There's a conspiracy theory currently floating around on TikTok that denies the existence of American author and activist Helen Keller, suggesting that a deaf and blind person couldn't possibly write books. I remember doing a project about her in primary school in which I copied down her much-echoed sentiment "alone we can do so little; together we can do so much" into my exercise book. I assume this was a somewhat lofty way of telling us to play nicely rather than collaborate on homework.
Today, it's the kind of mawkish phrase you see scribed on a gift-shop fridge magnet or plastered over a wanderlust-y image on your Instagram feed. But the importance of togetherness has been newly thrust into the limelight over the past 12 months. After a year of being kept apart physically, we've been made acutely aware of our intrinsic human need to socialise and feel part of something bigger. From our now well-worn sofas, we were left wondering how we could have ever bailed on anything (until Zoom quizzes came along, at least).
For a generation of digital natives berated for navel gazing and individualism, the pandemic has not only shown that community spirit is very much alive but that it remains the steely twine on which our happiness is hung. Be it your spin class, pottery workshop or queer book club, our affiliation to various groups - the pinning of flags to an infinite number of masts - is the way in which we both define ourselves and order the world around us.
Yet sitting alone at my kitchen table amid another lockdown, like so many, I found myself siloed once more. As restrictions and Brexit politics made travel near impossible again, well-meaning friends asked how I would fill the pages of this magazine. The "collective" theme of the issue goaded me with every "ping" of an email bearing news of flight cancellations, hotel closures and folding hospitality businesses. I telepathically sent half-encouraging, half-threatening messages to the powers that be to get a move on with a vaccine.
It turns out that a pandemic does many, many ghastly things, but it does not steal stories. It cannot. They arrived in my inbox in droves. Empowered seaweed mamas in Zanzibar; custodians of Iraq's Baghdad-Basra night train; shamans on the shore of Guatemala's Lake Atitlán; letter writers in Verona sending comfort to the love-struck. Ping! Ping! Ping! That taunting sound became one of renewed hope. I envisioned a global electricity grid, fizzing and crackling as its tributaries sparked, jumping from continent to continent, snaking into dark corners, lighting them up. I had never felt more connected to our community.
The result? A collection of tales of togetherness as divergent as our fingerprints. In the following pages you'll meet ancestral groups, delve into underground collectives and hear from the creative minds of tomorrow. As we near the end of the tunnel, see this issue as a glimmer of what's to come - both in terms of travel, and being together. Not long now.