There is so much about traveling that has changed since COVID-19 and all of its variants arrived on the scene.
Of course, there are the obvious differences – the mask-wearing on airplanes and in many public attractions like museums, resorts and galleries. The reduced hospitality of the airlines, less samples being offered, more automated everything to cut down the risk of disease transmission.
No matter where we have been during these past two years, if something is open, then it has reduced capacity or reservations must be made in advance, appointments scheduled, spontaneity discouraged. Stumble upon the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum in the French Quarter? Well, cross your fingers and hope that they have availability in the next 36 hours or so, or else you’re not visiting it. Impromptu tour of an historical home? Don’t think so; no reservation, no way. Thinking of hopping on a canal boat in Amsterdam to sight-see? Well, they’re at capacity due to new pandemic measures, so it looks like you’re walking.
Not that this is always so bad. If you have taken the time to make the reservations and save your place, you have a less crowded museum to enjoy. There are fewer people milling about, fewer bodies to jostle with and maneuver around. Depending on the capacity of different places, you can virtually feel as if you have your own private exhibit or the attraction entirely to yourself. There’s less opportunity for pickpockets at the Louvre and more room to breathe in the art gallery.
But it can be hard in other ways, as well. I notice, especially when traveling, that there’s a greater wariness of one another, a certain distrust. Is it because we cannot see each other’s faces anymore? Or is it because we aren’t sure who might be carrying the virus and so, want to avoid getting too close? I’m not completely certain, but there’s an invisible line between us that didn’t previously exist. Some of the connection we used to feel when sitting next to a party dining at a restaurant on the Amalfi Coast, or the camaraderie of sharing an elevator, or being crowded together at too-close cafe tables has turned to suspicion and tight expressions.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to force a mask on my three-year-old. On one hand, I want him to be safe and others around us to feel safe; but on the other, it makes me sad to see so much of his life hidden behind a mask. It’s become too familiar, in a way. We have a sort of sing-song mantra in our house as we get ready for an adventure. “What do we do when we ride on a plane?” I ask, “Wear a mask!” he responds immediately. Of course he travels much more often than most other children, but it’s hard to see him and other kids, and realize that they have seen more people with half their faces hidden than without. So much of travel is about knocking down boundaries, seeing that we have far more in common than we realize, and I grieve that at the moment, we aren’t seeing much.
Disease variants emerge and we change the way we travel, visit and live accordingly, to keep one another safe. We try to balance new restrictions with bucket lists and impromptu adventures with the need for reservations and capacity restrictions. We are trying to keep the world open without everything shutting down.
Travel looks a little different, but the need for connection and new vistas remains. We may not see all of one another’s faces, but hopefully, we can still glimpse a little of our hearts.