Travel in the time of Covid

When the kids were little, we began every summer with a road trip to my mother’s house. Over the mountains and through the woods, we drove 400 miles to southwestern West Virginia. We’d go swimming, play board games, and sit on the front porch of her old Victorian eating moon ice, a mouthwatering frozen dessert made with bananas. Later in the summer we’d drive 400 miles in the opposite direction to visit their other grandparents in Rhode Island, where we learned that jimmies are something that goes on ice cream. A few years in a row we put 25,000 miles on our two vehicles. 

After 15 months of pandemic isolation, I dreamed about traveling again. 

What destination had good Covid protocols and was open to Americans? I thought about Hawaii, but it was really expensive and I’d read about mainlanders being turned away from pre-paid vacations at the airport, due to the coronavirus. I found a guided tour of Alaska, but the dates didn’t work out. I was itching to travel again. International travel didn’t seem possible until the GEEO tour leader asked, “Have you ever considered Iceland?” I booked the last open slot and two weeks later I was on a plane to Reykjavik. 

Traveling with a group of teachers is nothing like traveling with your family. Every morning, 16 of us would ask the same questions: Where are we going? What’s the weather? What time is lunch? How long before we get to the hotel? When is the bathroom break? The poor Icelandic guide was a little out of practice with American tourists – and teachers used to being in charge wanted to know the daily goals and expectations up front. Every day got a little easier as we hiked spectacular waterfalls, went whale watching, and shared stories of the school year we’d just lived through. Each one of us had experienced the worst year of teaching in our professional careers. By the end of the week, we had bonded as a group. 

I highly recommend Iceland as a destination for Americans who’ve never traveled internationally, or for those who want an exotic destination with all the amenities of a modern European country. Everyone speaks English, the food is delicious (but expensive), and the toilets are clean. In late June, we had to take a Covid test upon arrival and quarantine for 5 hours in the hotel until our results came back negative (we were all vaccinated). And we had to take another Covid test within 72 hours of boarding a return flight to the US. They made it so easy. 

The Delta variant of Covid hadn’t quite landed in the US when my son and I embarked on a 1,200 mile road trip to my family reunion on Dauphin Island, Alabama. He’s no longer a little kid and could help with the driving. We’d driven this route many times before and planned to spend two nights on the road. As we drove south, fewer and fewer people were wearing masks at the rest stops and motels – even though the signs clearly stated a mask requirement. In mid-July, Alabama was the least vaccinated state in the US. In spite of some anxiety over this, we drove south at the start of a new hurricane season to visit with family members with vastly different world views. We needed to see family this year. I needed to see family. 

My kids learned early in life how to adjust to unspoken rules and new tastes, depending on where they traveled. Travel teaches us tolerance, humility, and patience. When we take ourselves somewhere we’ve never been, we stretch out of our comfort zones, and meet differences with an open mind. I wish everyone could travel the way I have this summer.

Published by

evaksullivan

Eva K. Sullivan teaches English Language Learners in Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland. She was an English Language Fellow with U.S. Department of State during the 2017-2018 school year, working with the Ministry of Education in Laos, Southeast Asia. She writes short stories, personal essays, and has completed a memoir about her experiences as an expat in West Africa in the 1990s.

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