Traveling in 2021 or ‘The Where’s Waldo Comeback Tour’

18 months ago, our world got turned upside down. Since then, the word “travel” has taken on a nostalgic tone for many of us. It’s something we used to do – like go to bed after 10:00 PM, we remember it fondly.  It was before talk of social distancing, face masks, hand sanitizer, and vaccines became part of everyday discussion. We traveled for 1000 different reasons – business, weddings, family reunions, time on the beach, discovering a new destination, but what we perhaps didn’t understand was how it connected us, not only to others but ourselves. We began to appreciate what we no longer had.

At the beginning of the summer, I was given the opportunity to visit three countries over three months (September will be the fourth!) I was vaccinated, and, I’m sure like many of you, I had enough of isolation, and watching the news, and feeling trapped. So armed with a new passport and curious disposition, off I went on what I dubbed the “Where’s Waldo Comeback Tour” (for the record, I have far better sweaters than Waldo!) to see for myself how things were, not willing to accept the current narrative that travel was unsafe and never to return in our lifetime.

Here’s the report from the frontline. Vaccinated people who are willing to follow the same mask-wearing and sanitizer protocols you likely do at home are free to travel.

My first stop was the UAE visiting Dubai, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, and Abu Dhabi. While I had been to the UAE before, this would be my first trip in two years. I was excited and even bought some new sweaters (working on the Waldo theme here). It was a whirlwind itinerary in one of the most extraordinary destinations on the planet; it felt like home. I was traveling again. Although new practices and procedures were in place, these things all felt familiar and highly manageable, just like back home. However, day after day, I was immersed in new, unexplored environments. I was experiencing the rhythms of life again in different parts of the world, as I had done in a seemingly previous life. Except it was happening “now.” I was experiencing it now. It raised my spirits as high as the Burj Khalifa and filled my heart with enough gratitude to fill the Empty Quarter (the desert that borders the UAE, Oman, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia – save that! It will come up on Jeopardy).

The second country on my “Where’s Waldo Comeback Tour” tour was Turkey, an old friend I had spent a great deal of time with. Again, face masks and sanitizer were required, yet I assure you, my mask did not prevent me from beaming as I looked out across the Golden Horn from a window of the Pera Palace at sunset. It was beautiful in every possible way. I felt transported back to an earlier era of my life when I spent a lot of time with this ‘friend.’ And yet, here I was again, appreciating the experience because it had all but been taken away.  It was a reminder to be thankful for the moment, especially ones like that, and not to wait to have these moments – to not wait for tomorrow or next year, or an indeterminate time in the future, but to do things now.

And if I needed the perfect place to reflect on these wonderful reminders about life and personal celebrations, Seychelles – truly paradise on earth, my third country (and no sweaters required, btw), was the place. Peace and tranquility do not begin to describe the sanctuary that is Seychelles. Forget about social distancing issues. Aside from the fact that crowds were minimal in every destination I visited, the resort paradise of Anantara Maia, where I stayed, was spacious and deliciously secluded. A peaceful spot and an ideal locale for a ‘soulbatical’ if ever there was one. There is almost a magical quality to Seychelles – stress, and anxiety cannot exist here; it cannot survive in an environment such as this. The vibe is an addiction you can learn to live with. I cannot wait to get back!

So, as I embark on my next adventure in just a couple of weeks, this time to the wilds of Zimbabwe, I’m eager to experience all the wonders of a safari again and the meditative quality of quietly watching the wildlife and staring at a starfield in the night sky like nothing you have seen before. Yes, I will wear a mask – but I do at home. I don’t wear it over my eyes or ears, so my experience will not be diminished. Because we are living in the now – and the funny thing about ‘now’ is that it is what it says it is, NOW.  Embrace it and remember, it can’t last forever. So, make the most of it.  The world is still out there, and you can enjoy it- now.  Just have some good sweaters!

By Justin