There was a time - between back-to-back trips to and from Asia - where I would have relished a prolonged stint at home. That was, however, during pre-Covid times, when I had the almost incredulous luxury of complaining about how little Netflix-and-chill I could fit into my colour-coded social calendar.
As a travel writer, being grounded for the better part of 2020 has been difficult to say the least. Travel has become an (almost) essential part of my life, and to have the proverbial travel-tap switched off is a challenge to both my finances and my mental health. Why then, when finally given an opportunity to take to the skies again, did I feel a sense of guilt?
Let's face it. This year has been a strange one. It is almost as if Mercury has been in retrograde for the last 11 months, and now things like visiting your grandparents or gathering with friends has become the focus of widely divisive cultural debate. Travel, too, has become one of these sticking points, which certainly begs the question: has COVID-19 given rise to travel shaming?
For a brief moment in the summer, it felt like things were going back to normal. For some, travel served as a much-needed reprieve from the monotony of lockdown. I was quite chuffed to see all the influencers jetting off to Positano and Santorini, posting snazzy travel #OOTDs to the tune of Watermelon Sugar or whatever pop-beat was popular on TikTok at the time. "Finally, some space to breathe and room to roam," I thought as I began casually looking for flights to one of the then-60 countries in the UK's travel corridor.
Yet I kept stumbling across comments such as "how can you travel in times of crisis?" or "how can you sit by a pool taking selfies when the world is falling apart?"
A similar line of questioning littered my inbox when I told people I was travelling abroad in early October. It was my first trip in a long time and I was pretty excited. I created my own travel #OOTD mood board, whipped out the trusty carry-on suitcase, and dusted off my mini skincare essentials. This excitement, however, slowly gave way to guilt as people started messaging me about Covid case numbers in Italy, viral load in airports and eventually making remarks: "Is now really the best time to travel?" "Can't you just sit tight and wait it out until Covid is gone?"
How can you sit by a pool taking selfies when the world is falling apart?
Most of it was genuine, well-meaning concern, but some remarks were tinged with hints of bitterness and lockdown-related moral superiority. Their comments planted seeds of doubt in my sub-conscious - so much so, that I considered postponing my trip and even hesitated to post about it on social media.
When it was finally time to fly, those worries quickly dissipated. The travel industry - one of the hardest hit by the crisis - has worked hard to make the travel experience safe and secure. From the airport to the aeroplane and all throughout my trip, I felt completely safe. I came home from my brief getaway feeling refreshed and energised; the mental load of the Covid blues was feeling a little lighter than when I left. It felt good to travel again.
Can't you just sit tight and wait it out until Covid is gone?
While there is definite guilt in the air about travelling in the middle of the pandemic, the reality is that while we may be able to "wait it out", these beautiful, creative and truly special businesses may not be afforded the same time.
So, as we're trudging through another wave of lockdowns, I say: look ahead and book that trip. Next time there is an opportunity to explore far-off destinations or rediscover familiar locales, take it. Travel responsibly, wear a mask and take those pool selfies with confidence (I did).
There's absolutely no shame in supporting the businesses and destinations that have fuelled our sense of wonder about the world for so long. Your reservation may help a business survive the crisis just a little bit longer. And at the very least, it can give you something to look forward to at the end of the pandemic tunnel. God knows, we all need a bit of escapism these days.