Traveling is a Muscle, and I’m out of Shape

My husband and I recently returned from celebrating our wedding anniversary in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

We chose Cabo because it’s where we honeymooned and visited several times after. It’s relatively easy to get to and navigate around, the people are welcoming, and, though the ocean is largely unswimmable in these areas, I prefer to just watch it from the comfort of my beach chair anyway.

Like most of us, it’s been a long time since we’ve taken a vacation due to COVID. Initially, as we hit up our usual travel sites to book the trip, I couldn’t wait for my first Corona on the beaches of Mexico.

But, as the trip drew closer, I began to feel anxious about it.

I have flight anxiety in general (I hate turbulence, and it doesn’t matter that my mind knows it’s perfectly safe). But now, people are behaving badly on airplanes. Not everyone is vaccinated. You have to wear your mask at all times—in the airport and on the planes—and while I support this, it also starts to feel claustrophobic. And, of course, the crowds and lines are back.

Though we’ve never had a single issue traveling to Mexico, and despite never hearing of anyone I know having trouble, it has been over a decade since we’d last been there, so I began worrying about how much had changed and if it was still safe. One late night of searching online later, I was in a full-blown panic about the myriad possibilities that can happen to tourists. You can find anything, any story, at 2:30 am, if you’re looking for it.

And then, of course, there’s the added stress of traveling in the age of COVID, including the extra steps needed upon reentry (it really wasn’t that bad—the hotel offered on-site testing).

The cons began to outweigh the pros to the point that I nearly canceled our whole trip.

I have to tell you how out of character this is for me. I generally love to travel and visit new places. I love to mingle with locals and try speaking the language (horribly). I enjoy being outside of my routines and responsibilities—and one thing I’d promised my husband was that on this trip, I would take a complete break from writing (which I did!)

When I’m in another country, or even another state, I’m the first one up each day, ready to get going and explore. I don’t mind crowds, or long lines, or any of the normal headaches that go along with visiting tourist attractions. I have tons of energy, and I feel such a sense of aliveness. I’m never ready to go home.

Not this time. This time I felt more protective, wary, and alert.

There’s something different in the air now, post-COVID. We’re all perhaps a bit traumatized from our year in quarantine/lock-down, and that’s showing up in a variety of ways. You can feel the distrust, suspicion, and division among people.

Picking up on all of this, I felt an uncomfortable mistrust toward everyone I would normally trust with ease—my fellow passengers, the pilot, the taxi drivers, other tourists. I was on high alert much of the time—watching the time, studying others, following roads signs.

While we were there, we heard the news about the record-setting heat waves in the Pacific Northwest. For anyone who thinks we can air-condition our way out of this climate crisis, we need to understand that air-conditioning is actually contributing to making the planet warmer. Technology may not be able to outpace the karma Mother Nature intends to bestow upon us.

With all of this on my mind, it took quite a few days for me to truly settle into my body and enjoy myself. By then, it was nearly time to go home, at which point the anxiety escalated again.

Travelling is like a muscle, and I’m definitely out of shape.

I miss the “me” who used to get on an airplane, open a book and get so absorbed that I didn’t even care or notice when the plane took off.

I miss the “me” who sat in the backseat of a cab and stared out at the scenery for its beauty rather than wondering what would happen if they left me right there.

But more than that, I miss a world in which globe-trotting was seen mostly for its positive impacts and for raising our CQ (cultural intelligence).

Times have changed, and COVID has given us a chance to reflect on our lifestyles. It was a year of opportunity in which we could’ve and should’ve emerged wiser.

As America opens back up, I find myself reticent and reflective about many things—one of which is whether humans should even be traveling for pleasure anymore, or it’s time to wind them down.

There are substantial negative consequences to humans globe-trotting, including but not limited to:

  • depletion of natural resources
  • pollution and waste problems
  • natural habitat loss
  • stress on the land leading to soil erosion
  • overuse of water
  • destruction of nature and habitat loss
  • increased crime rates
  • exploitation of animals
  • congestion of humans/traffic
  • increased price on goods and services
  • destruction of landmarks and historical monuments
  • the possibility of (often inadvertently) carrying invasive species to areas
  • 4–9% of the total climate change activity, which is on pace to double or triple in the next decades

And, of course, as we now know intimately, the easy global spread of infectious diseases.

Wouldn’t it be better if, instead of ramping up our travel to pre-pandemic levels, fewer of us traveled globally? Wouldn’t it be better if others didn’t have to put themselves at risk to scratch our traveling itch? Wouldn’t it be smart to limit our carbon footprint in whatever way we can?

We need to rethink our travel plans, from how often to how far to how we get there. For if we are not more mindful and aware of our impact, we will have learned nothing from the pandemic, and the trajectory of climate change will spike—if that’s not already in motion.

Part of me wishes I could reverse all this thinking and worrying, and travel the way I used to—without a worry or care except for the pleasure of traveling.

But another, wiser part of me thinks that perhaps my symptoms are a signal that it’s time for me—and maybe all of us—to rethink how much leisure travel will be a part of my lifestyle as climate change continues its march of destruction.

This same part of me suggests that my travel anxiety is not something to fix, but rather something to heed.

Leave a Comment