Since March I’ve stayed isolated in place in Merida, Mexico, hoping in vain that the reasons I’ve found travel so rewarding would show some signs of returning.
But they haven’t. Travel in these early stages of coronavirus has turned away from personal interaction toward a more inward venture, almost an insular pursuit. It’s become more than ever about where we go and what we see, and much less about who we meet and the friends we make along the way.
That’s so opposed to what I’ve found rewarding about travel since starting to explore the world in 2016.
When so much of the joy of pre-Covid travel was the free exchange of friendship and culture among people, these days travelers are wary of being too close to one another, while the people in places they visit are wary of the travelers themselves.
Most travelers now wear protective gear and keep a healthy distance from anyone they don’t know. It’s understood that you’ll stay over there with your trusted friends, while I stay over here with mine, if not by myself, at a well-distanced table, and never shall we meet.
The power of a barrier-busting smile has disappeared behind masks of many designs.
The term "social distancing" is such an oxymoron it ought to be abandoned. There is nothing “social” about it.
Veteran travelers are noticing and reporting on the recent dramatic changes they're seeing on the road.
"It is a different kind of travel," said Sherry Ott at ottsworld.com, where she’s been chronicling her journeys around the world since 2006.
"I normally love to meet new people when I travel,” she said, talking on her site about a recent road trip through several western states. “But in socially distanced travel, opportunities to dig more into the local culture and meet people is greatly reduced. That felt weird to me."
Traveling icon “Nomadic Matt” Kepnes, founder of The Nomadic Network and author of the recently published book, “Ten Years a Nomad,” also started venturing out slowly again recently with a meandering solo road trip from his business base in Texas to his parents’ home in New England.
“Traveling in the time of COVID really makes it hard to meet people,” said Kepnes, who has already suffered a bout with the virus. Surprisingly, though, after only a few months, he tests negative for antibodies, meaning he could get sick with the virus again.
“I don’t really want to meet strangers at the moment," he told a recent gathering of The Nomadic Network followers on Zoom. "It’s kinda hard to meet people right now.”
Learning about a local culture requires a certain intimacy with local people, but masks and social distancing erect formidable social barriers. And if the point of travel is meeting people and making new friends, simple sightseeing leaves much to be desired.
Will the good old days of unfettered social travel ever come back? Or will social distancing forever rob us of the best reasons to travel?
For travelers interested more in meeting people than where they go and which hotels they stay in, the want of a more authentic kind of experience is beginning to feel like just a sentimental longing for quaint times past.
Yet I find it difficult to imagine a travel scenario in the future that sacrifices the higher value of human interaction for the hollower pursuit of airline miles, guided tours, and cocktails by the pool at an appropriate distance.
With much of the world still struggling with control of the pandemic, we’re still a long way from any certainty about the future. Yet as much as I try to keep a positive attitude, I can't help feeling gloomy about it.
While the future of travel post-Covid has not yet even begun to play out, the early indicators paint a bleak picture for at least another year, if not longer.
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)