I promised myself I would travel differently post-pandemic — it was a lie

Apr 21, 2022

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During the darkest days of the coronavirus lockdown, I promised myself I would travel differently after the pandemic.

Internally, I committed to staying at smaller, offbeat hotels, exploring unique destinations, slowing down to immerse myself in each location and taking concerns about my environmental impact into consideration.

But as I look up from my poolside cocktail at a large all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic, I’m afraid that none of that has happened. Instead, in some sort of self-imposed race to make up for lost time, I seem to have doubled down on all the things about the way I travel that I told myself I needed to fix.

(Yes, the pandemic is still ongoing, but the travel industry has seemingly moved on. Social distancing and mask requirements are essentially gone, although you still find plenty of hand sanitizer being offered.)

There have been numerous one-night business trips to reconnect in person, each more of a blur than the last. With surprising ease, my travel muscles quickly remembered how to pack a tiny carry-on bag, navigate airport security and type away on a laptop at 35,000 feet. Even the art of efficiently checking into lounges and swapping flights to miraculously make it home in time to tuck my daughter into bed came back fast, as if I’d never stopped traveling.

I’ve spent a lot of time away from home, yet since getting back out there, I’ve hardly experienced anything beyond airports and chain hotels other than the occasional meal.

This is not the fresh approach to travel I envisioned as I daydreamed during the 2020 lockdown in my Manhattan apartment.

Was I lying to myself then? Am I breaking my promises now? Or, are the changes I’ve made just more nuanced and slower to integrate into my overall routines than I’d hoped?

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A return to the classics

There’s no doubt my personal trips have been slower than the fast pace I kept up before, but they’re not exactly far from the masses either.

We got all four grandparents together for my daughter’s first trip to Walt Disney World in Florida, a destination that very clearly shoots straight down the mainstream. Nevertheless, it was a moment I had been looking forward to for years.

Then, three weeks later when we found ourselves in Southern California, we decided to also visit Disneyland.

Minnie Mouse smiling at the author's daughter.
My daughter meeting Minnie at Disney World. (Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)

It wasn’t long before I found myself skiing in Vail, Colorado, too. Sure, the Vail experience is a far cry from the rustic roots of skiing, as its exclusivity and level of pampering make it one of the country’s most expensive mountains, but I couldn’t resist the urge to visit one of my favorite ski resorts.

And now I find myself at the Dominican Republic’s Hyatt Ziva Cap Cana.

Is it the local, one-of-a-kind look at a place I committed myself to finding just a couple of years ago? No. But who can complain about a beautiful beach, an amazing water park and a seemingly endless supply of food, beverages and activities for the whole family?

It may be a sprawling all-inclusive resort in a gated community — the furthest possible thing from an immersive cultural experience — but I’m actually OK with that for now.

Nighttime at the Hyatt Ziva Cap Cana.
(Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)

Seeing so many large groups gathering together for the first time in over two years, including an extended family of 18 in matching T-shirts I met during the flight down from New York, warms my heart.

I can’t help but smile when I pass the room doors with banners announcing birthdays, anniversaries and even a honeymoon, despite questioning why the guests inside that last room chose the kid-friendly Ziva instead of the adults-only Zilara next door.

So while my latest work and leisure trips may be to tourist-packed destinations and familiar, impersonal hotels affiliated with big-name brands, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. All that matters is that people are traveling again to be together. We can’t lose sight of that, myself included.

The sold-out summer

I hate the phrase “revenge travel.” I’m not really sure that there’s anybody we need to get back at.

But as Wall Street analysts say, there’s a lot of pent-up demand. I’m not the only one with a laundry list of places to go and people to see as quickly as possible.

Hotels, theme parks, national parks and most top-tier attractions are rapidly filling up for the months ahead, sparking a rise in prices that will do little to deter many Americans from hitting the roads and taking to the skies.

We’re already returning to long lines at airport security checkpoints, and at the gates, folks are back to jockeying to board first.

Now that airline mask rules have changed yet again, it won’t be long before fights over mask compliance revert back to overhead bin disputes.

I don’t want to ruin the joy of travel or say that it’s going to be an ugly summer, but amid all the Zoom calls, we seem to have forgotten how to interact with others face to face, especially in large crowds.

Pair all of that with a major labor shortage at airlines, hotels, restaurants and just about everywhere else and it’s going to be challenging. One bad thunderstorm will cause cascading delays nationwide, and it could take days for airlines to fully recover.

Travelers will be wise to have backup plans.

Regardless of how ready we all are to forget about COVID-19, it doesn’t change the fact that the virus is still looming out there. While we may be eager to return to pre-pandemic travel habits and norms, the need to get a negative coronavirus test the day before flying back to the U.S. remains for all travelers, including those who are vaccinated.

This summer may be the year we once again return to local trips, not because of a global pandemic but because everything else is sold out or priced beyond reach.

My new travel promise

Now that I’ve hit those big family trips and used up my stockpile of 2020 vouchers, I’m reevaluating my travel strategy in this post-pandemic world we’re entering.

There’s probably no way to change the nature of quick work trips. Meeting with people, rather than exploring your surroundings, will remain the goal. But instead of focusing all my time on those I’m connecting with, perhaps I can try a little harder to add in some local flair. For instance, on an upcoming Chicago trip, I plan to sneak in a Cubs game at Wrigley Field between meetings.

I accept that my family trips are probably going to remain at sprawling beach resorts with nice pools and plentiful plates of chicken fingers and fries, too. But for other trips, I want to try harder.

I’m currently eyeing state fairs in Iowa and Minnesota or a rodeo out West — activities that are both interesting and different from anything else I’ve ever done. Now may also be the time to find a small town somewhere for a brief escape from my hectic reality.

Wherever I end up, I’ll do my best to remember what makes travel so rewarding: its ability to educate and unite people. I am by no means the perfect traveler, but I can do my part to keep the beauty of travel top of mind without adding to concerns around overcrowding historical sites and ruining local environments.

Maybe I just needed to get the “greatest hits” out of the way before shifting my focus to more unique adventures.

I’ll let you know how it goes as I get farther down the road.

Featured photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy.

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