Talking about trips I would be taking this summer is my new favorite pastime. With international, and now national travel being restricted, it seems very unlikely that I’ll be getting very far. The original plan was to travel along Central Asia’s Pamir highway, starting in Kyrgyzstan and ending in Uzbekistan while cutting through Tajikistan. But that won’t be happening.
So, my wife and I decided it was time for a cross country road trip. The idea of sleeping in a tent, far from other people, and hiking through big open spaces seemed both safe and desirable. But with recent spikes in some of the states we were most looking forward to seeing, like Texas and Utah, that also seemed unlikely. Even if we were willing to risk getting sick, very little would be open and major cities would almost certainly be out of the question. New York’s recent travel restrictions, requiring anyone who traveled to a state with a positive test rate of over ten percent to quarantine themselves for fourteen days has also made things more difficult.
We also looked at driving north to Maine. But for a while it seemed as if even Vacationland was closed to travelers, requiring proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test.
Months ago, before COVID halted all of us in our homes, my wife and I booked an AirBnB in Cape Cod, as we do every summer, and as luck would have it, we were still able to go. We were unsure what to expect when we got there. Our host said that we would be able to dine outside and that the beaches would be open, but we were worried that even if things were open a general uneasiness would taint the trip.
Much like at home in New York, Cape Cod operated on a somewhat open but highly cautious level. Since we travel with our dog, Milo, we generally find ourselves eating outside away from everyone else anyway. In general, the restaurants and the Cape as a whole seemed quiet and distant. I felt as if the trips we had taken years ago, packed in loud bars and restaurants teeming with throngs of people, seemed almost impossible. And while no one said anything explicitly, I could feel that the entire Cape was disappointed to lose its big season but was still eager to do the right thing.
Coincidentally, the biggest perk of our Air BnB was how remote it was. Resting on a narrow street leading to a locals-only beach, we rarely ventured very far. While cars needed a sticker to enter the beach parking lot, pedestrians were welcomed with big hellos (magnified, I’m sure, by the presence of a certain eager-to-get-wet dog). A few groups still gathered together a little too closely and a little too largely, but the overall emptiness of the beach made our days comfortable. Whether the scarcity of people on the beach was due to the fact that the beach was meant only for locals or because people stayed at home to avoid COVID, I cannot say.
But as much as I know this summer is a bust, I worry about my future travels. As things begin to open up, I’m not sure how comfortable I will feel being contained on a plane for ten or more hours with hundreds of strangers. I trust airlines to do their best to clean the planes but I will almost certainly cringe the moment the person next to me coughs, even if it is to clear his or her throat. And while I am sure that many developed nations will ensure that hotel rooms are disinfected and soap is ubiquitous, I am not so confident that some of the rougher terrains, like safari and jungle trips, will be able to do the same. I guess I’ll have to add copious amounts of hand sanitizer to the list of must-haves when I travel now.
It seems most likely that travelers will be asked to prove that they have had a vaccine against COVID-19, if and when it comes out. I already carry with me a yellow document on which is proof of my yellow fever and typhoid vaccinations. I’ve had to flash it at a few airports and border crossings.
When travel restrictions eventually open up, airlines are almost certainly going to entice travelers with great deals, and that will be hard to ignore. There’s also talk of leaving the middle seat open to allow for more social distancing and as someone who needs a lot of elbow room, this perk might push me over the edge. There’s no doubt that people’s desire to travel will not stop and as millions of people around the world depend on tourism to survive, it almost seems like a bit of travel will be our duty.
But for now, our duty is to do the least amount of traveling in order to make the world safer for everyone to travel. I think my neighbor — who just installed an outdoor television on his deck and a pool in his backyard — has the right idea. Get comfortable staying home, find a bit of open space to explore, wait for things to open up, and watch for those flight prices and COVID numbers to drop.