You’re double vaxxed and triple ready to unleash the pent-up wanderlust you’ve suppressed during the pandemic. You’re dreaming of hitting the road, chasing far-off horizons. You also have a mile-long bucket list and a stream of photos in your “I want to go to there” Instagram collection. This is going to be your season!
Except many foreign borders remain off-limits, vaccine distribution isn’t globally equitable and international and airline regulations seem to change by the week. You’ll also have to factor into your travel budget the added expense and hassle of getting PCR tests before and after you travel. And good luck finding a central database listing clear requirements for travelers for all destinations around the world — it doesn’t exist. Because 2021 will be the year that demands flexibility and last-minute changes, these shifting factors will make overseas jaunts extra challenging this year, especially if you’re the kind of traveler who likes to make a plan and stick to it.
What’s a restless wanderer to do?
To take a page from that great British wit Tom Stoppard: “Happiness is equilibrium. Shift your weight.”
If flexing the passport isn’t in the cards this year, change your perspective and set your compass closer to home. I spent the pandemic writing the book Travel North America (And Avoid Being a Tourist) with Jeralyn Gerba, co-founder of our travel website, Fathom, and know firsthand the breadth, depth and variety that you can find within a few hours of wherever you are in the United States. With a few simple principles, you can be on your way down a fresh new path.
Explore Your Backyard
Most New Yorkers have never been to the top of the Empire State Building or out to Ellis Island, let alone Governor’s Island or The Cloisters. The same can probably be said for Californians, Texans, Minnesotans: We all tend to disregard what’s right under our noses. Make this the summer to fix that. Compile a short list of the sites and landmarks that you’ve always been meaning to get to “one day” and plan your day trips as if they were a full vacation. Fallingwater. Dollywood. Mount Shasta. Mackinac Island. Research train schedules, find a great nearby restaurant and see what else is in the neighborhood while you’re there.
Get Out There
Many travelers say that immersing themselves in a foreign culture was the most rewarding part of their trip. No matter where you live in the United States, chances are there’s a community or culture that is unknown to you close by. You can start small: go to a restaurant, take a cooking class, volunteer at a community center, go on a neighborhood walking tour. For example, New York City’s N train, which runs through Queens, passes through a veritable United Nations of languages and cultures. While the pandemic has trained us to master social distancing, remember that you’re in someone’s neighborhood, not in a social aquarium, when you get back out there. Behave like you’d want any visitor in your home to behave — with respect, warmth and an open mind and heart. Putting yourself in new environments is the best way to stimulate yourself and get out of your head.
Go Deep on Your Passion
Take your favorite hobby on the road by using it as the central theme to your trip. If you’re a quilter, map out an itinerary of craft museums. Find a quilting meet-up in a city you’ve been wanting to visit and make a sewing circle the anchor of your stay. If you’re obsessed with a certain band, follow them to a few cities on their tour. By day, you see the sites; by night, you hear your favorite songs again and again. (Imagine you’re recreating your college Deadhead days, minus the bad weed.) If safari in Botswana has to wait until next year, marvel at the animals close to home — the many species of birds that flock to the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia (where you’ll also see the world’s highest tides) or the wild horses that have been roaming the barrier islands off Maryland and Virginia for centuries.
With the right attitude and a creative and personal approach, your wanderings can still feel like adventures. No jet lag required.