It might not be fully safe to travel again in 2021. Sure, vaccines are rolling out in some countries (including this one), but not always with a great sense of urgency. Meanwhile, it’s grown clear that even a negative COVID test might mean you can still asymptomatically spread the disease (and therefore possibly kill people), making testing during travel less of a panacea than we all hoped.
At the same time, there are a few thousand deaths every day in the United States right now. Most of Europe seems to be spiraling out of control. Even China is starting to lock back down. There are the new super strains that we know little about running rampant from South Africa to Japan to Texas to the U.K. As optimistic as we try to always stay, it can sometimes be hard to see any light at the end of this tunnel.
Eventually, getting back on the road will finally be a “near future” conversation. And when that moment comes, it’s important — between fantasizing about long-awaited hotel stays — that we have serious conversations about how the industry needs to shift moving forward. How it can adjust to a new era after a complete reset and seismic slowdown.
To get some ideas, we asked a few pro-vagabonding friends about how they envision their beloved industry changing because of the pandemic.
EXPERIENCES THAT HONOR BOTH OUR UNIQUENESS AND INTERCONNECTIVITY
Kinga Philipps — Travel host, filmmaker, and conservationist
For me, the pandemic has offered a wider perspective of the interconnectivity of life on earth. It’s brought home the message of unity as a species and as a planet. From a human standpoint, an environmental standpoint, and even an existential one — we are all in this together.
“Foreign” doesn’t seem so foreign anymore. Yes indeed, we are all wonderfully different in many ways and that is now even more exciting for me. In simple terms, I feel more connected and simultaneously more eager to experience and seek out all the ways humans live on this planet.
I think others feel it too and it will shape the tours offered and the way businesses approach the services they provide.
TAKING DREAM TRIPS WITHOUT DELAY
Karl Watson — Travel host and filmmaker
Post-pandemic, I think everyone’s “trip of a lifetime” or “number one item on their bucket list” will move way up on their priority lists.
Having not been able to travel for over a year, it’s been a healthy reminder of what a privilege traveling is. The world will gradually open back up, but who knows if/when it will close up again? Rather than making excuses like, “I’ll do that big epic trip one day,” people should/will actually just go and do it. That could be anything from an around the world ticket to climbing Kilimanjaro to motorbiking Vietnam. Whatever it is, I think people will take that extra effort to make it happen.
For me personally, I’ve planned out the next three years of my traveling (with lots of contingency plans depending on what opens when). Not something I would normally do. I prefer going with the flow of each year and seeing what I’m in the mood for. But now, I’m like “where do I want to go most in the world … okay let’s roll.”
We’ve all lost so much time to this pandemic and we’ve also realized time is the most important commodity we have. So once we’re given the opportunity again, people are going to want to make the most of it.
CONNECTING WITH OTHERS, ON THE ROAD
Juliana Broste — Travel host and filmmaker
While our lives have changed drastically during the pandemic, one thing will never change — our need for human connection. We desperately need each other. We’re adapting to our isolation through technology, having face-to-face video calls with loved ones, and carrying out business meetings over home WiFi, but it’s not the same. We long to hug loved ones. We miss gatherings, parties, celebrations. We yearn for those small, seemingly insignificant, everyday interactions — smiling at a stranger at the grocery store. We dream of togetherness, which is why, post-pandemic, we will cherish those human connections more than ever.
One of the beautiful things about travel is that you take yourself out of your comfort zone and try new things. You meet new people, people you never would have met in your normal routine. Just before the pandemic hit, I was on a world-tour assignment, making connections with Bumble and sharing my story. It’s amazing to see how even a short interaction with a stranger can influence how you feel, what you do, or what you think about the world. As we look towards traveling safely post-pandemic, we will appreciate all the ways travel makes us feel more alive through human connection.
INCREASED MEANING THROUGH SMALL GROUP EXPERIENCES
Mike Schibel — Travel With Meaning Podcast
I believe post-pandemic there will be a strong desire for curated small group experiences. Finding ways to connect with ourselves, community, and nature with real tangible adventures.
In thinking of a post-pandemic world, I believe the appreciation and gratitude of travel will lead to people‘s thinking of “why” we travel. With intention, presence, and meaning becoming part of the traveler’s journey.
