Travel Lessons Learned During the Pandemic

What childishness is it that while there’s a breath of life

in our bodies, we are determined to rush

to see the sun the other way around?

-Elizabeth Bishop, “Questions of Travel”

To say these are strange times is an understatement we have heard so often over the last few weeks that it seems less like a statement of fact and more like an attempt we are making to quell our fear and uncertainty of what is going on. These are uncertain times, and it is apparent that the current pandemic is changing most aspects of our lives. It is changing where we can go, what we can do, who we interact with, and where and to what extent we can travel. And while these changes to our daily lives are painful right now, when we still feel the absence of our previous, “normal” life acutely, we will adapt to these changes as they come and will even learn lessons during this trying time that will no doubt help us live better, more aware lives when they are over.

One lesson we are learning has to do with travel and transportation. As shelter-in-place orders and travel regulations are growing more and more common throughout the country, we are beginning to see just how much we actually travel on a daily basis. It’s a funny thing about human nature, when something is taken away from us we begin to see it in a clearer way. And I think this is what we are experiencing now in relation to travel.

The sudden absence of our freedom to move where we wish, when we wish, is forcing us to reconsider the way in which we move through the word in a very real, existential way. This current reduction of travel is especially hard for us Americans, as travel is in our blood. It is in many ways an instinctive birthright: traveling across oceans and vast swathes of land is how we all came to be where we are. What is more American than the open road, a joy ride, or a Sunday drive? We are a people of the road, always on the way, always on the go.

But right now, during this time of crisis, we have been brought to a halt by something that cares nothing for our way of life, our freedom, or our instinctive need to move. And while these temporary losses are painful they are also a perfect time to ask ourselves questions about travel.  We believe that this crisis can teach us some much needed lessons about travel.

If we learn anything about how we move through the world from this crisis it should be two things: intent and purpose. Traveling with intent means to ask yourself why you are going where you are about to go and if you really need to go there, and traveling with purpose means having a fixed destination and going there without heedlessly bustling about. Traveling with increased intent and purpose means traveling more carefully, with less wasted time and fuel; it’s about traveling with awareness as well as traveling efficiently as possible.

Questions as simple as, “Where am I going?” and “Why am I going where I’m going?” seem superfluous in “normal” times, but ask yourself how your answers to these questions have changed since the crisis began. It doesn’t take a long time of reflection to realize that during the crisis we are putting more thought and planning into our travel, that is, we are moving through life more carefully, with more intent and more purpose. After this crisis is over, let’s remember how it affected us, how it made us reconsider what is important and unimportant. Hopefully this crisis can teach us how to live a more intentional and purposeful life, even in “normal” times.


Image Credit: Auguste Rodin