Welcome to the pandemic of disappointments. On almost everyone’s list is cancelled trips. We don’t call them “trips,” every time. For us athletes, we call them races. My wife calls them beach vacations. Some know them as weddings. These last three months, about 10% of us called them football games. They are all the same in what they do to our souls. They are unwelcome entrants into a world that we are all taught should be governed by hope. We took our travel culture for granted and look what happened to us. Japan reported more deaths in November from suicide than from COVID. I am one of many who are at a loss as to express what that really means.
Through the ages of written language, there is well-discussed question regarding humanity’s desire to wander. The travel industry, despite its regulations, has always been essential for mental health. Travel isn’t essential like hospitals and grocery stories. Travel is essential like literature and hugs are. There is a magic that comes with the search for “a new way of looking at things,” that is crucial.
When I was a Peace Corps volunteer in a small Nepali village, I saw the essential nature of travel. The tribal people I lived with looked forward to trips to adjacent valleys to see people, to trade and to get out of the old. People want to break bread with other beings besides those they live with. They want to see “operations” that they don’t understand and get back to our nomadic roots. My villagers made a couple hundred dollars a year, net, on farming. Yet, they looked forward to the all-night trip to Kathmandu on a bus. That first moment of stepping off the bus into something totally different than what they left enriched them that words can’t illuminate. Back then, it also made them sick, and some would bring that back home on their return, just like now. It has always been that way.
After the attacks on 911, many predicted the end of air travel as we understood it. Sixteen years later, that doomed industry reported that more than 4 billion passenger seats got filled in one year. That is more than half the world’s population of seats, ladies and gentlemen. That snippet of history and escape from pessimism gives me great hope. It gives me reason to take ownership of my dreams and not wait for someone to tell me, “the coast is clear,” before I begin planning and spending. Way too many of us fear being let down by a trip we plan that doesn’t happen. It is the same fear that prevented us from asking out the pretty girl in high school or applying to that super competitive university. This failure to plan out epic travel hits a core character defect of many of us: the fear of rejection.
This response to our fear is literally the worst thing we can do for our mental health. It is like we forgot that planning a trip is nearly as enjoyable as actually taking one. We foolishly set the rewards that comes from anticipation to zero. Like it or not, we are voluntarily letting our hope be taken from us. We let the dark side win.
My wife points out better than I do that the anticipation of upcoming travel is a big part of the joy of travel. The planning, the countdown, and the daydreaming are meaningful and inseparable from how we were made. Ask the Tharu people in the Dang Valley. They will give you the same answer.
Matthew Killingsworth studies happiness at Wharton. He says, “our future mindedness can be a source of joy if we know good things are coming, and travel is an especially good thing to have to look forward to.”
I say plan a trip. Plan all of it. Figure out a way to come to peace with the reality that travel is NOT a rational activity. We wear seat belts and shoulder straps, and we have multiple air bags all around us at 60 mph. However, we put ourselves on missiles that travel ten times faster with only a lap belt and a lifejacket under our seat. In our head, we know that any unplanned event that starts seven miles up and ends with you on the ground in a place other than an airport is unsurvivable. Add to that the great expense of travel, and do a logical cost-benefit analysis with only numbers. A rational mind would never go anywhere. Alas, that doesn’t seem to be true, does it?
I have planned a lot of travel in 2021. I have bought my plane tickets, reserved my rentals and hotel stays, and have blocked off a lot of time on my calendar. Granted, my mindset is different than most, as I got vaccinated many years ago, and I lack the fear factor that the government and media mandate I listen to on auto-play. More than half of those days away from home require only a car, my son, and a bicycle. I live my life to inspire, and epic travel to far-off destinations is inseparable from my identity. If you have gotten this far in this article, then you know.
I don’t know if I am sad or envious of folks who are happy to stay and home and be with the ones they live with, claiming satisfaction. That is not how I am made. Sure, I can make lemonade from lemons, but I don’t need to let that thinking impact core identity. For those of you can look in the mirror and say, “I need to wait for others to tell me I am free to move about the country,” I don’t get it. I suspect I am both jealous and sad. Maybe you are sad for me, or perhaps jealous of me. I don’t think that part matters.
I am doing two full length bike rides of the Blue Ridge Parkway this year, a rafting trip in Western Alaska that is remote (even by Alaska standards) and a trek in the Annapurna Sanctuary of Nepal, all before Thanksgiving. I have signed up to race two world championships the week after I cycle the Pyrenees. Nearly every place is rural; every trip is outdoors; every itinerary is full of epic events. All are active. Many of my trips are already nicely booked up, but I still have spaces on every one of them. Sure, the American passport is not accepted at everyone’s borders like our currency is, but I have had enough conversation to know that my perceptions of travel and wandering are not only mine.
I am planning to travel in 2021. Come join me. Ask me in 2022 if I did or not. Answering will be fun!