A BETTER ANSWER TO THE QUESTION OF ‘WHY I TRAVEL’
Zach Johnston — Deputy Editor, Uproxx Life
The travel industry needed to change drastically before COVID hit. The “Do It For the ‘Gram” crowd was hastening the destruction of so many destinations that they were shutting down well before coronavirus entered the lexicon. Moreover, the pandemic, closed borders, and lock-downs have upended the industry at every level. This highlights how fickle the economies of so many places that relied on travel were in the first place (whether that be Spain and Italy or Thailand and Indonesia or our own national parks).
Besides moving forward and having a real answer to why you need to travel to a certain place, we also have to start caring about who we’re supporting when we do travel somewhere. We have to make sure money is actually going to the people who need it in the places we’re going. Otherwise, we’ll be back at square one — supporting the movement of wealth away from the working class on a global scale.
All I’m looking for is a little more reason for travel besides some photo that literally millions of other people have already taken. It won’t really matter how we travel in the future (solo, cruise, resort, backpacking Africa, driving the Pan-American route) unless we start traveling smarter and more aware. Travel with purpose outside of yourself has to be a bigger part of travel going forward or we’ll have learned nothing from this unprecedented moment in history.
MORE BRAVERY, ON MULTIPLE LEVELS
Steve Bramucci — Editorial Director, Uproxx Life
Humans are experts at self-justification. We’re a species that’s deeply proficient in mental gymnastics. Woke stockbrokers have to pretend that their industry doesn’t inherently cannibalize the working class, chefs have to willfully ignore the fact that their entire supply chain is built on cheap labor, and travel writers have to come up with endless reasons for why we travel so much while also claiming to be on the cutting edge of environmentalism.
Over my decades in travel media, I’ve read dozens of writers as they wrestle with the idea that their schedules of traveling the world on press trips are at odds with their environmental values. Each of these essays inevitably arrives at a nice tidy button that manages to express, with the proper amount of self-flagellation: “Alas, I’ve decided that I MUST travel, because I just love it so very much.”
Well… duh. Everyone loves travel. Your love doesn’t exempt you from other legitimate concerns (COVID, environmental, exploitive governments, etc.).
So when I say that I hope we come out of this braver, part of what I mean is that I hope we in the travel community stand by our professed ecological and social values. I hope to see travelers and travel writers start to announce personal carbon caps or skip on visiting exploitive regimes. And I hope the pros among them get more work because of those hard stances. (I also hope those who are going to travel widely in spite of any ethical concerns will be brave enough to be unrepentant about it — just go already, your angst feels performative.)
Speaking personally, I will never again be part of publicizing the “race around the globe”-type of traveler. I’ve published stories on those sorts of record-setting quests before, but with a long year in quarantine to reflect, I find them silly and trivial.
I also mean “braver” as in “more intrepid.” Enough of chasing one another to different Instagram vistas. Experience your trip. Curate your life. Find your passion points and make your own mistakes along the way. (The traveler making their own mistakes and learning from them is already far braver than people acting like morality is binary on social media, but that’s a conversation for another day.) Go beyond the deeply rutted backpacker trails and wander a little. Buy a bike and do a month in Vietnam, if you have that luxury. Walk between Bulgarian villages for a few weeks, on a break between jobs. See all the National Parks.
Even if your favorite influencers haven’t done it yet. Especially if your favorite influencers haven’t done it yet.
Finally, I hope to see travelers be braver intellectually. Brave enough to explore what travel means to the economies we visit. Brave enough to recognize the privilege that travel carries with it. Brave enough to go someplace close to home, even though that doesn’t play as well at parties as “There I was, in the jungles of Myanmar.” Brave enough to cop to our own hedonism and admit that we travel because we like to, just like everyone who has ever traveled for leisure in the history of time. And, most of all, brave enough to slow down between our picture-taking and trinket collecting and story pillaging to think about this world, our unique place in it, and what our very existence means in the grand scheme of things.
I think those types of bravery are each immensely difficult. I’m sure I’ll fail at all of them in the years to come. But I also think that by people making a sincere effort we could very well change the industry in a whole bunch of small-but-significant ways.