In July 2020, I was asked to speak at a Stanford alumni event where I sat on a panel of experts to talk about our predictions for the future and what awaited after the pandemic. I was the travel expert, and in my company was a real estate agent, an employment attorney, and a medical doctor. While the other panelists shared some pearls of predictions for their respective industries, I felt like the messenger of doom. I was hesitant to give any specific date forecasts on when travel would “return to normal”, and felt awful when one attendee asked me if she thought she would be able to go on a cruise that Christmas. I knew that December 2020 was definitely too soon for a cruise to be considered safe, and at the rate we were going as a society, I wasn’t sure if she’d be safe going on a cruise in December 2021 either.
What is predictable is uncertainty. I know for sure that I cannot predict the future, and that change is constant and inevitable. Being agile and adaptable used to be words you’d add on a resume or mention in an interview – now they’re critical life skills that we all need to employ each day, and even sometimes what feels like hour to hour.
Death and destruction have been constant news themes in the past two years in a way that my generation has never experienced, and I would guess that some reading this article would share my perspective. But there are many places in the world where destruction, and the sound of it, rings through the streets of a neighborhood. Whether it’s the sound of military tanks and bombs, or police sirens and gunshots, there are many people in this world who live in an environment where death and destruction is the norm. The Covid virus was just another enemy that crushed any hopes of “normal” for many of these war-torn communities in a nearby city, or on the other side of the world.
Traveling around the world was a privilege I enjoyed, and still do. Since the pandemic started in January 2020, something that I treasured – my international travel diary – came to a screeching halt for 18 months, and along with it were the epiphanies and eye-opening experiences that I had both in my home state of California, and as far away as Seoul in South Korea. I’ll never forget our family getaway to Palm Springs while enjoying a poolside barbecue and watching the deejay belt out a Tom Petty tune. She was living her best life, as was I, watching her enthusiasm while soaking in the simple pleasures of the sun and the song. At a Buddhist temple in South Korea, I had the epiphany that both my father and grandfather only had the chance to travel internationally for war: one in Vietnam, one in Korea. It was then that I understood my privilege as an international traveler.
If the past two years have shown us anything, it is the value of life and living for the ones we love. Friends, family, those neighbors that have become like family, and even that friend you met on social media but lives thousands of miles away in another country. It is each other that matters.
I was recently asked by an editor of Condé Nast Travel magazine about my predictions for travelers, and where people will be going next. My response to her may have sounded grim, when I told her some of the thoughts I shared above and how that would inform travelers’ decisions about their dream destinations for years to come. Whether or not it makes for catchy news feeds or glossy print magazine pages, the apocalyptic atmosphere that the entire globe is living in cannot be denied.
The quote, “nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”, made famous by Ben Franklin, is only half true. Taxes are only certain if you don’t have government connections and a really good tax advisor; for the rest of us, they are most certainly certain. But elite connections and tax loopholes will not help any of us evade death. Of that, I am certain.
What I am not certain about, yet hopeful for, is the future of travel. In fact, while writing this article, I am sitting in a beautiful village in France exploring a part of the world that I’ve never seen yet has many gorgeous gems to uncover.
My predictions for the future of travel are based on discovery. I suspect that with many people discovering their roots and family history through genealogy records and personal research, something that months of isolation in the pandemic gave us the privilege to do, travelers will visit the destinations of their ancestors. Traveling back to the motherland, wherever that is for you, will provide a sense of connection to something that came before you, centuries before all of us, offering a sense of continuity in our disconnected and divided world.
During the never-ending months of social isolation, I didn’t do any sort of deep-dive into family birth records. Instead, my mother, brother, and I watched the Vikings series every Saturday night. It took us 9 months to finish the entire show, and each streaming session was well worth it. Huddled around our huge TV with snacks in hand, we were transported to a region and time in history that made me yearn for a trip to Norway, hoping to retrace the steps of the ultimate warrior woman, Lagertha. After every segment of the show, we’d scour our smartphones for historical snippets of both true and mythological tales of the real Vikings and their legacy in today’s world. While I don’t think I can trace any ancestral lines back to Rollo or Floki, my travel bucket list now includes Scandinavian destinations where I hope to discover more about these legends.
Discovery of family ties amidst the backdrop of death that we are collectively confronting has deepened our experience of faith. No matter how a person expresses their faith, I predict that this renewed sense of spirituality will also lead more people to travel to destinations that connect them with their interpretation of the divine. Whether it be a crumbling cathedral, ancient mosque, or a sacred site in a forest, travelers will be looking for destinations that will provide them with meaningful encounters and expressions of peace, love, and unity – the universal tenets of any practice.
On my personal travel list: Ireland and Brazil. Ireland is a place I’ve never been, although I did have a layover in Dublin on my way to Paris a few years ago, but that doesn’t really count. I’ve always had a fascination with this place, a possible genealogical connection perhaps, or my inner poet longing to be in the midst of fellow bards. With respect to Ireland as a spiritual destination, I’m intrigued because of its history with Catholicism and Celtic religions. When I wasn’t binge watching Vikings, I was reading loads of books during extreme periods of social isolation. One book that I read was The Lost Books of Merlyn by Douglas Monroe, which is part tool kit for the Celtic practitioner, and part very descriptive and fantastical tale of Monroe’s personal experience of Druidism, declaring that “only a true poet stands the chance” of understanding the essence of Druidism today. The juxtaposition of two very different religions that have historical roots going back centuries is something that I hope to understand on a future trip to Ireland.
I’ve been to Brazil many times – too many to count. But since the pandemic started, I’ve been unable to return to this place I love so much. I think it misses me, too, as Candomblé goddesses have shown up in my dreams now and again over the past few years. Black women adorned in glittering jewels wearing white and gold might be guiding me to Bahia, a place where this amalgamation of Catholic, West African, and indigenous religions is practiced. It’s this unique embodiment of faith and spirituality that I look forward to learning more about on a future trip to Brazil.
One month into the pandemic, I was the guest speaker on a webinar with Brazilian cookbook author, Leticia Moreinos Schwartz. She interviewed me about how I fell in love with Brazil, what I was doing during the pandemic (reading and writing), and of course my travel predictions. What I told the audience back in April 2020, and feels even more prophetic as I write this two years later, was that the only thing we can be certain about is uncertainty, referencing the 1998 book Who Moved My Cheese? as a guide for maneuvering through change. In times of drastic change, we want to cling on to solid predictions to tether us, but as we’ve seen in the past few years, those predictions are as dependable as a sandcastle in the wind.
It’s obvious now that there won’t be a “return to normal” or “after the pandemic”. What the past few years have taught us is the fragility of life, which will lead us to travel destinations where we will feel an attachment to something greater and deeper than we’ve felt in the past. Whether that is at a family reunion or a religious landmark, living according to our values will manifest as holding a loved one’s hand or touching a hallowed stone.
A few days ago I lay down under a bush by the edge of the Seine, eager to relax my mind after completing an arduous chapter of a book I am writing. After a glorious evening watching elegant swans fly overhead and swim alongside me, I snapped a few photos of the plants and flowers in my midst. Upon returning home, I looked up the history and meaning of what I saw blooming beside me. One was the English elm, which symbolizes the underworld, melancholy, and death and the other was Masterwort symbolizing exorcism, protection, and healing. It seemed like even on the banks of the river, I was reminded that there is an entire world to discover, both above and below.