Postcard from Lockdown: Next Destination...Nostalgia
Freelancers like me had a head-start for the coronavirus lockdown. Our working-from-home game is strong, and we’re already comfortable video conferencing clients or communicating solely via email or Slack.
We’re a hardy breed. We can survive long periods without human interaction provided we have ample supplies of coffee and snacks.
But that doesn’t mean freelance workers are finding the new world easy. Remote working is normal for me, but finding a great co-working space in San Francisco hugely improved my professional life. Bumping into other folks in the kitchen, sensing new ideas sprout from chance conversations...it’s inspiring to be around others.
As a writer, my best work doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Even on days when I worked alone at home, I book-ended my days with a trip to a cafe, lunch with a friend, or a cheeky 6pm glass of wine in my local bar. Of course, those days are over for now.
But the hard part for a travel nerd like me is being forced to stay still.
What I’m finding interesting is that I’m not as hungry for new and distant lands. Don’t get me wrong, I still have a travel wish-list as long as my arm. One day I would love to watch polar bears in northern Canada, backpack around Vietnam, and finally go hiking in Peru. Yet somehow, these fantasies aren’t occupying my thoughts during the lockdown. The desire to cover new ground seems almost frivolous in the circumstances.
Instead, I’ve been dreaming of my past travels and longing to revisit familiar places. Usually my mind wanders to a city for which I have a long-lasting affection, or a region that I’ve hiked, eaten or skied my way across. Places that I know well. Places that feel like some kind of home but are presently out of reach.
The pandemic is making many of us introspective. In our temporary cocoons we are forced to consider what we truly cherish about life.
Frightening times like these also usher us towards comfort and familiarity. To anyone who loves travel, certain places feel like friends. Just as we languish in our own quarantines, longing to throw our arms around loved ones, many of us are also missing places.
Whether it’s a beauty spot you like to drive to, a familiar hotel or restaurant that you reserve for the most special of occasions, or a beachy destination you return to each summer, places are a part of us. When we’re suddenly divorced from the rest of the world, we lose these emotional anchors.
For me, my mind drifts to my long love affair with Bulgaria. I’ve been borderline obsessed with Bulgaria ever since I backpacked there several years ago, before I ever started as a travel journalist. I’ve revisited Bulgaria for business and pleasure, writing features about the fearsome mountains and researching guidebooks about historic cities.
I pore over the Instagrams of my friends and colleagues in Bulgaria, whose businesses are on hiatus during the pandemic. I imagine slurping a cool tarator soup in the shade, or strolling between tree-lined boulevards and stark Soviet-era buildings.
Lithuania is another country where my restless brain roams. A mix of writing assignments, summer holidays and exploring my family’s ancestry have taken me to Lithuania, and I crave the stillness of its forests and shores. I wrote about it lately, for a round-up of travel journalists pining for their next trip.
We will emerge from the pandemic more introspective, more cautious, and hopefully a little more wise. When local travel begins again, and international travel later on, I suspect many of us will take our first journeys to our familiar loves. Between people and places, the reunions will be joyful.
Day-dreaming of previous travels, it’s a good moment to revisit a couple of features I wrote about Bulgaria and Lithuania for The Independent:
Plovdiv: where to eat, drink and shop in Bulgaria’s capital of culture