In the midst of the CoronaVirus lock down, travellers are realising just how fortunate they have been to explore the world. But what happens next?
It is often at the toughest of times that we are reminded of just how privileged we are. Now, in the time of the global CoronaVirus pandemic, that privilege comes in different forms. We are grateful to be well and healthy; for a roof over our head and somewhere warm and safe to spend this period of isolation; a family or friends to Zoom chat with; the abundance of a food supply; somewhere quiet and green to go for a walk.
For those of us who travel regularly – be that for work or because we simply can – having to stay put in one place can be fairly daunting. It sounds silly because there is nowhere in the world I would rather be right now than at home, with my partner Brad, and close to my parents. But I am also a little anxious when I think of what the future holds for people like me who travel as a part of their work, and sometimes for therapy.
This morning I woke up with an immense gratitude for the pre-CoronaVirus world I inhabited. A world where the freedom to travel was, well, just there. Of course, I am even more appreciative for the home we are now locked down in, and my parents’ health. But it makes you think, doesn’t it? What will a ‘new normal’ mean for those who don’t lead a regular lifestyle? Those who aren’t based ‘at home’?
The freedom of travel
Just four months ago, before the scale of CoronaVirus was reported, I didn’t think twice about whether I could get on a plane, whether I was at risk of catching a deadly virus while travelling, or whether I could get home quickly in an emergency. Now, the world is very different, and we aren’t sure when – and if – we will be able to live this freely again.
This is what was running through my mind as I began Day 24 of isolation here in London. How fortunate we are, I thought, to have lived the lives we have until now. A life filled with adventure in the most beautiful lands; of exploring the most colourful and intriguing cultures. They are memories I will hold dear – more dear perhaps that I realised.
Brad and I had flown home just a few days before British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced plans to lock down the UK in the midst of the growing CoronaVirus pandemic.
We were already in quarantine after our 27 hour journey across the planet when a text message came through from the Australian government to say a passenger sitting near us had tested positive for COVID-19. The message said we should isolate. We had already taken the right precautions.
Our journey home had been far from blissful. In fact, I’ve never felt so anxious or shed so many tears when travelling. Those of you that know me will know travel is usually a blissful, know-it-like-the-back-of-my-hand type experience for me. We flew from Sydney to Perth, then boarded a direct 17.5-hour flight from Perth to London on Qantas. It was rushed as we bargained with the flight staff to get on both of those planes as standby passengers – terrified that at any moment Australia might ground international flights, or that the UK might halt incoming aircrafts. We even chucked out contents from our bags so we could meet the new required luggage weight restrictions, in case we made it on.
Luck was on our side – as were the helpful Qantas staff, who put our name on the list and hinted it would be worth sticking around. The nervous wait was worth it – we managed to fly a full 24 hours earlier than planned, while flights scheduled around us were being cancelled.
CoronaVirus lock down
Twenty four days into the CoronaVirus lock down and we know little about when and how this pandemic might end. Flights are now grounded, except for the few repatriation flights in and out of London Heathrow, many airlines have furloughed staff, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has advised against all but essential travel indefinitely. Will the effects last for months? Over a year? What does it mean for those with travel in their hearts, or those who travel to earn a living?
The fact is, we don’t know. We don’t know how long the virus will be a risk to us, how long we will be under lock down, whether flights will start again soon or whether countries will remain closed to non-citizens for a long time to come. My guess is the world, as a whole, will take a long time to recover, with every country operating on their own timelines. The fact is, while COVID-19 is a risk, open borders are a risk.
A hidden blessing?
My mind wonders to the communities who depend on tourism, and what this means for them. While we might have to stay at home for longer than we would like, entire villages will see little to no income as the months go on.
I think of the Pacific Islanders with their welcoming smiles and kind hearts. This is where we spent the last few weeks of our travelling life before returning home. From Easter Island and French Polynesia to Vanuatu, Tonga and Fiji. Life is changing unrecognisably there. These island economies need tourism to survive. They need visitors to come to their hotels, take their tours, eat at their restaurants and shop at their stalls. Without the airplanes and cruise ships coming in for prolonged period of time, they are in trouble. To make matters worse, many of those islands have recently been battered by Cyclone Harold. And help is not easily accessible.
Then I think of the health implications for such small nations. What happens when a COVID-19 positive tourist arrives on the island? They don’t have the health care or equipment to fight an epidemic. In Papua New Guinea, there are just 500 doctors and their personal protective equipment is made of nappies. An outbreak would be catastrophic. Despite the financial pressure, they are safer without us.
When will we travel again?
This is the big question. The truth is, it’s too early to say. The best thing we can do today is to not think too far ahead. As we are often told on the news, these are extraordinary times. The entire world is feeling its way through the CoronaVirus pandemic. Time – to work out what it means for each us individually – is the one thing we do have.
Perhaps the key is to enjoy the privilege of being safe and healthy wherever we are, or to focus on how we have a home to return to. It’s time to be thankful for having family or friends to care about, to care about us; or the space and time to process life. It’s the time to learn the language we have always wanted to master, to read more, to spend hours laughing on Zoom with dearest friends, to start a new side hustle, to sleep and to dream. Most of all, it’s time to be kind to ourselves. It’s okay to find work elsewhere for a while. It’s okay if it isn’t your dream job. These are really hard circumstances. It’s okay to do nothing.
Then, when the world starts up again, we will be ready for the next adventure.