It’s hours before my trip to Madrid–a trip that will never happen. A trip that, with enormous reluctance, I just cancelled. And just when I needed it the most, just when I wanted to get away and avoid reality, reality punched me in the gut with a world crisis and took away the one thing that actually calms me down. Travel.
Nearly all global travel is either restricted or warned against. And while travel routes to other countries minimally affected by COVID 19 are still open, the entire world will shame the hell out of you if you refuse to self-isolate. #youngandunafraid #goodforyou #stopkillingpeople
I get it. And I will play by the rules. Even if it means rocking back and forth to soothe my off-the-charts hysteria.
But, it’s taken this global epidemic to make me realize just how much of a travel addict I am. I mean, like, full on travel junkie, with a huge dose of attachment disorder. Like, the thought of sitting in a Paris cafe, sipping a cafe au lait, turns me on like mad. The mere mention of booking a rail trip across Spain makes me quiver with exaltation. And forget a room with a view somewhere along the North African coast. A hit from a view like that gets me as high as a kite. Deep down, somewhere in my moral center, I recognize that my current inability to go somewhere, anywhere is a first-world problem. Just sit it out, girlfriend, my logical brain implores, Instagram can wait. But my addict-brain is working overtime trying desperately to find the one news byte that says, Just go. Worse, my junkie thinking doesn’t give an expletive about your 80-year-old grandma who I could possibly infect. Instead, it’s working overtime to convince me that a temporary travel ban is more an utter deprivation.
I think of my love addict phase and the levels I’d stoop for my drug of choice—chasing after some guy half way around the world when it cost a fortune and I didn’t even have a job at the time (now that I think of it, this probably wasn’t love addiction at all; but, rather, travel addiction. The guy was located in Ireland and I vividly remember being more interested in kissing the Blarney Stone than him). Make no mistake. I’m not proud of the fact that I have paid nearly $4000 to fly business class while, at the same time, my husband sat back in coach. For a day or two I wasn’t able to pull myself out of that dark, obsessive place that addicts know so well when they can’t get high—it’s called withdrawal. Jitters. High anxiety. Sleeplessness. Worry. Physical pain. The brain obsesses over the threat of loss and so the mind searches exhaustively for where to find another fix. In survival mode I think, Maybe instead of a full-scale trip to Europe, I’ll just go to Florida?
I’m not the only one. On Facebook, I follow the Conde Nast Travel group, Women Who Travel. Just the other day, and with admin’s urging, I snoozed the group for 30 days because all 149,000 of us were going nuts. I felt trapped between the only two questions any of us were able to ask: “Should I still travel” and “Should I postpone.” After three days of reading through what felt like millions of posts that basically devolved into “stay home” there were counter insurgents like me, buried in the multitude, that insisted it was still OK to travel. “We need to move the economy forward,” I urged. And in one last despairing attempt to sway popular belief, I posted, regrettably, “What the hell is the point of hand sanitizer if we’re just sitting at home?!” It was mostly met with rancor by those who admonished me, at a time like this, for having the selfish notion of spreading my germs. How could you? I, of course, banded together with the oddball supportive responders who were more interested in “tripping” at any expense. In the end, I lost the battle. Admins deleted half a million of these posts, and ultimately wrote an announcement, which stated, among other things, “If the chatter is making you anxious, consider muting the group for the next couple weeks, so you can check in when you’d like.” It was almost a welcome relief. As if a reassuring, parental figure stepped in and gave me permission to stop obsessing.
But even that, even the inability to talk about my next vacation, added to the cold, unsteady detox of my travel withdrawal.
As all addicts know—especially ones like me who’ve recovered from multiple process addictions–love, sex, shopping– there is a point in the process of addiction where you hit bottom. And I suppose having Coronavirus-like symptoms while preparing to hop on a plane, coughing my way through TSA, could definitely be considering a bottom. I mean, that didn’t exactly happen, like I said, I cancelled the trip. But, it might have. I would have done anything to go somewhere, possibly even sell my 20-year-old son to the Navy if they would take him because, frankly, he’s one of those stressors that travel helps to mitigate. But, the news was overwhelming; Madrid was about to close its borders; the city was beginning to hoard food; healthcare systems were already taxed. But what sealed it for me was that cafes were shutting their doors.
I quickly snapped to my senses. I joined the rational (or panicky, however you want to look at it) masses and succumbed to an austere fate.
A few days later, exhausted, depressed, and probably a little dehydrated, I turned myself over to a Higher Power, and surrendered to the idea that I am more than a collection of my vacation packages. And that I will be Ok, despite the fact that, somewhere out there, hovering in the clouds, is an unused airline ticket (this thought kills me). Cue Scarlet O’Hara from Gone With The Wind, standing in her bleak, dead fields, ravaged by war. I can’t remember if she has this reckoning before or after Rhett Butler tells her to f off. A blood orange sky behind her, she grabs a root vegetable from the ground and devours it, ravenous. And then, shamed by the awareness of her own fragility, she proclaims, “As God is my witness I shall never go hungry again.”
As I flush my Booking.com hotel confirmation down the virtual toilet, I too try to summon that kind of courage. Universe, do with me as you wish. Travel cannot be my crutch during a time when first-world coping mechanisms are so tenuous and uncertain. And so, I’ve turned to meditation, yoga, exercise, store-bought buttery croissants and the occasional Xanax. Therapy helps only to a point. A home espresso-maker would be better. And yeah, there’s always armchair travel, I guess.
It will be a long road to recovery. But a road nonetheless. And to a true travel junkie, you know what a road implies…a trip somewhere. Hang in there, fellow travel junkies. There’s always off-season to look forward to.