A lot of self-proclaimed wanderers, explorers, and jetsetters are finding this pandemic especially difficult, because it’s forced them to stop traveling. I can sympathize since travel is a big part of my life, and to some extent, my identity. But there’s a lot to be said for being happy with the life you lead when you’re not halfway around the world. A good thing to get out of this experience is to learn to accept that while it’s extremely fun, edifying, and interesting, travel isn’t everything.
The uncomfortable upside of introspection
Sometimes travelers are accused of traveling to escape their regular lives. Now that you’re not having to defend taking your 5th vacation this year to your family, perhaps it’s time to answer that question for yourself instead. Do you travel for the enjoyment you get out of it or is that secondary to the opportunity to escape the drudgery and misery of your regular life? If the latter is true for you, maybe it’s time to analyze why you’re settling for a miserable life.
The thing about being locked up at home like you’re on house arrest for a crime you didn’t commit is that it gives you a lot of time to think about your life and your choices. For some people, this is hell. But confronting difficult and uncomfortable truths is healthy. More importantly, it’s the first step in making needed changes in your life that will make you happier in the future. That’s why the divorce rate after quarantine shot up in China. People are analyzing their relationships, their careers, their priorities. When they’re stuck with those things and only those things for weeks on end without the escape of happy hours and trips abroad, they realize that maybe their daily lives could stand to be better.
Introspection during this pandemic is scary but necessary. If you’re using travel as a bandage to cover up some other problem in your life, being confined to your home might force you to make your home a happier place. Maybe if it was, you wouldn’t be so desperate to leave it.
Travel isn’t everything
When the whole world suddenly entered a state of emergency, I was forced to reimagine my entire year without my planned travel. While part of me was bummed out, for the most part, I took it surprisingly well. Because I realized that as much as I love travel, there’s a lot of great things to enjoy at home that I was neglecting. I had become so convinced that I needed to see the whole world to live life fully that I wasn’t even fully living my life at home.
As a result, I’ve relished every minute of this quarantine. I’ve gotten to try recipes from my hometown that I didn’t have the time between trips and long work days to try before. My girlfriend and I have started taking long walks at random, not to go anywhere in particular or to sightsee or to find something to write about, but just to enjoy some time outside. We spent a week just listening to podcasts while working on a puzzle. Maybe one day I’ll see the Dolomites in person, but for now, I’m pretty content seeing it only in jigsaw form. For the first time in years, I’ve had time to sit and listen to an entire album in one sitting. And for the first time ever, I got an unplanned Facetime call from a friend in the middle of her work-from-home day. Even in this quarantine, there are brand new little things to get excited about.
Travel is wonderful, and under normal circumstances, it could be a huge part of your life like it is mine. But it can’t be everything to you, and it shouldn’t be. There is love and family and friendship and the comforts of home. For all the amazing things travel can be, it can’t replace those things.
Balancing travel with the rest of your life
When people talk about balance in life, they’re usually referring to work-life balance. Many working adults struggle to make time to live their lives in favor of working themselves to death. From this societal standard came an equallt toxic but opposite reaction: a growing number of people who think the only way to live their lives is to travel constantly. This pandemic is showing both of those kinds of people that they’re wrong. There has to be something to fill your days when you’re at home by yourself or with the people you love. There shouldn’t be a complete void where your personal time to enjoy yourself should be.
Maybe when this is all over, people will learn to emphasize their own enjoyment of things over the need to travel just to see 30 countries before turning 30. Anything can burn you out, even constant travel. So instead of replacing too much of a bad thing with too much of a good thing, we might all be better off doing just enough of what it takes to make us happy.
A healthier relationship with travel would mean not feeling lost and dejected when a pandemic sweeps the world and you can’t do the one thing that you rely on to give your life meaning. Find meaning in gardening or reading a new book or taking little walks… or like most people during this pandemic, learning to bake bread. Or simply learn to enjoy relaxing and doing nothing, because life can’t always be a trip to Europe. When the improbable becomes reality and a trip to Europe becomes impossible, you’ll appreciate having cultivated other ways of finding joy in life.