It’s a question of mental health and physical health.
What would you do?
I’m working on five months of isolation in Mexico. I’ve been careful, and so far safe. But Mexican officials, like their counterparts in the U.S.. have botched the pandemic response.
Cases and deaths are skyrocketing. The saddest part is that their foolish plans were a predictable failure.
So why should I continue to stay hunkered down here in this festering disease pool?
For one reason, there are real physical health risks to be encountered these days traveling through airports, boarding planes and sitting cooped up with strangers in a flying metal tube for hours.
On the other hand, I feel my mental health taking a beating while being cooped up in a room for months with no end in sight, watching my precious remaining years of travel life being swallowed up by the voracious gaping maw of the pandemic.
So I’ve been thinking about the 14 Commandments of Travel that I took to heart when I set out on this adventure exactly four years ago today.
For several months before starting I’d been trying to articulate the kind of traveler I wanted to be, how I wanted to conduct myself, how I might be a better person with the people I meet as a visitor in their countries.
But I was having trouble coming up with the right words. I couldn’t articulate what I was thinking and was becoming troubled by it. Why couldn’t I do this? Maybe I was just trying too hard.
The first month of my journey was all domestic travel along the eastern seaboard, mostly a road trip from New York to Miami, a short part by bus, and one stretch on a train, but most of it in a rental car.
I flew first from Honolulu to New York City and stopped at the Moravian Cemetery in Staten Island, where I visited the graves of my maternal grandparents. They meant a lot to me when I was growing up but I’d never been to their grave site. It was a gratifying experience and actually sparked an interest in cemeteries that I have carried throughout my travels, having now visited more than 20 amazing cemeteries on four continents.
Next stop was southern New Jersey, where I was born and raised, and I had a wonderful time visiting old school friends and seeing the house that my father built, where I spent my first 18 years. I also visited Harleigh Cemetery in Camden, where my literary hero Walt Whitman is buried. I’d never been there, either. Whitman lived out his life and died in Camden, in a small house only blocks away from the hospital where I was born.
From there on it was just a joy ride south, staying off the interstates and moving through small towns one by one until I got to Miami.
I’d all but given up on writing my philosophy of travel by then. I just wanted to spend a few days exploring Miami.
My first morning there I was looking for breakfast and found a diner near my hotel that was a classic, quintessential, old school diner. A stainless steel and neon exterior, with round, spinning plastic cushion-topped stools at a horseshoe-shaped counter, a couple of chatty waitresses who kept your coffee cup filled, called you “hon,” and kept everything organized while having a running conversation with the cook through an opening in the wall to the kitchen where they picked up the trays piled high with delicious diner food.
It’s was the S&S Diner, and nearly every inch of the wall space was covered with movie posters and celebrity photos past and present.
It’s where the first of many magic moments of my journey occurred. I was only a few days from my first foray outside the U.S. and I still hadn’t formulated my thoughts on a philosophy of travel.
But I noticed a list of 14 short pieces of advice printed, hanging askew high on the wall, partially hidden between Robert De Niro and sexy French blonde bombshell Brigitte Bardot.
That was it! A moment of Eureka! Those simple aphorisms on the wall were exactly what I needed to guide me in my journey.
I’ve dubbed them my 14 Commandments of Travel, copied them down and photographed their hallowed place on the wall. I still look at them, and think about them often, as they have served me well over the past four years.
Take a look at the photo; you’ll see three in particular: “Be fearless,” “Take chances,” and “ Let go.”
They are precisely now what I’m about to do.
By continuing to hide out in my room in Mexico, I’m still risking infection at the rate this country’s going while suffering the deepening gloom and depression that comes with it.
The alternative is to risk infection by getting on an airplane and traveling through airports to get somewhere that will likely make life a little gentler on my mind.
So no more dilly-dallying in Mexico. It’s a “chance” I’ve decided to take. "Fearless," I’m about to “let go.”
