5 reasons one of TPG’s most-traveled writers is enjoying being stuck at home

May 27, 2020

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A few weeks ago, I found myself marveling at the old cherry tree behind my house. Every inch of its umbrella-like canopy was covered in giant pink puffballs. About a week later, the apple tree on the other side of the yard erupted with blooms like white snow. Then came the azaleas and rhododendrons, popping with varying shades of pinks and purples.

Over a period of just a few weeks, our little plot of land near Philadelphia had turned into a Monet painting, and it was enchanting. I was smitten. I also was surprised.

“Look at how lovely this is,” I said to my wife. “It’s never like this.”

“It’s always like this,” she snickered. “You’re just never here.”

She had a point. For much of the last two decades, I have missed the glory of the spring in suburban Philadelphia. Spring is river ship launch season, and at this time of year, I’m usually in Europe for weeks on end checking out the latest vessels from Viking, Avalon Waterways, AmaWaterways and other river brands.

That, or I’m in Asia testing out some unusual new itinerary. Spring is typically a big time for Asia cruises.

As a travel writer specializing in cruises, I have for years spent large stretches of not just spring but also summer, fall and winter on airplanes, in hotels and on ships, traveling the world for stories. In the last decade alone, I have been to Europe or Asia more than 100 times. I have spent more than 800 days at sea. It was rare that I was home for more than two straight weeks.

I finally got to see the old cherry tree in the yard bloom this year. (Photo by Gene Sloan / The Points Guy).

I’ll be the first to tell you that I’ve loved every minute of my peripatetic life. Like many TPG readers and pretty much all our staff, I’m a bit obsessed with travel. That’s why I picked travel writing as a career. But, due to the coronavirus outbreak, I was forced to slow down. Not just slow down, but stop cold turkey. I am grounded. And, unexpectedly, I’m finding it wonderful in many ways.

Visit TPG’s guide to all coronavirus news and updates

For starters, there’s the chance to enjoy the beauty of the place I call home. But it goes beyond that. The past couple of months have offered the chance to reconnect with my family, and also to rest and recharge in a way that I haven’t done in many, many years.

In short, I’m being forced to stop and smell the roses — literally as well as figuratively, I will add. Our rose bushes are just showing the first signs of blooming.

I see a lot of live-for-travel types like me complaining about being stuck at home. But I am writing this piece to argue that it’s not all bad. It’s giving us a chance to pause and reflect on what’s truly important to us, and what can bring us joy. That doesn’t always have to be exotic experiences like wandering around the white marble mausoleum of the Taj Mahal or along the White Cliffs of Dover. It can be something as simple as gazing upon the white apple blossoms in your own backyard.

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I’ll be the first to admit that I am a bit travel crazy. I always have been. Even when I was a kid, I would talk my nontraditional parents — a writer and an artist — into letting me go off on adventures that they probably should never have let me do. When I was still in middle school, we spent several summers in a small town near Venice, Italy, living with a great uncle, and I convinced them to let me explore the region on my own. I would walk to the one-room train station, just a few streets away, and buy a ticket to any place I could reach in a day — Venice, Verona, Vicenza, Ferrara. Somehow, I always made it back home.

My working life over the past couple of decades has pretty much been an extension of those summers, except that now I get paid to explore. Early in my career as a journalist, I switched from covering news and general features to travel, loved it and never looked back.

Thanks to the pause in travel, TPG cruise writer Gene Sloan has been forced to stop and smell the roses. Literally. (Photo by Mattie Sloan).
Now I’ve been forced to stop and smell the roses. Literally. (Photo by Mattie Sloan).

Now, even with my free time, I’ll do nutty things like book a 48-hour weekend dash to Zurich with United MileagePlus miles so I can spend a day in Liechtenstein — one of the few European countries missing from my country count (now frozen at 87). That’s one of more than half a dozen trips I’ve had to cancel over the past three months due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Until this year, I hadn’t spent four straight weeks at home in more than a decade. Now I’ve been home for three times that long. My last trip, to Miami to see one of the year’s most luxurious new ships, Seven Seas Splendor, ended on Feb. 25.

