In a recent consumer survey, Amex found that not being able to travel is taking a toll on people’s mental health. Nearly half of respondents reported feeling anxious or stressed because they can’t travel. Almost 80% of people identified travel as one of the top activities they miss right now. People complain that our generation are a bunch of wussies and it’s hard to argue with that when no one can keep a fucking mask on long enough to make travel possible again. Then on top of not being willing to do the bare minimum to control the pandemic, we complain – “Woe is me, I can’t travel!” Allow me to provide a little tough love from one traveler to another.
Travel is a privilege
Look, I miss travel too; it’s been almost my entire life for the better part of five years. If this crap year hadn’t turned out the way it has, I’d be writing from South Korea or Jordan instead of my apartment, where I’ve been for the past six months. But I think it’s also important to put travel in perspective. In all our backpacking and country-hopping, travelers forget that travel is a privilege that we’re lucky to have, not entitled to have. Nobody needs travel. In fact, many of the locals we meet abroad live happily in the same cities all their lives without the opportunity to go anywhere – either because it’s prohibitively expensive or because they can’t jetset to another country without an expensive visa.
If you’re one of the lucky individuals who can see the world visa-free or whose salary affords them the ability to spend money on travel, perhaps this is a better time to be grateful for how much travel you’ve already been able to do thus far. If you can travel to at least 50 countries without a visa, you’re extremely fortunate. Imagine how much harder life would be for you if you had been born in Iran, a passport that is admitted in only six countries visa-free. So instead of whining that you weren’t able to get your European vacation this summer, maybe look at it from a different perspective and realize how lucky you are that this is even a concern for you. There are people who have lost multiple family members to Covid and people who have been out of work for months and about to be homeless. Let’s not mince words – being sad about not being able to travel during this pandemic is the ultimate first world problem.
Consider taking better care of yourself at home
I myself have touted travel as a great way to relieve tension and anxiety, but it’s certainly not the only way. Here’s a radical thought – if not being able to travel is affecting your mental health, then maybe you need to be investing more time and money into your mental health instead of travel. A good therapist would probably tell you that it’s not healthy to only be happy when you travel. There has to be some satisfaction and joy at home, too. Maybe now is the time to assess what you need in life to make you happy – a more fulfilling job, new hobbies you can be passionate about, a more supportive partner. (It’s not a coincidence that quarantine has ended in divorce for so many people.) If you’re not nurturing your home between trips, you’re never going to be happy. Though it might be easier to point to lack of travel as a source of anxiety, maybe what you’re really anxious about is that you dislike your life and you don’t have a way to escape it. Travel was never going to fix that problem for you, so the fact that you can’t travel right now is irrelevant.
What can you do? Either change aspects of your life that you’re unhappy with or change the way you perceive your life to make day-to-day living seem less daunting. Travel was providing a band aid so you wouldn’t have to face some of those uncomfortable truths, but the most productive thing you can do right now is deal with them. Here are some simple ways to do that: Think of all the people and things in your life this experience has made you grateful for. Take time out of your day to do something nice for yourself or nurture important relationships. Stop taking your privilege for granted, because if you’re sad about not being on an international flight, you’re most definitely privileged.
Perspective can go a long way
If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we need to adjust and do the best we can within whatever limitations we have. As far as global crises go, our limitations are not so bad. Our parents and grandparents lived under the thread of nuclear holocaust during the Cold War, they died in battle in Vietnam, they had to hide from invading troops to escape certain death in concentration camps, they lived in fear of tanks rolling down their neighborhoods and flattening their homes. Many people in the world still live in those conditions. Humanity has survived worse. All we need to do is be a little more hygienic and wait for science to prevail.
There’s a lot to be said for empathy and grace in this situation. There are millions suffering all over the world – people separated from loved ones, people dying alone on a ventilator, people facing financial collapse. So your need to check another country off your bucket list (or go grab a beer at a crowded bar for that matter) is simply not that important in the grand scheme of things.