I’m flying to Hawaii.
I booked a $400 Delta flight from Merida to San Diego on Aug. 10; then I booked a Hawaiian Airlines flight from San Diego to Hilo, Hawaii, on Aug. 12, using 40,000 Hawaiian Miles that I had sitting in my account.
I won't throw caution to the wind, however, I’ll stock up on sanitizer, wipes, masks and gloves, avoid crowds as best I can and take all the recommended precautions.
Delta is one of the more conscientious carriers, blocking out the middle seats of its planes to limit passenger contact. And the best thing is that I’ll be flying first class on every leg of the trip, which should help avoid the elbow-to-elbow jostling while boarding and disembarking.
I will have to quarantine for 14 days in Hawaii once I arrive. But I arranged to stay with long-time friends in a detached guest room with a private bath on their property. It won’t be much different than my self-isolation in Merida except that I know it will be over in 14 days. No problem following that routine for another couple of weeks.
At first it was difficult figuring out the quarantine regulations in Hawaii but after numerous phone calls and conversations with state officials I was finally given clearance for my plan.
COVID-19 is certainly in Hawaii, but at nowhere near the scale it is in Mexico or on the mainland U.S. Hawaii state and county officials have been cautious in managing to keep the pandemic largely in check despite brain-dead tourists determined to flout the quarantine regulations. A number of them have been arrested, fined, and sent packing.
Unfortunately, new cases have begun to pick up in the past few days but the numbers are still relatively low. Officials are ready to shut things down again if new cases continue rising. I can only do what I can and hope for the best.
Ultimately, here’s how I looked at my choices.
By staying in Mexico, I risk both my mental outlook and physical well-being.
By leaving Mexico, I join people on an island that I love, and though I may heighten my exposure temporarily by flying (with caution), I will continue to face health risks, as we all do, but for the longer term on a lesser level than where I am now. I will certainly improve my disposition.
One other part of this plan is that I’ve been longing to visit the island of Kosrae, Micronesia, where I may have an opportunity to teach as a volunteer in the local high school. I correspond with a friend there and with the local school principal.
Amazingly, there is no COVID-19 on Kosrae -- no distancing, no closures, no face masks -- and officials are determined to keep it that way. So it is difficult for visitors to land on the island.
But being in Hawaii, I am much better positioned for the opportunity when it arises since United Airlines has flights from Honolulu to Kosrae sometimes once or twice a month, as needed. That could happen as soon as this fall, so I can bide my time and enjoy my former home in the Aloha State while waiting.
I would have to quarantine for two weeks again on Kosrae, but I’ll be used to that by then.
One of the other of my 14 Travel Commandments, you’ll notice, is “Travel Often,” and so it shall be.
On August 10, travel gods willing, I will be on the move again, true to my mantra:
"Staying alive by not staying still."
Quotes For A Good Life On The Road
“A foolish faith in authority is the worst enemy of truth.”
-- Albert Einstein
See my complete collection of "Quotes For The Road" by clicking "More" in the dropdown menu above.
Who Am I?
I'm a retired journalist from Hawaii who tired quickly of retirement and hit the road as a slow, solo world traveler in August 2016. I've spent time in 20 countries on four continents. Currently I'm in sunny Merida, Mexico, waiting out developments in the coronavirus crisis before moving on. Meanwhile, learn more about me and my travels at Nomadic Matt, and Expat Focus, and in a great story by veteran Borneo newsman and prolific author James Ritchie, about our memorable meeting in Malaysia, A Confluence of Adventure Writers .
Also online ...
GARIFUNA SETTLEMENT DAY
Still the most authentic, lively and colorful local cultural festival I've seen on the road.
I found this Alternative Arts and Music Festival in the Amazon highlands of Peru. What a find!
Solas "Best Travel Writing" Awards
Saysha: What Happened?
13th Annual Solas Awards for Best Travel Writing
(Read it here)