Travel planning used to bring me such joy. Even the more stressful aspects were tinged with excitement and possibility. Nowadays, not so much.
In the past I could spend months blissfully engaged in the two main pre-travel activities: the painstaking and practical planning/researching/comparing/chart-making/note-taking/deciding/booking piece, and the more fanciful dreaming/fantasizing/envisioning/imagining piece. These two components always occur in concert with one another—the yin and yang of travel planning—the former taking place in front of computers and surrounded by books, the latter occurring whenever there’s time for the mind to free-roam, perhaps while driving, doing dishes, or drifting off to sleep.
Long or short, domestic or international, relaxing or adventurous, I could rest assured that, barring some unlikely event outside my control—an untimely death in the family, for instance—the trip would actually happen.
This is no longer the case.
Back in mid-December, after several weeks of travel browsing, the look-but-don’t-book, pent up tension had escalated to a crescendo so overpowering that I finally succumbed, buying the husband and myself two airline tickets to Palm Springs in southern California for our mutual spring break week (only our third shared break in 17 years) three months hence. The stress release was immediate and palpable. My spirits soared—I had travel to look forward to! The virus was peaking but would be beaten back by departure day. A vaccine was just around the corner and a new, better year was about to dawn.
Then we got wind of the UK variant.
Inevitably, I felt a dip in my elation, but I controlled the freefall with a mix of reason and delusion: I had booked fee-free changeable tickets on an airline that rated high in COVID preparedness. The middle seat would be blocked for safety. This variant wouldn’t end up being that bad. Our first accommodation was a free-standing cabin. We’d be recreating outdoors. We’d be masking, keeping to ourselves, refusing maid service, hand-washing, and practically bathing in that god-awful hand sanitizer. Perhaps we’d already had the disease and been asymptomatic, our blood now teeming with protective antibodies. Maybe we’d be vaccinated by then . . .
This string of self-talk buoyed me for a while, but experts started hand-wringing in earnest over the variant, and not long after, new, even more worrying mutations emerged. Also, California was on fire with COVID. Doubts began to creep in: What if we got exposed at work and had to quarantine right before the trip? Would the gloves, masks, and face shields be enough of a barrier at the airport? Could I hold my breath for the four hours of the flight? Would the Golden State impose a mandatory quarantine or prohibit out-of-state travelers as other states had done? Should I wear a hazmat suit on the plane? After a while, I couldn’t keep the dementors at bay. My search for the second accommodation of our trip—a fancy one that I was most excited about and that I’d narrowed down to two equally compelling choices—was abandoned as I felt myself sliding inexorably into despair.
My inner travel lover wouldn’t be easily subdued, though, so instead of throwing in the towel, I’d come up with a Plan B. No, several Plan Bs: places we could get to in a (long) day of driving; someplace warm—either deserty or by the ocean. Here’s what I’ve learned:
- To get anywhere that fits my definition of “good” and ticks all the necessary COVID prevention boxes will take a minimum of 17 hours of driving.
- If you’re looking for warmth—lounge-by-the-pool-all-day warmth—there are very few places in the US that reliably supply it in springtime. You either have to go to southern Florida (25 hours of driving and awash in spring break partiers) or hold out ’til summer.
- Obnoxious, drunken spring break coeds flock to Florida’s panhandle (18 hours of driving), too, not just to the southern reaches of the peninsula like I’d thought.
So where does this leave us? With one single, tenuous Plan B: Texas. Our celebratory trip to San Antonio 18 months ago brought Texas Hill Country to our awareness. Full of cycling possibilities, pretty scenery, and hopefully some degree of sunshine and warmth, it may be reachable in a day if we start early, share the driving, and drink lots of coffee. It would mean driving through “Tornado Alley” during tornado season, so weather-watching vigilance will be required.
Don’t get me wrong, flying to California is still in the cards. A lot can change with the virus and the strain on hospitals in two months. The husband and I will be watching all the metrics, listening to the news, taking the bi-monthly COVID tests offered at our schools, and regularly conferring over our comfort and guilt levels associated with these travel plans. Anything could derail either version of this trip—exposure, symptoms, positive test results, travel restrictions, virus spikes—so chances are the whole endeavor will be in flux until the last minute. Whatever happens: flying to Palm Springs, driving to Texas, driving somewhere else, or staying home (nooooooo!), one thing is certain: this last-minute, uncertainty-laden, rollercoaster-of-emotions travel planning has—for the time being at least—rendered my favorite pastime into a real downer.