5. 4. 3. 2. 1. That's how the trips vanished in 2020, just like a stack of dominos collapsing one by one. Each time a trip was canceled, a little piece of me collapsed as well.
Exaggeration? Maybe, but for someone like me whose passion for travel is embedded in my soul, that's how it felt.
First was the expedition cruise to the Sea of Cortez in Mexico in March 2020. Even though the daily news was beginning to be overrun with COVID coverage, I truly believed this trip would happen.
The departure date was Saturday, March 14, 2020, and we were going on a very small ship operated by UnCruise Adventures, with less than 100 passengers. Although some larger cruise ships had already been infected by COVID, nobody fully understood the seriousness of the disease or how infectious it actually was.
But on Thursday, two days before departure, the CDC strongly advised against cruising and local lockdowns were accelerating. Family and friends were urging—actually insisting—that we cancel and finally, I realized they were right. Although this cruise did sail, we were not on it, and in retrospect, that was the right decision (And, by the way, UnCruise Adventures, a small but very reputable company, did give us a full refund.)
My next trip was scheduled at the end of March 2020 to New York City, to see two Broadway shows for which I'd purchased tickets 6 months in advance. You know the rest of the story. Broadway shut down on March 12 (with an optimistic reopening date of April 14, 2020—that’s how little we all knew at the time), so no visit to the Great White Way either.
Trip #3 wasn't until May, and it was a big, highly anticipated one. I'd been invited to Slovenia by the Slovenian Tourist Board for a travel conference and to tour major tourist destinations. All of my expenses were being paid for because the Tourist Board was anticipating that I would book many wine groups to their country after seeing it for myself. Slovenia is one of those secret treasures that I introduce to my wine groups. If Broadway could reopen on April 14, surely I could travel to Slovenia in May. You know the rest. No Slovenia, for now.
There was a 3-month gap until the next trip, which was scheduled for August. This was to be a week-long Douro River Cruise in Portugal, an inspection trip to sample a new cruise provider to me, Emerald River Cruises. Conventional wisdom said that hot summer weather would drive people outside where aerosols were not likely to cause infections. COVID would be gone. If anything, summer was even worse and the term “super spreader event” became part of our vernacular. Adeus, farewell, goodbye Portugal.
Trip #5, what was supposed to be my final trip of 2020, was scheduled for November. This was a Danube River Cruise I'd organized, hosted by Austin Hope, the very prominent, award-winning Paso Robles winemaker. Together, we'd booked over 30 travelers. When AmaWaterways, our cruise partner, reluctantly canceled all of their 2020 trips including this one, it was a very painful process to notify everyone that the cruise had been shelved.
I know, I know. Most people don't get to take even one of these trips in a year, let alone five. This is not meant to be a pity party and I’m not looking for you to feel sorry for me. We all feel sorry for the lost plans and opportunities that were wiped away by COVID.
So what we do is move on, and I am moving on with new travel in 2021.
I started slow with short driving trips. Got accustomed to wearing masks everywhere, and because I take pride in my fashion style, I bought many to coordinate with my clothes. Constant hands sanitizing. Staying 6 feet apart. No housekeeping at hotels. Limited places to eat and get food on the road. This became my new normal.
Happily, it was fine. Generally, people were courteous and patient, all commiserating in our shared experience. We were all in this together, mostly. Except for the people who refused to wear masks. As long as I stayed away from them, I felt safe and comfortable traveling.
Although some people returned to flying, I wasn’t ready. Despite what airlines said about their air being continually purified and all the new sanitation protocols put into place, I still could not accept that spending hours in close proximity to lots of people in a sealed airplane cabin during a highly courageous pandemic was safe.
Then came the MIRACLE. The VACCINE!
I felt such envy of the first people who were televised getting shots in the arm. I could hardly wait for my turn and even volunteered to be a subject (but I was never called).
When I finally got vaccinated in February 2021, I was enveloped by such a huge relief! As more people got their vaccines, we would develop the much-needed “herd immunity” and our B.C. (before COVID), lives would return. Including all travel.
I read that various countries were slowly and cautiously opening up to foreign visitors. First with quarantines and later lifting that requirement. Oh, how I longed to go. But I still could not quite will myself to travel on a plane.
From what I heard and read, most flights were fairly empty at first and there was room for social distancing because there were many vacant seats. Then as more people took to the skies, many airlines vowed not to sell middle seats, giving travelers a sense of social distancing. But empty seats meant financial loss, so the airlines started almost giving away flights with ridiculously low fares. Apparently saving money outweighed care about safety, and soon, with demand increasing, airlines rescinded all restrictions. No more empty seats.
To their credit, the Feds did mandate wearing of masks onboard. But even with vaccinations becoming so readily available that there was no excuse not to get one, no airline required proof of vaccination to board! Since flying didn’t ensure I wouldn’t be cozying up to a non-vaccinated COVID carrier, I held off.
The turning point for me was an opportunity to go to Hawaii almost for free. I decided it was my time to get back on the horse. Besides, since my company is called Wine Lovers TRAVEL, how could I sell travel experiences if I wouldn't travel myself?
In mid-June, Southwest Airlines announced new non-stop service from LAX to the major Hawaiian islands, including Kauai, my favorite.
Even though I had a relatively small number of points, they were enough for two roundtrip tickets for my husband and me. Total cost? $11 per person!
I thought there must be some error, but I logged into my account, selected the dates and flight times, hit "purchase tickets” and voila! I was going to Hawaii!. My first flight in nearly 2 years.
Time to return to travel and fill up that void that’s been crushing my soul since the onset of COVID.