If you’re like my husband John and me, after a year-plus of social distancing, masking, and hunkering down at home, you’re dreaming of a return to your globetrotting ways. Except—there’s a hesitancy. What will we find when we go to our favorite places or the locations we’ve planned for?
It’s tough to drop that psychological mask, as many of our fellow travelers-on-international-pause have informed us. Fears abound and keep us from enjoying a sense of travel anticipation. What will be open and what can we enjoy? Are our vaccinations enough to protect us in lands that haven’t been as lucky to get their jabs?
These concerns are real, and for many of us, they hold us back from pressing the “Book Now” button offered on our cheerful travel-toting websites. Like you, we’ve planned to book a trip, only to learn about the latest issues in our destination and say to ourselves, “Um, not quite yet.”
How do we work past the doubts, find excitement in our anticipation, and restart our traveling adventures?
1. Become Informed
Information is empowering, so arm yourself with a list of reliable sources to learn more about what’s happening in your dream destination.
A good place to start is the list of International Living boots-on-the-ground correspondents. Consult your magazine archives for more from these knowledgeable folks and their email addresses.
Important security information also comes from the U.S. State Department website, and the destination country’s government health or state department covers current health, insurance, and travel requirements. Many countries popular with expats offer ezines and newsletters. Ask friends and colleagues too—you’d be surprised how many people in your broader circle have contacts overseas.
2. Take a Test Drive
While we all want to return to normal as soon as possible, none of us yet know what that is going to look like long-term. Rules that aren’t part of the usual routine are still in effect in many countries, like curfews, driving restrictions, and limits on tourism. Some require mandatory testing, quarantines, and special travel insurance coverage, and that can feel overwhelming to those of us remembering with great fondness those simpler times when all we needed was a valid passport.
Come to terms with the knowledge that things won’t be the same and some of it will feel uncomfortable at first. If this scares you, find something small you can do to get past those heebie-jeebies without spending your full vacation budget. Dust off the suitcase and spend a long weekend in another state or at a local treasure you’ve been meaning to explore.
3. Prepare to be Flexible
No matter how great your guidebook was before the world shut down, it won’t yet be up to date. Many public sites now require pre-booked tickets, and others may suddenly be closed for public health reasons. Transportation is prone to rapid, last-minute changes, so check your itinerary and triple-check those flights, domestically and internationally.
To minimize the uncertainty, seasoned travelers recommend sticking to one country. You then only need to comply with a single set of rules, and even then, prepare for things to not go according to your plan.
Pack your patience—lots of it—and keep reminding yourself how happy you are to be out in the world again.
4. Pack Sensible Expectations
There are no guarantees that anything you’re familiar with in your destination will look the same. Airplane travel now comes with more challenges and forget hoping for early hotel check-ins or walk-up rental car availability. Tours may not be running, things could look a bit more rundown, and favorite spots might be no more. Don’t weigh your personal baggage down with a ton of expectations, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you find those joyful experiences.
One thing you can count on is that local businesses will be happy to help you spend your travel moola. Those folks have taken a beating over this tourism hiatus, and they’re ready to roll out those welcome mats. Buy local and be suitably grateful when you have a good time.
5. Celebrate the Joys
Amid some of the most disappointing trips we’ve had, we always find unique adventures. It often has to do with the kindness of locals and helpfulness of people who get nothing out of assisting us other than our profound thanks. Focus on these gems instead of any downsides. Remember that often it’s the crazy experiences that make the best stories to share when you return.
Most of all, be grateful we can travel once more. For me, missing those wanderings reinforced the importance of the little things—to never take my rich-in-experiences life as a guarantee, to always offer kindness to friends and strangers, and to be thankful for my community and communities around the world. I look forward to celebrating those as we restart our world-exploring adventures.
As for John and I, we’re winging off to Costa Rica soon to explore what we hope will be our future expat home. What travels will you be planning…?