New Year’s Day, stomach full of pancakes, body all bundled in layers to fight the cold, running in a pack of strangers, I spotted a puddle in our path. It reminded me of something I read in the Nashville airport the previous day.
“Colombians believe if you jump over a puddle on New Year’s Day, it means you’ll cross an ocean this year!”
“Is that true?”
“I don’t know if I believe you.”
“Did you make that up?”
I bounded over the puddle (and the aspersions). I’m not sure if anyone else jumped, but I was flying. To be honest, though, I can’t remember if it’s Colombians who believe that, or someone else.
Whoever believes this superstition, it’s looking more and more like I won’t honor this spur-of-the-moment resolution in 2020. At first, there were plenty of reasons to believe that I might cross an ocean, and almost to necessitate me jumping over that puddle. My mom lives across the pond, I was invited to a wedding in Hawaii, and…. Well, I’m a travel journalist. But I’ve been crossing oceans on planes since before I was old enough to comprehend what an ocean and a plane even were; maybe this particular superstition wasn’t meant for me.
As the COVID-19 pandemic cancels, postpones, and curtails just about every aspect of our lives that doesn’t involve sitting at home, travel journalists, influencers, and publications everywhere will find ways to occupy their time and try, somehow, to fill a void of indeterminate size in their calendars and their Instagram feeds. With something that can be so highly personal as travel, it’s going to be very difficult not to take this personally. It’s only natural to feel and express a degree of disappointment when plans fall through, and no one has time for preaching about perspective. But if you come across a puddle, and you’re not sure why you’re jumping over it — or maybe you feel like it’s something you just do — might it be the time to ask yourself just why you jump?
World Health Day is the perfect reminder that for those of us who love to travel, but are fortunate enough to have a stable place to shelter from the storm of COVID-19, the pandemic is like a puddle; a large one, to be sure, and we will feel its presence in lost income, opportunities, and connections. But for medical professionals, this is a sinkhole. Not only are they giving everything to protect us and hopefully halt the spread of this virus, but they are often doing so at a disadvantage that makes their jobs even more dangerous. We all know by now that we should not be traveling, but the long-term challenge of this crisis is also going to ask travelers, and many other people besides, to re-evaluate the health and sustainability of our interactions and experiences.
Trying to jump over this puddle, get to the other side, and travel again as soon as possible looks less and less in the global community’s best interest every day. Until our health sciences community is able to get a comprehensive grasp on this virus and know a lot more about asymptomatic transmission, risks to seemingly “healthy” demographics, and potential treatments or cures, going straight back to business (or pleasure) as usual would be irresponsible. Carrying on at our contemporary pace already was irresponsible, knowing what we do about travel’s negative impact on the Earth’s climate. If always running, rushing, climbing, and jumping to the next destination was making us and our planet sick, that sounds like something we should have been taking a lot more personally than having to cancel our travel plans for a year.
After all, to protract this metaphor painfully further, there’s a lot of joy to be experienced from stomping around in puddles. Kids do it all the time, and kids know what fun is, you have to give them that. If we take our charge seriously, practice social distancing, and stay home whenever possible, the next time we can move about as we please will feel indescribable. If we take the time now to learn a new language, watch foreign films, and reaffirm our commitment to being global citizens, our next travel experiences can be our very best yet.
It’s also my hope that a lot of us who know innately the transformative power of travel, but who have been separated from feeling the intense love of adventure, will now have a chance to rediscover that relationship and a concrete point of reference for ourselves and others — a moment under the sun we can point to something and say that, that right there is why I fell in love with this world.
Thank you to medical and healthcare professionals around the world.