One Year Later: Hope Is Blooming
In the past two weeks, commentators around the globe have been reflecting on the one-year anniversary of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s important and illuminating to do so, and I’m grateful for the thoughtful analyses that have been shared, but personally, I prefer to think not about where we’ve been but about where we’re going.
Part of this inspiration I attribute to the walk I impetuously decided to take earlier this week, to my local park. I hadn’t been in a couple of weeks, and the last time I was there, the trio of cherry trees that I have grown to love—and that magically transported me to Kyoto last April—were still bare-boughed. This week I was exhilarated to see that one of the trees had erupted into dozens of pale pink petals. Somehow these first frail blossoms seemed emblematic to me: Hope is blooming.
Positive news buds all around us. More than 101 million doses of vaccine have been administered in the U.S., reaching almost 20 percent of the population. The U.S. is currently administering more than 2.3 million shots a day, and President Biden has directed states to make all adults eligible for vaccines by May 1. At the same time, the reported numbers of new Covid cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are all on the decline.
With this heartening progress, travel is slowly starting to rebound. GeoEx’s trip planners report that more and more travelers are contacting them to plan custom journeys, and that our late-2021 and 2022 group trips are selling strongly.
Of course, none of us knows exactly what course we will follow in the year to come, but as I gaze into the crystal ball, some pink-tinged truths seem clear.
1. The world is moving in the right direction
Though with varying speeds, strategies, and programs, the world is collectively moving forward to decrease the number of people who are infected by the virus and to lessen the effects of the virus on those who do get infected. While we need to be continually vigilant and to follow all guidelines and protocols, and while spikes and variants continue to pose significant challenges, the preponderance of positive news and data suggests that we are collectively moving toward containment.
2. As we make progress, more and more places will open to travelers
While entry practices and policies will continue to vary from nation to nation, as increasing numbers of countries get the coronavirus under control, more and more destinations will open to visitors.
3. As the number of vaccinated individuals increases, more and more people will feel comfortable traveling again
This progression will vary from region to region, but as time passes and vaccine distribution spreads, we will eventually reach the point where significant numbers of people on both sides of the travel equation, the service providers and the service receivers, will have been vaccinated, and then an almost palpable sigh of relief will sweep through the travel industry. The importance of this prospect cannot be overstated: Before the pandemic, tourism accounted for fully 10 percent of all jobs worldwide. This progress is crucial for our planet as a whole.
As I toasted these buoying notions under the budding boughs and contemplated the journey ahead, four pink-petaled proposals unfurled in my mind.
1. Let’s replace the “new normal” with the “now normal”
Many pundits and prognosticators talk about the “new normal.” It’s an enticing term that implies a state where things have settled so that we can all carry on knowing that nothing significant will change. But the pandemic has taught us that the normal is not stable. What was normal a month ago is not normal today, and what’s normal today will not be normal a month from now.
So I think we should stop yearning for the “new normal” and instead adopt the mindset of the “now normal.” What’s normal today is what’s normal. And tomorrow, what’s normal then will be normal.
When you replace the new normal with the now normal, you begin to look at reality clearly and honestly, and then you can assess your own situation, your concerns, goals, and dreams, and determine what you’re comfortable doing now and what you prefer to postpone. Let’s give ourselves the gift of clarity.
2. Let’s focus on regenerative travel
As many have noted, the pandemic has given us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reassess how we want to travel and who we want to be as travelers going forward. Pressing the global pause and reset buttons has given us the chance to realign the travel paradigm. For me, this means focusing on travel that not only respects and preserves a place and its people, but that restores and improves them, leaving the place better than it was when the travelers arrived and laying a foundation for long-term enrichment.
I plan to put this notion into action this fall on GeoEx’s Unexplored Japan trip, where we’ll immerse ourselves in a little-visited area of Western Honshu that is rich with traditional crafts and practices. We’ll meet masters of Hagi-yaki pottery, indigo dyeing, and traditional salt-, sake-, and vinegar-making, and learn about these venerable crafts. We’ll stay in meticulously renovated traditional residences and in funaya boathouse-homes in a fishing village. We’ll savor feasts prepared by local chefs using seasonal, regional fare.
This trip will not only be an immersive introduction to all these local treasures, it will also serve to preserve, celebrate, and promote the very treasures we are enjoying. To my mind, this is a prime example of the kind of travel we all need to cultivate in the future, travel that helps make us all—the visitor and the visited—bigger-minded and broader-hearted people, and helps make the planet a more closely connected and more deeply enriched place.
3. Let’s replace materialism with mindfulism
Applying the idea at the heart of regenerative travel to our everyday lives points us to this next principle: Let’s replace materialism with mindfulism. Let’s recognize that the real richness in life is not the things we accumulate, but the relationships we form, the lessons we learn, the kindness we spread, the compassion we radiate, the love we seed. Let’s shop in the Amazon of ideas, where no box is required! And let’s utilize the power we have to pave our own paths.
4. Let’s look at Earth as our neighborhood in the universe
This year many of us were exhilarated when NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on the surface of Mars and sent back stunning images of that planet. This new view of Mars inspired me to look at Earth in a new way, too. Mind-staggering as it is to think about the achievement of landing a manmade vehicle on another planet, it is equally staggering to think about our minuscule place in the vastness of the universe.
In the continent of our solar system, Earth is a neighborhood. Maybe if we adopt that neighborhood mentality, we can find more creative and compassionate ways to get along with one another. For me, travel is all about trying to get to know that neighborhood. It means approaching the neighbors with respect and an open mind and heart; it means trying to be mindful of the impact I have on our limited resources and interconnected environment; it means trying to be an ambassador of understanding and goodwill wherever I go.
Crazily idealistic as it may sound, if we adopted the perspective of Perseverance looking back on our little neighborhood Earth, we might be motivated to listen more and work together more and make our corner of the universe as good as it can be. After all, this is our collective home. Working together, we could make it better than ever.
Of course, that’s naïve—but maybe that’s one more gift of this unimaginable year: a new appreciation of the power of the impossible dream.
Viewed in a certain way on a blue-sky day, those first frail cherry blossoms can seem like waking dreams. Who knows? With the right cultivation, these idealistic visions may bloom sooner than we think.
Yours in abiding wanderlust,
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How are you feeling one year into the pandemic? Are some buds of optimism blooming for you too? Please share your thoughts and feelings as we enter the spring of 2021. We love hearing from you! Thank you!