What to Expect from Travel After Coronavirus
I can’t wait to get back on the road, but travel will have changed for good.
I miss sleepy mornings after long overnight bus rides, arriving in a new city and drinking sweet coffee as I wander around unfamiliar streets. I miss arriving in hostels and meeting ten different people from 15 different countries. I miss driving a scooter around shady jungle roads, the feeling of sand in suncream as you rub it on your already burned body at the beach, drinking tea with locals as they tell you about their lives so far from yours and yet so similar.
I miss traveling, and I’m not alone. Coronavirus destroyed many people's plans for vacations, backpacking trips and even big moves abroad. I’m lucky in that I still managed to spend most of my time overseas, with around a year in Thailand and then six months in Bulgaria, and conversely travel bans prevented me from going home more than they prevented me from traveling. Still, I was moving around a lot less than I usually do, as a full-time digital nomad, and I’m looking forward to having the freedom to roam again.
There is a glimmer of hope that by summer we will be able to travel relatively normally, and after a long time of not daring, I’ve started reading guidebooks and travel blogs again, looking forward to exploring Bulgaria and the Balkans. At the same time, I know I need to prepare myself mentally because travel will look very different after the pandemic, in ways both good and bad.
Bad: Small Businesses Have Disappeared, and May Not Come Back
Many town centers feel like ghost towns at the moment, especially in tourist hubs. Bars and restaurants are shuttered, shop stock lies gathering dust, the souvenirs in the windows fading in the sun. Small family companies throughout the world have struggled with the pandemic, leading many beloved businesses to go under. This will make traveling very different, as these small hotels, hostels, restaurants, shops, and activity companies give far more character than the multinational chains that have more easily been able to weather the economic fallout of the pandemic.
Bad: More Inequality
As we prepare for better times, looking over at countries like India who are still in the heights of the crisis reveals just how unequal the world will be in the next few years. There will be countries where close to everyone is vaccinated and life returns to normal, like Israel, others where vaccination slower becomes more widespread and infection levels come to a controllable level, like the UK and much of Europe, and then there will be countries where people continue to die at alarming rates. Because of the unfair distribution of vaccines, this will echo, and deepen preexisting inequalities. There will be even less travelers from poorer countries, and these parts of the world will be less accessible.
Good: Slow Travel and overlanding
While some might rush to immediately book flight tickets to the other end of the world, for many, this pandemic has taught us to appreciate things closer to home, to travel slowly and off the beaten track. Last summer, many of my friends who would usually be heading off to foreign countries instead found adventures in their backyard, seeing more of their home country than they ever had. Most of the travelers I have met over the past year have enjoyed traveling at a slower place and discovering the smaller, in-between places that don’t make it into guide books. Many people who have dreamed of vanlife for years have taken the leap and are starting their conversions, meaning less flying and more overlanding, which is better all around. It is better for the local economy as it spreads money around more fairly. It is better for the planet because airplanes have the highest carbon emissions of any form of transport. And it leads to more enriching journeys.
Good: Digital Nomadism is On the Rise
There are good and bad sides to working from home, but when it allows you to travel full time, it undeniably provides a level of freedom that office life does not. Over the past year, remote work has made huge strides forward, and the amount of people who will become digital nomads will increase as a result. This will lead to more people living hybrid lives, working and travelling full time. I am excited about this because it is such a fascinating community. Many countries are also taking initiatives to attract digital nomads to remote areas, which will bring a new lease of life to forgotten, often beautiful places.
I am still crossing my fingers that life will return to normal soon enough, and that traveling will be possible once more. In the meantime, my thoughts are with all those in India and elsewhere who are still scared and in mourning in the heights of the pandemic.