I have been struck several times through 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic with thoughts of how grateful I am that I pushed myself to travel so much this past decade. Never in my life did I envision a day where I wouldn’t be allowed to leave the borders of the United States, when it was literally forbidden to enter some of the countries I hold dear or to explore the world beyond my own country. Never did I think that travel would, literally, be off the table.
Before 2020, I had visited 30+ countries, countless cities, seen world landmarks and explored both on the beaten path and off of it. Exploring for me was a lifeline, a passion that I hoped would continue my entire life. Now, do I think travel will eventually return to our lives? Yes, absolutely. But will it be the same? No, I don’t think it will. I will forever be thankful for my travel experiences pre-2020, exploring the world without a mask and breathing in the air at Machu Picchu or standing without a worry in the world under the Eiffel Tower.
I have found myself thinking a lot about this notion that so many push off travel until later. I hear people all the time say, “I’ll travel when I retire.” “I’ll travel someday.” And the thing is, as we’re witnessing first hand right now, it may not be there. The places you want to see may not be the same. The places you want to explore might not be open to you, depending on where you’re from or how healthy or not healthy you are. The places that we hear stories about may be illegal to visit depending on what state our political relationships are with other countries around the world.
Today on 9/11 particularly, it’s vital that we acknowledge how much the world has changed in just the last couple decades. When 9/11 happened almost 20 years ago, I remember it vividly. But what I also remember was the sudden onset of the hate towards Muslims. I remember the bigotry and the violence that was aimed at a general population of people that was just as distraught as everyone else at what had happened. I remember my friends and later, my students, going through enormous amounts of hate from that one single day that they had absolutely nothing to do with. I remember how for a while, traveling abroad, with Saudi Arabia stamped as my place of birth in my passport, began to hinder my movement and brought about lots of questions. I remember being pulled aside in the Amsterdam airport to be triple searched and I remember being stopped at the Canadian border and questioned way longer than the other cars as the officer threw question after question at me and Nick, trying to make us prove something. All of that and more over the years, happened to me, a white woman that doesn’t look Arab at all, so imagine for a moment, what that one morning on 9/11 did to a generation of people who look Arab when they were traveling around the world. That one morning on 9/11 changed our world in so many ways and travel and free movement was one of the many casualties of that day for many people.
Just like 9/11, 2020 will be another moment in time that changes everything. People will be looked down upon when traveling going forward, whether that means that Americans will once again be looked down upon abroad because of our handling of the pandemic. Or whether it means that people from Asia are more harshly criticized because the virus originated in China, even though the Chinese people had nothing to do with it and suffered just as much as the rest of the world. 2020 will be a moment in our history that will change everything again and I’m sure travel will be entirely different going forward.
I hope that we get to go back to traveling like we used to, but I just don’t think it will be the same. And while we can reminisce about the “good old days” when we could cross almost any border and explore a new horizon without a mask covering our faces, we must also acknowledge the changes and do our best to come back as better travelers. If you were one of the people who kept pushing travel off into the distant future, I urge you to reconsider. Travel now, travel when you can, travel frequently. See this big beautiful world before we can’t anymore. Take this reminder of 2020 that nothing is guaranteed and we don’t know what else is ahead.
When the borders open up and we are able to travel safely, I’ll be back on those planes heading somewhere far away, looking to the horizon and watching the sun rise on the other side of the world. I’ll be back exploring when it’s safe enough to do so because in the end, I don’t want to look back on a world that I never got to see, I don’t want to look back on a life where I kept pushing things off until they weren’t possible anymore. My advice to you as someone who will be forever grateful that I had so many travel experiences around the world pre-2020, don’t forget that we’re fragile, that sometimes waiting means never doing something at all. Sometimes pushing things off, waiting around until it’s the right time, means that you by-pass amazing experiences and intriguing people that could have altered the path of your life. So once it’s safe to travel again, book that ticket, go and see the places you’ve always wanted to because we might never get that opportunity again.