7 Things I Miss Most About Travel + 3 That I Don’t

Quarantine had grounded us all, but for those whose lives (and livelihoods) depend on getting on an airplane, it has been particularly hard. For us, it’s one thing to not be traveling, but to not be able to has taken a frustrating toll.

Sad tourist

While we all spend hours around the clock reminiscing about the way things were, there are a few things above others that I miss the most about traveling.

The Surprises –– While many seem to dislike travel for this exact reason, the thing that drew me to it was the feeling of not quite knowing what will happen. What others call a disappointment, I am more likely to call a surprise, and I see those surprises as an adventure. Whether I’m forgoing a trip to a museum to break into a private pool, or missing a flight and ending up in a different country completely, the surprises of travel are what got me hooked on it all those years ago.

The Food –– The thing I find myself daydreaming about the most while in quarantine is the food. In good places, you can try something new every day, but in the best ones, you can try several new things every day right on the street. While I’m throwing together meals from what I have left in my pantry, I’m daydreaming about tacos con lengua in Mexico City, crepes slathered in Nutella in Paris, and green papaya salads in Bangkok.

The New Perspectives –– Always being in a new place means always meeting new people. Now, while I’m stuck inside scrolling through Netflix like it’s going to fix my life, I find myself desperate for new movies, books, ideas, and inspiration. Meeting new people every day ensures that you’ll get that – and when I’m watching the 14th preview for something else I’m not going to watch, it’s easy to miss the constant influx of recommendations from people all over the world.

The Sense of Accomplishment –– Once, way back in Austin, Texas, I was telling a co-worker about an upcoming trip to Myanmar. She asked me what I was going to be doing there, but for me, going there is exactly what I’m doing. “Where I’m going and what I’m doing,” I remember telling her, “are rarely two different concepts for me.” Now that we can’t travel, I miss the feeling of accomplishment I get from arriving somewhere new. For me, it’s the culmination of months of daydreaming, planning, saving, and researching, for which the payoff is so delicious.

The Movies on the Plane –– Maybe it’s just me, but I never get as into a movie as much as I do when I see it on a plane. When you don’t have the normal distractions and obligations of your life on the ground, it feels so good to get lost in a story. I’m always way more likely to enjoy a silly rom-com or a ridiculous action movie on a plane where I’m way less likely to pick apart the story.

The Flexibility –– I almost always travel alone, so one of my favorite things about being abroad is having no social obligations. I don’t have to go to a job (though I do frequently have to work), and I can’t be swayed to meet my friends for dinner or beers or to attend their various events and performances. If I want to stay up late and sleep in? I can. I can go to the airport to catch a flight, ditch it, and end up buying a ticket somewhere else. I can get off a train early because I liked something I saw out the window. When you’re alone far from everything familiar, you can be precisely as flexible as you like.

Arriving Somewhere Brand New –– But of all of it, all the miles and years and passport stamps, the thing that makes me secretly smile to myself more than anything else is the thud of the plane landing. For me, that’s when all of the anticipations I’ve built up for my trip are crystallized, and I’m suddenly more excited than I can bear. And of all the little signs that signal to my nomad brain “you have arrived”, none is more potent than the audible ping of the seatbelt sign turning off after your plane has taxied to the arrival gate.

When we’re unable to travel, it’s so easy to romanticize it. We remember all the gorgeous vistas and stunning sunsets and not so much the rainstorms and missed connections. While I would never trade a day I’ve spent on the road for anything, it’s good to remember, especially now, that traveling is not always sunny skies and rainbows. Here are three things I don’t miss while I’m stuck at home.

Trying (and Failing) to Maintain My Skin Routine –– While much easier to maintain if you’re flitting between luxury resorts, my skin routine is usually the first thing to be sacrificed to an overnight bus ride or a 16-hour flight. Though I always tuck a few products into my carry-on, the reality of fighting tons of other women for a free sink in an airport bathroom for a 15-minute face routine doesn’t ever seem to pan out as planned. While I can sometimes manage to wipe some witch-hazel over my nose during a long train ride, it’s unlikely that my entire skin routine remains intact under such circumstances.

The Crippling Nostalgia –– Maybe the most unfortunate thing about traveling is that the more places you go, the more places you fall in love with, thus making an ever-growing list of more people and places you have to return to. While visiting a new city can be intoxicating, the particular nostalgia you get with returning somewhere is unparalleled. But the more places you feel compelled to return to leave you with less time to see new places, and eventually, your obligations can start to outweigh your adventures.

The Language Barrier –– Although I love experiencing new places and cultures, after months on the road, the language barrier can feel extraordinarily frustrating. The worst is when you need something simple – like water or a toilet – and you can’t seem to find the right word that corresponds to the place you’re in. If we’re forced to trade in the adventure of travel, at least the reward is our own toilets that we don’t have to learn a new language to use.

Is there anything, in particular, you miss about being on the road? Or something you don’t?

  1. Hi Miranda,

    Thanks for putting this together. I don’t usually comment on blog posts. I know – bad, very bad. It’s a habit I’m trying to change. Now would be a good time to start, what with all the free time (not really, but still). I have found myself travelling a lot in the past few years, for both holidays and necessity. This is probably the first time someone has captured pretty much all my feelings about travelling abroad. Everything you mentioned rang true and made me want to go back in time to 2019, when I was on a 7am flight to HK, watching a Thai movie on the plane for the very first time, because why not?

    I hope things get better soon. In the meantime, hope you’re keeping safe and well.

    1. After reading your comment I had a very vivid memory of watching Bong Joon-ho’s movie ‘The Host’ on a 16-hour flight from Shanghai to JFK. It was a long, uncomfortable flight on one of China’s national airlines, and happened to be a few years before every seat in economy had its own screen. They barely fed us–I remember being starving by the time we landed–but I had to watch the girl next to me eat from a seemingly unlimited supply of dumplings, cold noodles, and pomelos that she had prepared and brought with her on the flight. My left leg kept falling asleep, and I was surrounded by crying babies.

      It may be the worst flight I’ve ever endured.

      But I still miss it so much.

      Be safe wherever you are, and thank you so much for dropping a line.

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