Constance M, A Well-Read Wanderer
No regrets: Why travel is (almost) always a good idea
Now that we've come to the end of what's been a year like none other in memory, I've been reflecting a lot on my philosophy of life and travel.
Last year, in 2019, I felt almost guilty about the amount of fun I had and the number of trips I took. Not even "almost," if I'm honest.
Especially as a mother, I felt really guilty for having fun.
While not without the usual challenges and stressors that life brings, 2019 from start to finish was packed with trips and travel experiences on just about every weekend and many days in between. And while I absolutely loved it, I also felt embarrassed by it.
Let's hit a few of the highlights:
I was lucky enough to travel to Europe from the US on three separate occasions.
First, in February, I spent a long solo weekend in London for the 10-year anniversary of my study abroad there. I hadn't been back since, and it felt like returning to my second home — bitter cold and beautiful. I visited many of my favorite (and some new to me) literary sites, and spent lots of time just walking, one of my favorite ways to explore a city, even in the winter.
In September, I celebrated my 30th birthday with a trip I've been dying to do for years— 10 days in Italy, exploring Rome, Pompeii, Sorrento, Florence, and Cinque Terre. I saw sites I've always dreamed about visiting, like the Colosseum (even if I was completely jet lagged and barely staying awake). I ate, and ate, and ate. Pasta, pizza, gelato, all the sugar and carbs. I had the best dining experiences of any trip I've ever taken during this trip to Italy.
In October, I met my mother for a few days to explore places some of our ancestors lived in Denmark and Sweden. We visited Hamlet's Castle, rode a roller coaster at Tivoli Gardens, and essentially got high just walking through the "green light" hippie town settlement of Christiania.
In between these trips, we as a family did weekend trips to the mountains, national parks, festivals, the beach. There were weekends spent in New York City, Waco, TX, and Savannah, GA (some of those without my children!). We even took the family on a surprise weeklong trip to Harry Potter World in Orlando, FL over Thanksgiving break.
(Note: I choose not to post photos of my children to protect their privacy)
In short, I did a lot of things, some of them with my family, some with just my spouse, and some of them all alone. And I was so embarrassed by how much fun I was having that I kept a lot of that to myself. Some of those trips didn't make much (if any) of an appearance on my personal social media accounts, because I was embarrassed of what people would think of me:
She's a mother; what's she doing traveling so much?
Who's taking care of her children?
Her children must be getting spoiled with all these trips so early in life.
She's irresponsible, selfish.
Wow, she must be rich if she's going on so many trips. Must be nice to have that kind of money
Shouldn't they be putting that money into retirement instead of spending it on travel?
Etc. etc. etc.
Out of the fear that my friends and loved ones would judge me harshly for living my best life, I downplayed all I did. I even considered cancelling some of those planned experiences out of guilt.
Fast forward to this year. 2020 has been a challenging year, to err on the side of understatement. People have lost lives, lost loved ones, lost opportunities. We've been grounded, staying still when we'd usually be moving. We've waved to our grandmothers and grandfathers from parking lots instead of giving them a hug. We've celebrated holidays in our own homes instead of with loved ones. We've cancelled trips and parties and weddings, we've worked in our pajamas or lost our jobs.
For those with the burning wanderlust in them, all of this staying still has given rise to an intense ache and longing for when we could do the things we loved to do.
And you know what I've been thinking about all the fun I had in 2019, looking back through the lens of 2020?
I am so damn glad I did all those things last year. I am so glad I traveled even when I felt guilty. I am so glad I spent weekends exploring even when I feared people's judgment.
I've been overwhelmed with gratitude for all the opportunities I had to travel last year. I've also been grateful to myself for silencing the outside world's opinions and seizing those opportunities, because it's those memories that have gotten me through this year at home.
I know that had I passed on even one of them, I'd be experiencing a stinging regret this year. Regret for assuming that I'd always have time or opportunity to travel in the future, assuming my fun could be "spread out."
Travel and Life Lessons from 2020
If 2020 has taught us anything, it's how fragile the life we take for granted is. For most of us, it's been a year of loss, in one form or another, and we've all had to find ways to cope with that as well as with the uncertainty of whether life will ever be the same again.
By and large, it's not safe for most to travel right now. And even with the utmost precautions (wearing masks, social distancing, avoiding crowds), the destinations we've always longed to go will be forever changed by this pandemic.
According to Yelp, as of September, 2020, 60% of business closures due to the pandemic are now permanent. So that restaurant or business that's been on your bucket list to visit? It may not even exist when we all can travel again.
When the world does become safe to travel and life resumes a more normal course, I sincerely hope we can each remember these lessons:
Our lives are not a given.
Opportunities lost may never return.
And life as we know it is subject to drastic change at any moment.
So whatever it is that you've been putting off — taking that trip, ditching that unhealthy relationship, spending time with a loved one, going back to school, making a change — I hope this year has strengthened your resolve to stop making excuses and make it happen.
And in the meantime, I hope we will all invest some disposable income (if such a thing exists for you at the moment) supporting the businesses and shops we can't wait to visit when the world reopens, so they will still be there when it does.