My last plane ride was September 2019. My sister and I took what, at the time, felt like an extravagant, whirlwind weekend to New York City. We shopped, sang along to “Hadestown” in a packed Broadway theater, brunched in a crowded Greenwich restaurant and walked for hours.
Today, after 18 months of a pandemic, I look back longingly at that time, the freedom we had to wander in and out of spaces on a whim, the closeness of talking in dimly lit restaurants, sipping our drinks without a mask in sight.
I know I will travel again, but I am learning a lot about restraint, and my relationship with travel is changing. I recently canceled a solo trip to California (my first plane ride since NYC) — the dangers of exposing my unvaccinated children to the highly transmissible delta variant being my main reason, although I am also increasingly concerned about environmental impacts. Instead, I’ll use that time to give my garden a little extra attention. As a family we have opted to explore nearby destinations in lieu of big trips during the pandemic; even a weekend camping in our backyard turned out to be surprisingly relaxing.
According to carbonfootprint.com, the travel sector accounts for 8% of global carbon emissions and this sector is set to grow at 4% each year. If there hadn’t been a pandemic, I wonder how many trips I would have taken over the past two years. How big would my carbon footprint be at this point? Consequently, would I still be savoring those delicious NYC memories or would they have been buried under other, newer experiences?
When forced to stay home, one is confronted with all the impulses pushing them to leave. Go somewhere else, be someone else. I am now wondering what I expect out of vacations in general. Yes, they can be fun and a reset from a hectic, busy life. However, I have always been the person who packs a library of books and a mountain of outfits I don’t have the gusto to wear at home for a trip. Looking back, I wonder if some getaways were in actuality an escape from issues I needed to address in my daily life. If I don’t read enough at home, I am not going to make up for lost time over a weekend in a busy, enticing city!
In thinking about what individuals or households can do to curb climate change, we are essentially discerning what human tendencies will need to adapt to meet the constant and unsettling news of out-of-balance ecosystems; the parade of species going extinct. Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “What you are looking for is already in you … You already are everything you are seeking.” Personally, I need to sit with my perennial urge to go, to be away, knowing that in some instances the choice to stay home will better serve me and may offer a little relief for a planet in peril.
Carbon offsets have been presented as a solution to deal with our personal carbon emissions generated by traveling. There is also a lively debate on the most regenerative way to travel, such as an electric car road trip or an eco-conscious catamaran like the one Greta Thunberg hitched a ride on to a UN Climate Conference. Traveling will and should continue — I have no regrets about spending quality time with my sister in NYC. However, my hope is that this period of public health crisis-induced restrictions will help us all take the broader impact of our constant movement more seriously.
Perhaps, it is time to look back and cherish old vacays while knowing that the future art of trip planning will require a generous dose of limitation and mindfulness. Sometimes, a good healthy staycation is all we really need.