearts across the globe. For months, the only way we have been able to contact the majority of our friends and family is through technological means, foregoing the usual face-to-face interactions that were previously woven into our daily lives. Could this long-term separation have an impact on our travel habits?
If so, the impact is sure to vary greatly from person to person. Some may never want to go without shared real-life experiences again, leading to an increase in trips taken with friends and/or family members in tow. Some however, may see the lockdown as evidence of being able to live a life of solitude, and subsequently opt for solo adventures as soon as the time is right. After all, it would be a real shame to let successfully teaching your parents how to conduct a Zoom call go to waste, wouldn’t it?