Apodaca: Along with everything else, COVID-19 has changed the way we travel

Patrice Apodaca's family in Patagonia.
(Courtesy of Patrice Apodaca)

Over the holidays I received a crash course in travel during the age of COVID-19.

Traveling is my favorite pastime. I treasure opportunities to gain knowledge, experience and insight while exploring other locales and cultures. Of course, flexibility and patience are essential even in normal times, as plans can and do sometimes go awry. So I do my best to adopt a mindset of embracing the journey, wherever it takes me.

Even so, my latest trip provided far more of an education than I had bargained for — further evidence that COVID has fundamentally changed our world, possibly for a very long time.

Like many people, I reluctantly caved to reality nearly two years ago when the world started shutting down and I was forced to cancel all of my upcoming trips. It was a hard pill to swallow.

Still, I tried to keep a positive outlook. For me the anticipation of a new adventure is part of the fun, and back then I figured it would only be a matter of postponing until later in the year or possibly 2021. I still had a lot to look forward to.

We all know what happened after that. Months dragged on, a year passed, and after that I began to view the idea of time itself as nothing more than a surreal abstract. I lost track of how long I had been stuck at home as I put my cherished travel goals on a hiatus of undetermined length.

I couldn’t complain, not without seeming like an ungrateful wretch. As my world shrank — days would pass without leaving my Newport Beach home, save for walks with my dog around my neighborhood or the Back Bay — I knew that I was one of the lucky ones. I was able to ride out the pandemic in relative comfort and safety while others did the grueling and sometimes dangerous work necessary to keep the world from completely breaking down.

I was truly, deeply thankful for my fortuitous circumstances.

A look back at 2021 shows experts right about how the pandemic has played out and also how negative news can sometimes overwhelm the positive.

Then, after the vaccines came along and I got my first two shots, my gratitude levels spiked. As I contemplated the end to our collective nightmare, my husband and I decided to dip our toes back in the travel game, with short trips to the desert and up the coast. We visited friends and our son who attends law school in the Bay Area.

And we began to plan for a big trip, our first attempt to venture abroad in more than two years.

This time, I had extra incentive for wanting to go, as last year my older son and daughter-in-law moved to her native Argentina. (I have written previously about their immigration saga, and I expect to provide an update in a future column.) I longed to visit them, and the winter holidays seemed like an ideal time.

The prospect of our family spending Christmas and New Year’s together sustained me through a long autumn.

Not that I was oblivious to the complicated calculus of having COVID still in the mix. As I scanned daily news reports, followed the data, made sure that everyone got booster shots and checked and rechecked government websites, I was acutely aware that our plans could fall apart at any minute.

There’s always a certain amount of drudgery to travel — filling out forms, waiting in lines, coping with crowded airports — as well as stress. Those factors have increased exponentially because of the pandemic, and now we have even longer lines, a slew of additional red tape and nerves constantly on edge. I fondly reminisce about the days when the airline boarding process was merely annoying and not fraught with danger.

Despite our best efforts to minimize the risks and navigate as safely as possible — staying masked, avoiding crowds and opting for outdoor activities — COVID-induced anxiety was an added traveler for the entire journey. At times I wondered if it will always be so.

On the whole, our luck stayed with us and the trip was phenomenal. At the time of our departure, summer was coming to the Southern Hemisphere and the Omicron variant had not yet hit Argentina hard. It’s a beautiful country with a rich, vibrant culture, and we were able to see many spectacular sights.

Best of all, my family was together, if only briefly, and that was a Christmas present like no other.

Back home in Newport, I have been pondering the future as Omicron surges and the world goes on in this seemingly endless state of COVID purgatory. I try not to be angry with that world. There’s already far too much anger these days, and shaking my fist at the storm will do no good.

Instead I gaze at my photos. There we are trekking on a glacier in Patagonia. Here we are dancing on Christmas Eve in Buenos Aires. Frame upon frame of us with big dumb grins as we devour yet another fabulous meal.

I don’t know when we’ll all be together again. Like stress, uncertainty has taken up permanent residence in our lives. For now I will put my travel yearnings back on hold and feast on precious memories and dreams of adventures yet to come.

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