Now’s NOT the time to travel. Now’s the time, to put it bluntly, to #StayTheF*ckHome. Now’s the time for a shift in mindset, to relearn how to indulge in the small and simple pleasures I too often take for granted – the things I may often consider a hassle or a burden.
It was difficult to decide whether or not to continue with my travels to Dubai, Oman and Jordan in early March, especially as I had hoped that it would be a worthwhile work opportunity. And though I was to travel to relatively low-risk areas in the Middle East, they only truly remain low risk if borders are closed and international travel is completely restricted, right?
I tried to be very vigilant and cautious. It was somewhat reassuring to see others doing the same. And while I foolishly wasn’t worried about getting Covid-19, I should have considered the vulnerable people I could have potentially transmitted it to were I to contract it, especially if we’re an asymptomatic carrier.
Things escalated. Quickly. The WHO classified Covid-19 (Coronoavirus) as a pandemic and immediate travel bans and advisories were being implemented around the world. My original flight with EgyptAir via Cairo was cancelled. As in many other countries, travellers to Jordan were given 48 hours to leave the country. With many flights cancelled and a limited time to leave, it was a crazy mad rush to find a new flights. They were expensive and selling out FAST. But with the help of my dad back home, I returned home safely, with the promise to return to visit Petra, Wadi Rum, The Dead Sea and other parts of the country sometime in the future.
While it was stressful at the time, global travel bans and level 4 health advisories in times like these are a very positive preventative measure. Avoiding all non-essential travel and practising social distancing can help flatten the curve and reduce new cases, as has been seen in China in recent days.
I realise that travelling during a time like this downplayed the seriousness of the global situation, which was impacted by misinformation about COVID-19 (Coronavirus) just being a bad (and more contagious) case of flu. And I’m sure my travels and posts might have come across as ignorant and frivolous in a business-as-usual approach, during this genuine time of need, when we need to act together, globally, and realise that the decisions we make don’t only impact us but everyone, those who are close to our hearts and complete strangers, who we know nothing about — such as whether they are vulnerable or have access to medical facilities and care, whether them being ill might impact the financial well-being of all their dependents.
In hindsight, if I were faced with the same decision knowing what I know now, would I still choose to travel at this time? Probably not. While I’ve been really hard on myself about it, I have a better understanding of how the situation played out. It’s been a humbling and expensive lesson to learn.
I’m in a compulsory 14-day quarantine, which will continue as social distancing in the weeks to come. That’s the easy part, the hard part is missing a dear friend’s wedding this weekend. But I know that as someone who might have been exposed to COVID-19 (and equally so if you haven’t) by working from home, minimising our time in public spaces, avoiding physical contact, keeping our distance from others when in public, and avoiding large social events, we can all help to flatten the curve, prevent the exponential rise of cases and the geographic spread we’ve witnessed in recent weeks.
But when you’re cooped up at home, oftentimes alone, it’s important to exercise social distancing in creative and mentally healthy ways – to remain active with Youtube health and wellness channels; read and reread your favourite books; avoid reading and watching the news for too long; pursue our passions and hobbies perhaps in slightly different ways; and start playing Settlers of Catan online. We’re all responsible, we’re all playing our part. We need to remain hopeful that our combined efforts will soon see positive results one day, hopefully in the not too distant future.
But even in a frightening time like this when we’re all living out the news headlines, I’m not going to strop writing about travel. Even though I do not recommend any non-essential travel at the moment, we need to read about and continue to marvel at the beauty of the world, its ecosystems, biospheres and wildlife, and their long-standing symbiosis, that have no need for us to feature anywhere in the equation. It’s a wonderful time to acknowledge the diversity of our cultures, traditions and religions, and how this collective effort will hopefully see us through.
Many of us have had to cancel and postpone trips – a freaking depressing and expensive exercise, especially if you’ve been planning and looking forward to it for so long. But I hope that my future posts will inspire you, provide a bit of a distraction form this information overload, give you ideas to plan future trips for when this is all over. Something to be hopeful about.
And while we can’t travel now, and probably have far too much time on our hands than is healthy, here’s a selection of travel books and movies to take you there instead, while numerous museums and art galleries are showcasing their collections online and offering virtual tours.
Movies that inspire wanderlust
The English Patient (and the book)
Out of Africa (and the book)
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
The Darjeeling Limited
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Under the Tuscan Sky (and the book)
The Talented Mr Ripley
Into the Wild (and the book)
The Beach (and the book)
Seven years in Tibet (and the book)
Travel memoires & travelogues that exude a sense of place
The Art of Travel: Alain de Botton (read this one first)
The Rings of Saturn: W.G. Sebald (and then this one)
The Alchemist: Paulo Coelho (and then read this one again and again)
Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road: Kate Harris
The Adventures of Tintin: Hergé
Into the Woods; Notes from a Small Island; Down Under; Neither here nor there: Bill Bryson
Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town: Paul Theroux
On the Road; Into the Wild: Jack Kerouac
In Patagonia: Bruce Chatwin
Turn right at Machu Picchu: Mark Adams
Marching Powder: Rusty Young
The Sun Also Rises: Ernest Hemigway
The Shadow of the Sun: Ryszard Kapuscinski
Online Museum Collections and Virtual Tours
Google Arts and Culture has launched a new service that’s sort of like the Google Street View of museums and art galleries. Users can also download the free app on iOS or Android app for a more immersive museum experience. Here you’ll find the works of over 2 500 art institutions from Paris’ Musée d’Orsay to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Guggenheim Museum in New York.