By Vaila Bhaumick

I got a message from a friend this morning to say her mum had passed away after a short battle with cancer. Death always gives us such a jolt, reminding us to be grateful for life, for every breath. We shouldn’t need reminding, but sometimes we do.

I could hear the late chef and fellow travel enthusiast Anthony Bourdain’s voice ringing in my ears: “Get up off the couch, move!”. Not that I’ve been sitting around for the entire lockdown, but we all know there hasn’t been a lot of moving.

Travel Is My Lifeblood

This may be controversial for some people, but I can’t wait to travel again. I’m not scared. But before you tell me I’m being selfish and should think of all the vulnerable people out there, let me tell you about a lecture I watched the other day.

In the lecture, Dr Gabor Maté explains the connection between chronic disease and the stress of constantly suppressing our desires or what makes us ‘light up’ due to some misplaced sense of duty. Now, I’m not suggesting we all go around disregarding other people’s needs; we must care for one another. But, you can be a kind person and still say no sometimes. 

As someone who has suppressed her own needs much of her life, I can tell you from experience it causes stress, anger and frustration, which all gets stored in the body.

What has this got to do with post-COVID travel? Well, travel is my lifeblood. It makes me come alive in all the right ways. I absolutely do not intend to ignore others’ needs. I will do the mask-wearing, hand sanitising and distancing if it protects others, but I’m not afraid, and I won’t stop travelling.

Social Distancing Will Kill Us

The pandemic has been so telling of our relationship with death—it terrifies us. It’s something black, something dark, something that’s kept hush-hush in western society. COVID-19 has brought it to the surface, and hopefully, we can finally address it.

COVID-19 is undoubtedly dangerous, and just as we are scared of TB, malaria, hepatitis and a host of other diseases, we are right to take precautions. I also believe that an extended period of social distancing, the lack of human touch, hugs, kisses, healing therapies, and even beautiful, whispered conversations, will slowly kill us.

Fellow travellers reading this—think of all the times you’ve gotten to know a stranger sitting next to you on a plane or bus, of tightly packed street cafes where you’ve had the best meals of your life. Or the people in host countries who have given you the warmest of embraces without even knowing your name.

What are we left with? Suspicion, fear, and isolation. Of course, in the short term, we need to be prudent until we know more about this disease, and how to treat it. I agree with taking precautions, but I can already see the distancing rules taking their toll on people’s mental and physical health. I’m terrified it will become the dreaded ‘new normal’. 

So if like me, you love exploring, and are not in the ‘high-risk’ category or in contact with someone who is, don’t be scared. I’d rather die doing what I love, wouldn’t you?

Travel Is A Brutality

Travel has always been risky. “A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.” This quote by John A. Shedd, for me, eloquently sums up why it’s important to travel. Have I been petrified of dying on a mountain pass, with a crazy-ass driver at the helm? Yes. Have I ended up in hospital on my travels, and been left thinking ‘I’ve definitely had it this time’? On several occasions. 

Travelling is never 100% safe. Plane crashes, traffic accidents, dengue fever, dysentery, a skydiving accident—they’re all possible endings to our lives. But wouldn’t it be cool if we all could say without a shadow of a doubt that we really lived?

I’ll leave you with another quote by Cesar Pavese, which says it all for me: “Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things: air, sleep, dreams, sea, the sky—all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.”

By all means be scared of the virus, wear your mask, and tread carefully, but don’t forget that the things we’re doing to prevent the disease can kill us too. So hit the road, fearlessly, and remember to pack your soul—the only thing in this life that is truly ours.