I slide on my sneakers, adjust my skirt, and shut the door to the modest cabin I’m staying in during this quarantine. I have been here since March 20th. Two months too long. Much longer than I had packed and planned for. I begin my afternoon walk down a long wooded road I have gotten to know a little too well. I have painstakingly watched the gradual evolution of spring, trying to stay grounded as the first electric green buds evolve into broad emerald leaves.
I choose to leave my phone at home; I’m so sick of looking at it. The May breeze wraps itself around my body, cooling me from the humidity that’s starting to build. All I can hear are my footsteps on gravel and the syncopated chorus of birds reverberating through the forest. I have done this walk two times a day, every day, for the past year? Two months? My linear concept of time has warped with each sunset that has passed. As a world traveler, I don’t think I have ever been this slow.
As I walk out into the bucolic splendor of Upstate New York, I feel conflicted about enjoying these strolls, given the circumstances that brought me here. My partner and I were able to escape the epicenter of hell, New York City, and scurry upstate to be closer to my family. I love it here, but I feel so hollow inside. I know that as I rise each morning in the tranquility of the countryside, more and more people are not waking up. I’m living a quiet existence in the full throttle of the pandemic.
And I think that is how many of us are experiencing this pandemic. Quietly. If you are not doing the heroic work of being in a hospital, many of us are noticing the quiet space between six feet.
However, this silence has given me time to pause. Before the pandemic, I had plane tickets booked close to each other on a calendar, flying in opposite directions. I was performing my travel stories live in theaters and comedy clubs around New York. Not to mention, lining up speaking engagements and storytelling classes to teach other travelers how to tell their stories.
When COVID jumped out in front of us like a deer on a backcountry road at night, I tried to lean into the sudden turn like a swerving car. I found myself panting once it happened. The same way you feel after that moment where you almost hit a deer. You pull over abruptly and find yourself halfway in a ditch. You put the car in park, and breathe heavily as you watch that mindless hazard leap into the wooded unknown around you. Your heart is racing, and your mind is catastrophizing because you don’t know how bad it could have been. The car continues to rumble under you. Maybe you get out for a moment, look up at the stars, and realize how lucky you are to see them. You feel how still the ground is. That is how I have felt during this pandemic.
These long walks, with the rhythmic sound of my feet, has given me time to pause, to re-evaluate.
Am I going in the direction I want to be?
How can I make more of the time I am given here?
How can I be more grateful for what I have already?
I can only hope that people are taking this time as a moment of quiet. As we sit in the stillness of our kitchens and pine for the days of late-night dancing, brunch with friends, and vacations (hell, even the idea of getting stuck in traffic sounds delightful sometimes), we can use this time to reflect on our lives. Are we living it as wild and as bold as we could be, or is that approach what got us here in the first place?
Travel is already inaccessible for many people, who are justified in seeing it as something for the rich and famous who fancy themselves as “influencers.” There’s no doubt in my mind that everyone taking a glamorous photo in front of the pyramids feels legitimately changed by the awe of that experience, but we have to ask whether posting and boasting about our travels really communicates what we fundamentally believe about travel.
We know that travel shows you more than just beautiful architecture, phenomenal food, and lush landscapes: it shows you yourself.
Why squander that insight on an Instagram post, instead of trying to share the inner strength it cultivates with more people in your everyday life? We’ve all seen slogans about how we’re “all in this together” during the pandemic. Are we?
For those of us who were always on the move before this, what can stillness teach us about appreciating our adventures more? For me, this pause has allowed forgotten memories of past trips to bubble up to the surface. I wake up craving places I haven’t been to in years: the chalky blue steps of Chefchaouen, the magnificent temples of Koh Samui, the volcanic energy of Arequipa. Knowing that I can’t travel has made me more anxious to get out. Nevertheless, I’m grateful I was able to go.
But I’m hoping that the next time I’m out there, whenever that may be, that I will be more thankful (oh, what I wouldn’t give today to stand in a 46 person check-in line). I will be grateful even when my mini-TV on my flight to Seoul doesn’t work, and there are NO free on-flight snacks. I will talk to more strangers and tell better stories. I will spread kindness and try to seed some inspiration, some faith in humanity in others.
Now, there are plenty of things you can be doing to keep your life in motion during this time. But when it comes to the moments that require movement — the travels, the adventures, the spontaneity — notice if you feel pangs of regret. Are you thinking on your couch about all that you wanted to do? Are you wishing you booked that flight to Tulum last year or found that Istanbul is calling you?
Take this time to see if your current life matches up with your dreams and desires. Our time is the most valuable currency we have, and there are no refunds. This time in social isolation is showing us that the world won’t always be the same or at our disposal. While we are all grounded, we should take this time to map out a more intentional life. As I shuffle along on my next walk, I will keep contemplating my path until I can see the sun hit the world at a different angle.
While Passion Passport will continue to post typical travel content for the rest of 2020, we want to emphasize that staying at home and social distancing is still the surest way to keep yourself and others safe as we ride out the pandemic. We will all travel again together soon. Talk about it with us on Twitter!