The past few days have been rather scary. Mask-covered faces. Queues to wash hands in public toilets. Sanitizers constantly out of stock. Accusatory looks towards anyone coughing or sneezing. Eerily empty hotels, flights and streets following the lockdown travel advice for Coronavirus. Places that were once plagued by overtourism are now deserted. The spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus has suddenly brought all usual life – and travel – to a halt.
Until a week or two ago, the panic felt rooted in social media, whatsapp forwards and even racial profiling. At that time, I posted on Instagram that I would continue my travels. But in light of recent developments, I’ve archived that post, cancelled some rather exciting travel plans until April and urged everyone to do the same.
I was scheduled to conduct a workshop on responsible tourism marketing in Madhya Pradesh and speak at the prestigious Economic Times Women’s Forum this month – but both events have been cancelled.
In fact, India has cancelled all visas for foreigners till mid April. Sri Lanka has suspended its e-visa facility. Italy is under lock down. Public events have been cancelled in most parts of the world. Schools and colleges have been shut in most Indian states. India’s travel advice for coronavirus is to cancel all non-essential travel abroad. Indians returning from China, Italy, Iran, Korea, France, Spain, Germany, Malaysia, Nepal and even the US can potentially be sent to 14 days of quarantine!
Chances are, you already know that. You, like me, have cancelled your immediate travel plans. And probably you, like me, are wondering what you can do now to indulge your wander-lusting soul!
Here are some creative ideas to satiate your travel cravings – safely and responsibly – during this uncertain coronavirus period:
Read non-fiction books by local authors to virtually explore a new region or country
I’ve dreamt of setting foot in Tibet for a long time, knowing fully well that the Tibet of my dreams is off limits (or no longer exists). So a while ago, I did the next best thing to travelling in Tibet – reading a book that movingly explores its lost beauty, culture and way of life. Tibet With My Eyes Closed is a collection of short stories by Madhu Gurung, based on the lives of Tibetan refugees in India. Some stories moved me to tears, while others left me with an insatiable longing. I can’t recommend it enough!
My point is, as per official travel advice for coronavirus, the entire world is off limits right now. But we can do the next best thing – travel to our dream places through the words and insights of people who know them deeply.
For more book recommendations, see my favorite (unusual) travel books by local authors around the world. If you’re keen to explore the world from my lens, you can also get a copy of my travel memoir, The Shooting Star 😉
Learn a new language that will make a future trip more meaningful
Everywhere I travel, I try to pick up a few words in the local language. But in the weeks before I travelled to Japan, I tried to listen to one episode of a Japanese language podcast every day. By the time I landed in Tokyo, I was able to say many basic phrases in Japanese – which sure made it easier to make friends, find local vegan food and even get some unusual recommendations.
The process of learning a language can certainly make us feel like we’re almost on our way somewhere. The Survival Phrases podcast is good for conversational skills and the Babbel / Duolingo apps can help with basics. But if you really want to commit, consider signing up with an online teacher for one-to-one Skype lessons on a site like italki (I haven’t used it yet but heard good things).
I took Urdu writing lessons last year, but have been terrible at keeping up with what I learnt. I’ve pledged to practice a bit everyday now!
Document your past adventures
I still have tons of untold stories from my travels over the years. If you’re a travel writer, blogger, photographer, Instagrammer or any kind of storyteller, you’re probably full of stories too – and always wishing for more time to be able to tell them. Or perhaps you have a special interest in architecture, vegan food, wildlife, languages or something else – and you could combine that with your past travels to create unique stories.
All travel advice for Coronovirus suggests not going on a physical journey. But we can still journey into the recesses of our minds, relive some of our adventures and share them with the world. After all, we could all use a little break from the negative news out there!
Binge watch the wonders of our planet
Many of us travel to witness the breathtaking beauty of nature and the cultural wonders of the world. Unfortunately both are fast disappearing.
Video streaming sites online are full of films and documentaries about our incredible planet, wildlife, remote cultures and more. Now is a good time to plug into them, both to feed our wanderlust and to remind ourselves what we stand to lose. Maybe the travel advice for coronavirus and this time away from the road, work, school, college and social gatherings can be a time to reflect on how we need to make better life and travel choices to collectively help the planet.
I’ve been meaning to finish watching One Strange Rock on Netflix, which explains the wonders of earth from the fascinating perspectives of astronauts. And start Our Planet, which documents the impact of climate change on the world’s most remote and vulnerable regions.
Support small responsible travel businesses virtually
As you can probably imagine, this is one of the worst times for the travel industry. March, otherwise peak travel season for many places around the world, has been a month of cancellations. April might go the same way, though I really hope not. Small business owners, family-run homestays, social enterprises and responsible tourism businesses will be some of the worst hit this year.
All travel advice for coronavirus suggests we can’t physically travel this month to support them or the work they do for local communities and environment conservation. But small gestures can go a long way. Leave them a heartfelt review on Google Reviews / TripAdvisor. Mention them on Instagram / Twitter. Recommend them to family and friends for future trips. When the coronavirus pandemic is behind us, they’ll need our tourism money the most. Let’s make sure they’re found, remembered and supported then!
Work on your storytelling
Perhaps experimenting with writing, blogging, photography or videos has been on your mind for a long time. Or you still need to perfect some skills. I know I need to get better at editing videos. I could use some professional photography help, but my heart is only half in it. I still have a ton of SEO work to do on this blog. And there’s no end to becoming a better writer.
Here’s a silver lining for the travel advice for coronavirus: Use the time you would’ve spent travelling or socializing, to work on something that might enable you to travel or work on the go in the future!
International travel is out. But should you travel domestically now?
Many of you have reached out to ask for my travel advice for coronavirus with respect to domestic travel in India (and elsewhere). I think it’s a bad idea. For several reasons:
- It’s just not fun. I felt an inexplicable anxiety during the last two days of my recent Chhattisgarh trip. Hearing someone cough sent a shiver down my spine. The last thing I wanted was to have to put myself in self-isolation in someone’s homestay or in a soulless hotel. Or worse, be quarantined in a government facility.
- The fear of carrying the virus to a remote part of India. The idea of travelling from urban India – where the majority of coronavirus cases are (in Delhi, Mumbai, Jaipur, Kochi etc) – to rural India is a scary one. Imagine if we have the virus but the symptoms haven’t yet shown up. We could be carrying it to small villages where medical facilities are rare and self-isolation is difficult because entire families live in a single room. It’ll be mayhem.
- The fear of infecting people more vulnerable to the virus. People over 60 and those with respiratory issues seem to be the most vulnerable to the coronavirus. We can’t risk being the vectors infecting them.
- Flights, buses and trains can be coronavirus hotbeds. Given how infectious the coronavirus seems to be, being stuck among scores of people in a closed environment is a big no-no.
It’s best to postpone all international and domestic travel atleast until April (maybe longer, depending on how things turn out). We need to avoid busy places, public transport and any physical contact. We must constantly wash and sanitise our hands. And if we have even the mildest symptoms of fever, cough, cold or flu, we absolutely must stay at home and follow official protocols!
How has coronavirus affected your travel plans? If you run a travel business, what’s it been like for you?