Related: How to get to Miami on points and miles

Until a few months ago, I would have told you there was no way I wanted to slow down like this. But here are a few things I have come to appreciate during 13 weeks of being grounded:

Rediscovering my circadian rhythm

This may seem like a small thing, but there’s something to be said for remaining in the same time zone for more than a couple weeks at a time. Heading to Europe or Asia every few weeks, as I have done for years, has been grueling — something that I didn’t completely appreciate until the coronavirus knocked me off the cycle. I still usually don’t make it through the night without waking up at least once, but my sleep pattern hasn’t been this quasi-normal in years.

Related: 6 unusual ways you can try to cure jet lag

Being a tourist in my own backyard

It’s not just the lovely spring flowers, although — really — I am stunned at how beautiful they are. It’s the whole package of seeing my little acre of land come to life with the spring thaw. It’s like my own private David Attenborough nature film. Without anywhere to go, I’ve been treated to the full spring cycle of backyard drama, from the arrival of the ubiquitous robins who like to squabble like miniature MMA fighters to the Battles of the Neighborhood Cats. The latest excitement is the bees, who have descended like the Borg Collective on my newly flowering photonias.

Living a simpler life

There’s a joy to the simplicity of a life that revolves around a small rectangle of land that’s less wide than the distance you can throw a baseball. I work, I eat, I read, I sleep. On the weekends, I dig and I plant. I sort. I clean. It has a rhythm, and it’s uncomplicated. If you’re used to freneticism, it can be wonderful — at least for a time.

Reconnecting with family

This is the benefit of the lockdown that outweighs all the others. Three years ago, I became an empty nester. In quick succession, my three daughters had headed off to college. But as a silver lining of this pandemic, they’ve suddenly reappeared. I am lucky in this, I know. Not everybody has children or even a spouse, companion or friend with whom to spend this time at home. Many people have faced the lockdown alone. Even though my kids don’t always realize it, I have loved having them around. 

The great reset

There is one more significant effect that the Great Lockdown has had on my psyche: It has made me truly appreciate all that I’ve done in my traveling life in a new way, and I think it will make me cherish my traveling days to come in a new way, too.

There is nothing like having something taken away from you to make you treasure it all the more.

It’s easy to become jaded about travel when you do it all the time. It’s easy to forget just how special it is to be able to jet across the world to see new things, meet new people and learn about their cultures and history.

TPG cruise writer has had plenty of time to work on his backyard garden this spring. (Photo by Mattie Sloan).
I’ve been preparing my Victory Garden, should the world really spin out of control over the coming months. (Photo by Mattie Sloan).

I know that I am fortunate in many ways, starting with the place and time and circumstances of where I was born. I am fortunate to have been able to live a life where I could travel the world as part of my job. I am fortunate for my health. And, right now, I am fortunate that the lockdown-related economic downturn hasn’t directly affected my employment or that of my wife, who is a teacher. I know there are many, many Americans facing far greater hardships right now than worrying about when they will get back on the road.

But with all that as a caveat, I will say that this lockdown, for me, has reminded me (and, I think, many others who have the means and opportunity to explore the world) just how lucky I am. When I start traveling again in the coming months, I know I will come to it with a new appreciation.

Just call it the Great Reset.

I will pay more attention to the great sites that I come across and engage more with the people that I meet. When I’m in my cabin on a ship writing a story, I will make a point of looking up more to gaze out across the beauty of the ocean. I will remember to look for the birds. I will force myself to wander more in ports, for no other reason than that I am there. I will reflect more on what I will see and what I have seen.

I will travel like I originally traveled when I was that boy in Italy. I will live in the moment.

And I can’t wait.

More of Gene’s stories: 

Featured photo courtesy of Gene Sloan/The Points Guy.

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