Remember us this time last year? Not really worried about COVID-19 yet, still living our lives — going places, hugging people, shaking hands, politely nudging ourselves through crowds to catch a peek of iconic sites (or Insta-worthy backdrops) — life was good. I can remember when I first started getting the COVID-19 nerves. It wasn’t when our family flew to Beijing for Christmas in 2019. We had no idea COVID-19 was even a thing yet, and we blamed the sparsely populated tourist sites on the winter cold — what’s that about hindsight? It’s 20/20.
No, the first time I truly worried about COVID-19 was packing for the quick President’s Day weekend trip I took, just me and the kids, to Taipei, Taiwan. By this time, the U.S. was feeling that COVID-19 grip, but we were still COVID-19-free over in Iwakuni, Japan. Family and friends back in the States actively tried to talk me out of going. So much so, that to appease them, I went out to buy sterile masks. If you’ve ever been stationed in Japan, you know that these masks are as much a fashion staple as, say, socks — they’re everywhere. Except the one time I needed them. I spent an entire day hopping from an array of convenience stores, department stores, drug stores, grocery stores and 100-yen stores. I came up with six masks, for three people, over three days. Talk about budget traveling.
But we went. We had our temperatures taken before boarding the plane, after landing, upon check-in at the hotel — and I have to brag on Taiwan for a second, they took COVID-19 very seriously. Precautions were taken and we never once felt at risk. We came back to Japan without incident and began to look toward our grand finale OCONUS vacation: 10 days in Australia and New Zealand.
But, as you might have predicted, that trip never happened. Our base prohibited Marines from traveling. And I’m a little ashamed to say that we did, for a moment, entertain taking the trip without my husband. But, if my conscience couldn’t have seen the wrong in depriving him of that once-in-a-lifetime trip, then COVID-19 took the reins. The next day, the borders closed to Americans. And I sat canceling booking after booking with tears in my eyes, knowing we were PCSing, likely never to return OCONUS, wondering if we’d ever take that trip.
Since then, travel has basically stood still for our family. We’ve hopped in the car (now that we’re stateside) to visit family, carefully imposing COVID-19 precautions as we do. We’ve taken one road trip (45 minutes away) and kept to ourselves while wearing masks.
But this traveling heart is ready to travel. I see people doing it. We live under an approach for a pretty major airport, so I know planes are operating. But wanderlust comes with a risk right now. There are the self-isolation days prior and after travel. The mask wearing, the extra sanitizing, and probably worst of all, the fear of contracting something that could be fatal at its worst and a huge inconvenience at the least. For our family, by and large, it just hasn’t been worth it.
How are we staying busy? Well, new jobs and a menagerie of baby animals (two kittens and a puppy) have helped.
But the desire to move about is there, and we do what we can “within bounds” for those of you who like sports metaphors. If you’re itching for adventure like we are, but are still sticking close to home because of COVID-19, either out of fear or restriction, here’s how we’ve stayed sane:
- Find hikes trails near you. Don your mask and keep your distance on the trail but take in the fresh air and amazing views. Not necessarily outdoorsy? That’s OK, you can still visit national parks, state and local parks, and other historic or scenic spots that are open-air with relatively low risk.
- Travel locally. Hit those places in your area you’ve been meaning to see but haven’t.
- Turn your attention toward home. I’m not saying you need to adopt three animals, but if you were looking for the right time to welcome a pet or a renovation project, it’s now.
- Support small businesses. Try something new whether you’re in your town or down the road a bit. They’re taking the same precautions as bigger retailers, but I guarantee they’ll be thrilled to have your business right now.
- Get away from it all. If you choose to travel, however far, I encourage you to find secluded spots — a small beach house (yes, I find them fun even in the dead of winter) or mountain cabin. There will be chances to visit major cities, but for safety’s sake (and not just yours, but those you’ll cross paths with when you return home), save these trips for later.
We’re all tired of COVID-19. We’re ready to be back to normal. But, as much as I want to start booking trips left and right, I’m not, because I can’t predict what the virus and its regulations will be tomorrow, let alone a month or two from now. So, I’ll wait. Take it slow, keep it local and wear the mask (pro tip: I actually love it in the winter because it keeps my nose warm). But you better believe I’m fiercely adding to my travel wish list, and I’ll be ready to book flights and tours and hotels just as soon as we’re ready to travel again.