There are travel planners and travel procrastinators.
I’ve always been one of those leave-it-for-the-last-minute types. Weddings and holidays were prime reasons to get away, since they conveniently came with planned destinations. But actually organizing vacations usually fell to the bottom of my priority list.
I always waited for the perfect trips to find me.
Maybe this was a residual effect from being a travel writer for a few years. It was easy to get used to trips coming attached with assignments, editors and itineraries. Or maybe I was simply lazy.
Friends who were avid planners always had flights and hotels booked six months in advance, while I heard myself saying, more often than I’d like, “I’ll get around to researching that cross-Canada train trip next week” or “I’ll get to Paris one day soon!”
Of course, given our new circumstances, “one day soon” feels like “never.” There is only today, and with all nonessential travel halted and leisure trips looking like an unimaginable luxury, all I can ask is: What was I waiting for?
My tendency to stall didn’t come from fear or disillusionment with travel. I love flying, chatting with strangers, squeezing into public transportation. (All verboten now.) Perhaps I was doing what we all do, in various forms in our lives: When faced with a difficult choice, it’s easiest to choose neither option.
Because in this instance, choosing where to go comes with costly trade-offs. If you go to Bali, you’re putting off Cape Town. Choose Galway and you’re sacrificing the Cotswolds. Party in New Orleans, and you’ll miss Chinese New Year.
But pick nothing and you’re left with regrets in quarantine.
There may be good news, though, for those with a far-reaching (and optimistic) eye.
Those many choices are still available. Booking travel far into the future is possible, perhaps even wise, given the generous exchange policies. Though it does feel challenging to plan further than the next grocery store run, much less getting on a plane and skipping across continents.
What was I waiting for?
But that does leave us plenty of time to consider the question: What was I waiting for?
Even though we have to wait a little longer, we can still imagine our bucket list experiences.
We can also reflect on the immense privilege it is to go anywhere at all. What a novelty it all seems: Dragging a carry-on through Terminal 5 at JFK Airport, typing last-minute emails waiting in the TSA PreCheck line, shuffling through magazines at Hudson News. And that’s only the preamble to the trip.
Seeing that travel is all but forbidden, perhaps we could use this moment to plan and make serious commitments to everything we want to see, experience, taste and even smell when it’s possible once again.
Read those books. Make those lists. Turn “I always wanted to” into “I’m going to.”
It’s funny to think back. Why on Earth was I letting my credit card points gather dust instead of seeing the world?
I remember early March, when my boyfriend and I were discussing where to go on a cycling trip this summer. We debated cities and routes in France, trying to maximize our vacation time while seeing as much as possible. I was overanalyzing everything from possible crowd size to the hotel options, all while telling myself, We have plenty of time to decide.
A few short weeks later, sitting in the middle of a pandemic, that sentiment seems cute. I would be satisfied with any flight, any route, any itinerary.
Rethinking the importance of ‘best’
A desire to always choose the best option, whether that’s a room with the ideal park view or a restaurant with superior Yelp reviews, often stopped me from making any decision at all. Now I see the worst meal in a new city is better than my 40th dinner in quarantine. At least a bad meal in a new city comes with a story to share.
The same goes for any travel hiccup. In our current situation, it’s easy to appreciate the lows as much as the highs on any trip.
Flight gets delayed? City turns into a confusing maze? Beach not as picturesque as the postcards? It’s OK. At least you were somewhere new, where you could move and drink in life as much as you wanted.
I want to travel through the sky with hundreds of strangers, touch down and never see any of them again.
I want to eat gelato in Venice. I want to marvel at the Hong Kong skyline. I want to bike dozens of miles through towns I’ve never heard of. I want to hail a cab at an airport knowing the coming day might not be perfect, but it won’t ever be boring.
Another regret is never flying home as often as I wanted to. There’s never a perfect time to fly from New York to California. But now, without that as an option, I see how simple it is: You choose a flight, show up and go.
When this is all over, I don’t want to wait to see more of the world. We’re seeing more of the world every day, through news reports and updates, and while the statistics can be scary, the scenes of city life are not.
The streets are empty, but we will fill them again. Until then, we can plan, we can dream — and eventually, we will go.