“I don’t know what to do with myself. I don’t have any trips to plan,” I told my husband recently. Joe is a willing traveler, and no one approaches the gauntlet of Disney World reservations and ride prep with as much determination as him, but he is largely devoid of the wanderlust that has propelled me through my life.
The uncertainty, the inability to guess when we’ll again get to go places is what, to me, feels so defeating right now. A trip with my extended family to the Chesapeake Bay in June has been cancelled. My son’s annual birthday weekend at my mother-in-law’s cottage in the woods has been postponed. We don’t know if our annual trip to Cape Cod will take place. Even events farther out such as a trip to celebrate my son’s bar mitzvah and my 40th birthday getaway with girlfriends who I’ve known since elementary school: they are all on hold. For us, for everyone.
My husband and I were students on a budget, when we first started dating, and our trips weren’t always far-flung or exciting. They didn’t have to be: Being together and exploring any new place or even revisiting a place that had special significance to one of us was a thrill and a way to forge a deeper bond. Sure, we’ve had some large trips in the nearly 18 years we have been together, but many of them haven’t required a passport and often they have needed less than a full tank of gas.
When our kids were little, our idea of travel and our expectations changed and, but it still felt fundamental. My husband and I came to Philadelphia (where we first met) with our colicky, sleep averse infant for a week. Almost everyone thought we were crazy: “Don’t you want to be at home with all your stuff?”
No, I wanted to get out of the Twilight Zone of diaper changes, walking around the neighborhood in a daze for four hours a day to get our child to stop screaming and sleep, and post-partum anxiety. I didn’t know what exactly I was doing as a parent, but I felt like I wasn’t doing it very well. One thing I could do well: Plan how to fill our days in a city I loved by visiting with old friends, eating at familiar restaurants and trying new ones and traversing a beloved city with our new child. I still walked around in a daze for four hours a day to get our son to sleep, but there were brief moments during that trip when I felt like me again, the me who had more to talk about than how many times my child woke up last night and when I was planning to introduce solids.
Our kids are 9 and almost 12, and this quarantine has been the longest time in their lives without travel. They have adapted to homebody status better than I thought, especially since my daughter has been known to ask, “So, where are we going next?” while in the process of unpacking. But at times I’m really struggling with this suspended season of our lives, even though I know it’s important for everyone to pause.
Travel felt and continues to feel akin to hope. I can’t tell you how many times my husband and I have written, “I can’t wait to go on more adventures with you!” in cards and notes as a promise of what we hope will fill our future days. As an immune-compromised person, I have trouble imagining jumping back into action, especially long haul flights, the way I used to. I don’t think our family’s days of travel are over by a long shot, but I do wonder how it’ll be changed for all of us. Ironically, nothing has ever reinforced my belief in our shared humanity as much as travel. I have been grateful for every trip I have taken, but I never realized how much I took for granted that there would always be an opportunity for more, more, more.
Other than the multiple long walks I take with our dog every day, I have spent little time actually going anywhere or planning to travel and a lot of time thinking about the journeys, big and small, that are now in my past: To Ethiopia to bring home our daughter, to Cumberland Island and a sunset framed by a fringe of trees that has since become my go-to meditation backdrop or to my parents’ house, where we all gather and reminisce and just hang out. Travel magazines, which I clip and dog-ear and keep for way too long, continue to arrive in my mailbox, and I allow myself a little armchair voyage and try to ignore the feelings that bubble up when I think about how long it’s been since we’ve traveled and how long it still may be until we do so again.
And yet, on Saturday, the kids and I got in the car for the first time in a month. We picked up the seedlings we had prepurchased from a community garden fundraiser and then buckled up again to head home. Suddenly, I felt the thrill of being out of the house, of going somewhere, of possibilities.
“Do you want to go for a ride?” I asked my kids.
“Yes!!” my daughter cheered immediately.
My son, closer to teenagedom and more suspicious, wanted to first know, “Where?”
We ended up ordering bubble tea from a place near my daughter’s ballet studio. In typical times, we go there often, almost weekly, and it had become an afterthought, barely even a “special treat” anymore.
But as we drove the short distance with a plan in place (albeit a very small one), the sun was out, the city traffic was light, and we put the windows down and turned the radio up.
“This is so fun!” my daughter laughed giddily. “It’s like an adventure!”
And for a brief moment, it really was.