* AUTHOR’S NOTE: I apologize to my readers for not having posted anything for such a long time. I was, for lack of a more exotic way of putting it, being lazy. Perhaps my move from NYC to Italy had something to do with it, or the ten kilos of pasta weight I’ve put on since then. Perhaps a life of teaching, traveling and photographing got in the way of writing about my life of teaching, traveling and photographing. Truth be told, I’m not sure where said stroke of laziness came from, but I’ll try not to let it happen again. *
Ladies and gentlemen, Covid-19 is everywhere.
It would be hopeful to think that it’s nowhere near you, but that would be completely unrealistic. Sweeping from east to west, it has gripped its “stay inside or risk dying” claws into all of us. For those of you who were already staying at home and not risking death, life may not have changed much. For those of us who crave the outside world however, staying at home for months on end was nothing short of tragic. To the former: I wish you many cheerful hours of TV-watching, video game-playing, recipe-trying and family life-living. To the latter: I offer a few of my ideas and experiences on how to go about returning to life as wanderers, explorers and travelers. As cities, counties, states, regions, countries and continents worldwide begin to “open back up”, I think it’s important we take a moment to acknowledge what that means exactly.
Let’s face it, there are rules to be followed.
While most of these rules might entail simply not standing near others, some might turn out to be more frustrating. Here in Italy, the government opened itself up several slices at a time, like a big, bureaucratic cake…a time-locked tiramisu if you will. Initially, it was “stay inside or risk dying”.
Over the course of the last two months, “stay inside or risk dying” turned into “stay inside unless you have to go to work”, which later became “stay inside unless you need groceries”, followed by “stay inside unless you’re wearing gloves and a mask”.
Many other countries in Europe have pretty much followed the same timeline, bringing us to where we are now. I believe this slice is called “fine, you may go back outside, and even travel to certain countries, just wear a mask on the plane and keep washing your hands”. As tourists and travelers, adhering to the rules will make your transition from couch potato to backpacker much easier.
In short, know how you’re supposed to move around before you start moving around.
Almost all of the information you seek regarding travel in this time of Covid-19 can be found online or by making a short call. Some airlines require you to wear a mask at all times (a few require gloves as well).
Many hotels and B&B’s are now required to maintain daily (hourly in some cases) practices regarding disinfecting, cleaning and general day-to-day activities. Just about every travel homepage and accommodation website I’ve come across has clearly posted messages describing their policies and limitations during this pandemic.
Nearly all restaurants, businesses, stores and public transportation require the use of masks and hand sanitizer prior to entry. Some places will even ask you to sign in/out of their establishments, so that they may have your info should you or other patrons become contagious during your visit or stay. Sure, you may have the right to complain, refuse and vehemently review on Yelp, but it won’t help you to get where you want, when you want. As an added drawback, you might find yourself in a viral video online, pointlessly screaming at an employee for simply doing their job of asking you to cover that offense-hurling mouth of yours. Be informed, be prepared and you’ll be allowed to travel more freely.
My first instinct when considering traveling is usually to get as far away as possible not only from my current home but also from my everyday life.
I decided that perhaps this summer might not be the best time to do so (see: everything I wrote in the previous paragraphs), so instead of jumping on a plane and taking in the sights in a foreign country, I planned a weekend trip to Venice for my girlfriend and I.
While Venice might seem like an unobtainable goal to many, it’s only two hours away for us. You might be thinking, yes, I happen to have a somewhat fortunate, “geographical advantage”, but the truth is, everyone does, and everyone doesn’t, it all just depends on who you are and where you’re from.
Through my upbringing, which required my family to move often due to my parents’ professions, I’ve learned that “geographical advantage”, like many other things in life, is simply a matter of perspective. To someone who has never seen it, Venice might be an oasis of sorts, a magical place where people fall in love, classical music plays softly over loudspeakers, and everyone rides around in gondolas eating gelato to their heart’s content.
To someone who was born and raised in Venice, however, it might be a tourist-swallowing pit of despair, filled with flooded streets and the smell of sea life, where everyone rides around in gondolas eating gelato to their heart’s content. When I moved to Verona five years ago and told people I was from NYC, the response was almost always “I would give anything to see it,” to which I always replied, “That’s funny, because everyone I know there is dying to come here!” In short, people generally want what they don’t have.
For the past fifteen years or so since realizing this, I’ve been basing my travels on one particular ideology…
Everything new is good; no matter how new, no matter how good.
Sound absurd? Let me explain. Instead of saving up my money to take these elaborate trips to places I felt or heard were mind-blowing, I started taking day trips to places that were reachable by car in two or three hours, then coming back home that night. When I didn’t think I could do it in a day, I’d pick places that were four or five hours away, stay the night, then drive back the second night. In essence, I was only a city or two away from home, but the fact that I had never seen that place and was there an entire weekend fooled my mind and body into thinking that I was on vacation in some far away land. This “self trickery” helped me to realize that I was vacationing incorrectly! I had somehow fallen into the trap of believing that vacations were something for which I should save up ludicrous amounts of money and sick days. They were two-week-long trips to places like Paris, Tokyo, Milan, Rio or London, where credit cards would be charged and diets would be ignored simply because “I was on vacation”. Looking back upon it now, I suppose I should hold the hustle and bustle of NYC life responsible for that way of thinking, because that’s not how I was raised. The earliest vacation memories I have are being in the backseat of our family’s car with my two younger brothers while my parents drove us to some lake, beach, town, mountain or campsite nearby just to “get away for the day”. I remember enjoying the sights, sounds and people of those places simply because they were new to me, and seeing new things reminded me of how large this planet of ours really is and how much I had yet to see.
So what are you saying?
Get out there! You’ve been cooped up in the house for quite some time and could probably use a change of scenery. If you haven’t been cooped up in the house then coop yourself up in the house and order delivery. That would be something new, wouldn’t it? I suppose what I’m trying to say is, don’t refrain from getting away or doing something different simply because you’re saving up time and money for something BIG. You can find the same joy by adding up smaller things. Hop on a bus and head somewhere that’s an hour away. See what the people are like. Breathe the air. Baby steps. Take a friend or family member with you if you need the company. Go somewhere that’s two hours away the next time. Take a walk around that new city or town and maybe have lunch somewhere. Check out the local shopping areas. Baby steps. When you’re ready, try jumping in the car and going somewhere that’s farther, but not too far. We’re going for stressless. Spend what you would normally spend on dinner if you were back home. Don’t splurge. You’re only a few hours from your house. This isn’t a vacation. Walk along the pier. Hold your loved one’s hand and mention something about how interesting it is that the two of you happen to be in this new place together. Rent an absurdly cheap room for the night because seriously, you only need the bed to sleep for a few hours. This isn’t an actual vacation, remember?
Have breakfast in the morning, possibly in bed.
You never do that at home right?
Take it easy. Get lost downtown. Head to the waterfront and take your shoes off. Try something new. You don’t have to work today, right? Try two new things. Hell, maybe this IS a vacation after all. See? “Self trickery”. Find out if they have gondolas and gelato…