“I miss travelling,” one of the sentences I have heard most since the start of the pandemic. For almost 1.5 years, borders have been closed, international travel has almost come to a standstill. With vaccine programmes progressing in certain countries, restrictions are slowly being lifted. Still, we are far from where we were pre-Covid.
It will come as no surprise, naturally, that I miss travelling too. Over the past years, it has become such an important part of my life. What started with family holidays abroad became an expat life, adventures in faraway countries and having family and friends across the world. When I hear “I miss travelling”, I wonder what exactly this means for the person saying it.
What I miss is not only the holiday by a beach, the escape so many of us long for once or twice a year. In 2020, I was geographically separated from my partner for many months. This year, I still have not been able to see many loved ones. Hence, there is a big personal dimension to travelling for me. But there is also another one.
When I think about travelling, I miss the excitement, the adventure; when I board a plane and have absolutely no idea what will happen when I land. What is the country like? What are the people like? What are the noises, the smells? I always read a lot about a country before my first visit. I imagine what it will be like – the positive and the negative aspects. But actually being there in person is so different, no amount of reading, travel documentaries or Youtube videos can substitute it.
Yesterday, I visited an exhibition with the works of American photographer Steve McCurry. We read about the exhibition in the newspaper and decided to head there the same day. Two hours later we were in Graz, Austria’s second biggest city. The exhibition is hosted in the Messezentrum – a place used for furniture, travel and other lifestyle fairs in non-Covid-times. The upper hall was completely dark, McCurry’s pictures glowing in the brightest colours. It was as if he took us on his travels – from India, to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, South America, to Australia. I felt the excitement, exploring faraway places. I remembered what I missed so much about travelling: the adventure.
Of course, I enjoy being in a nice hotel or enjoying the beach for some time. But after two or three days, it is enough. I need to venture out, see what daily life is like, explore and get to know the place. I want to discover the sides which are hidden to the crowds, the ones you need to work hard for to be able to take part in them. I have read countless books by and about adventurers – I could not stop reading when Albert Podell had to cross borders in Northern Africa in “Around the World in 50 Years”, I dove into Tiziano Terzani’s Asia of the past, could not put down John Lanchester’s novel “Fragrant Harbour” about Hong Kong and was inspired by the many stories about travelling women such as Katherine Hepburn, Amelia Earhart or Agatha Christie.
But there was another thing: In McCurry’s pictures it felt as if the people in the portraits were directly in front of me. Their eyes telling their stories. I miss meeting people, I miss listeing to their stories. I remember Virak, our guide in Siem Reap, telling us what it was like growing up under the Red Khmer and how Cambodia is still affected by it. I think about the driver in Luang Prabang, Laos, who drove back home in the middle of the night, because he realized I was sick and needed some medication before I boarded my plane. I remember when I was close to tears when the children of a school in a slum in Bangalore danced waltz with me as a birthday present and gave me a card they made. One of the mothers was there as well. She was crying and telling the management of the school that without the food at the school, she would not be able to feed her children. This was a major driver for me to set up a partnership with that school in India.
Because I wanted to capture the stories, the moments and my adventures, I started to take pictures and I have added some at the end of this post. I am no Steve McCurry, but I do hope you like them. These are a selection of the years 2016 up until today.
I still have a very long travel bucket list – from Sweden, to the Galapagos Islands, to Bhutan and French Polynesia. I hope that the world can open up soon. I am aware that complaining about travelling is a privilege in times like these. But I would lie if I said that I do not miss it at all. I wish you all a great week with adventures – at least in our minds – ahead.