Even in a Changed World, Travel Will Be Worth the Risk
The idea of getting on a plane terrifies me. But I know I’ll do it again anyway.
While I’ve been having a terrible, terrible case of wanderlust since the spring, I’m terrified at the thought of getting on a flight again. Think about it. Think of the compact space we’re in. Think of the stuffy air and the collision course of energies from other passengers, whether it’s peace, anxiety, anger, or impatience. Think of our proximity to one another.
In low moments during the pandemic, I have asked myself: Will we ever be able to travel freely again? There would have been no way that I could’ve pulled off writing my second book, Wandering in Strange Lands, if I could not travel. To tell the story of my family’s route through the Great Migration, I had to be able to take in the mugginess of the low-country heat, the smell of the rivers in Louisiana, and the miles and miles of acreage in Oklahoma. I had to be in the soil in order to understand the expansiveness of my family history and American history at large.
Travel is a crucial part of my life. Last October, I was teaching literature and creative writing at Leipzig University in Germany and spent every weekend visiting places like Brussels, Zurich, Amsterdam, Cairo, Rome, and Copenhagen. On average, I was on four planes a week, touching the arms of chairs, the entertainment screens, the food trays, the bathroom knobs. Everything. I never had gloves or hand sanitizer with me. I never had a mask. Though the coronavirus was not around late last year, the fact that I didn’t even get so much as a cold from any of these flights stuns me to this day.
I live in New York City, where I’ve been working from home and scrubbing down my groceries since March and where nonessential businesses have only recently started to reopen after months of being shuttered. When I’m stressed, I like to travel. I love to go to a foreign place where no one knows me and I’m unburdened from anyone else’s expectations of what I should and should not do. I work hard to be able to add another stamp to my passport. Vacationing is my form of self-love. I like to flee to locales like the Bahamas or Barcelona, where I can sip a…