San Diego

I am an avid traveler, which is maybe something I shouldn’t advertise, flygskam and all*. It’s no surprise that on March 13, I went into shelter-in-place right from the airport.

Today, I had an e-mail exchange with a friend who lives in San Diego, California. She and her husband took us—Andi and me—around in the city and the region in early March. For both of us, the last dinner we had together was the last public outing before the lockdown. I guess it makes the memory even more important.

I’ve been overusing the word ‘privilege’. But that’s what it was: we could visit Southern California just before the crisis, and we could return home with relative ease. Some of my acquaintance were not so lucky. I actually went there for a conference that got postponed in the end.

San Diego is a fascinating place, easy to navigate, yet very rich in all kinds of places and experience, weird through modern to spectacular—come on, what kind of city has a neighborhood called Normal Heights? Our friends were great hosts (thank you!), and very generous with their time. We owe it to them that we could see most parts of the city.

But this is not the point today. I owe another friend a longer piece about San Diego—that friend owns a travel magazine over here. So you will eventually get to read a longer story about our trip, sometime soon.

In many ways, the meaningful part of 2020 ended mid-March, at least for the middle class that can afford to travel or spend quality time out of doors. Most of us probably already had our most memorable experience this year.

So, here’s a game I’d like to play: let’s travel in mind. We could tell each other about the last trip or outdoor activity before the quarantine set in. Browsing photos from previous years, I even remembered trips I did not properly process, no matter how long ago they happened.

I can’t decide if this is cruel or exciting. Maybe both. Some of us like reading travel stories (my favorite is The Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor). For us, reading about others’ journeys could be fascinating.

Traveling in mind is tantalizing, for sure. Reading, watching others’ stories, even more so. But what if we will no longer be able to travel physically? What if the next phase of travel will be some kind of virtual or augmented reality—when you get real-time sight and sound and smell from your destination, while your body remains in your bedroom, wearing weird glasses or a neural interface? (Did I just give away an idea for a next-generation travel agent, for free? I must be out of my mind.)

To be a bit more serious, I hope we will be able to travel again in our physical bodies, too. Maybe a bit more consciously, more sustainably. Thanks to my job, I met—and made friends with—a lot of people across the world. What would really be cruel is if I could not meet them again. (I just hope that some of them feel the same way.)

Today, I choose to be optimistic and say: hold on—till we see each other again. And not just on a screen.

(My latest contingency plan: I have just ordered a green screen, so that we can appear in just about any environment in photos and videos, and—I will surely figure out how—in video calls.)

* I have flygskam, though maybe I’m not a severe enough case—still, here are some things I did to make my travels more sustainable: on the one hand, I don’t drive in the city, I walk and use public transit instead; on the other hand, I sought out a local forest-planting campaign, and sponsored a few hundred trees. I’m not mentioning these to brag but to maybe inspire you if you haven’t found your ways yet.

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