Can Travel Be Fun Again?

I took my first commercial flight in early May as travel restrictions were eased and my vaccination was working to its full potential to visit my daughter in Texas. I didn’t feel very insecure; it was psychologically uncomfortable, but I’ve always hated airports and planes. I did not eat or drink anything on board and my mask was firmly attached to my face.

Still, there was a sense of festive nostalgia associated with reclaiming heaven, a feeling I usually associate with returning to a university where I once studied or revisiting the summer of childhood. As we plunged through the clouds into the stratosphere of private sunshine so familiar to jet travelers, I felt the restless joy I discovered when I hugged friends for the first time after vaccination. The quarantine had given me extra time with my husband and son, days for writing, and the calming repetition patterns. But the outbreak was a relief nonetheless.

Despite the fear that comes with it, traveling is a relief. The things, places, and people I loved and will love have been out there all along, and I’m no longer chained to New York with a leg irons. In September I would like to return to London for a friend’s 50th birthday and see my seven English sponsored children. I have been out of the UK, where I have citizenship, longer than ever since I was 12.

The question of traveling is not just a question of fun. Travel is a necessary part of our training. The 19th century naturalist Alexander von Humboldt wrote: “No worldview is as dangerous as the worldview of those who have not seen the world.” Just as the limits of our bubbles easily drove many of us crazy during quarantine, it was devastating for many of us to be locked up in our own country. The success of any country depends on the curiosity of its citizens. If we lose that, we will lose our moral compass.

As much as I long to go elsewhere, I also enjoy welcoming people to these shores. It’s scary to walk through New York City’s great museums and not hear the noise of 100 languages. Travel is a one-way street, and let’s hope it will soon be bumper-to-bumper in both directions.

At the end of “Paradise Lost” Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden of Eden and John Milton makes no secret of their fear of displacement. But it doesn’t end on that sour note, as banishment from one place meant an opportunity to find another, however timidly that process was carried out:

She let fall some natural tears, but soon wiped them away;
The world was all before them where to choose
The place of rest and providence, the guide:
They walk hand in hand with wandering steps and slowly
This lonely path went through Eden.

So let’s go back to the pre-Covid options. When the virus is under control, we will get going with renewed vigor. The world is right before us. We can start with wandering steps and slowly, carefully, and insecurely. But remember. A year ago many of us feared going further than the grocery store; Now we’re getting an entire planet back to explore, albeit cautiously.

Andrew Solomon, professor of medical clinical psychology at Columbia University Medical Center, is the author of Far and Away: How Travel Can Change the World.

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