Advice

We used to love traveling together. Now pandemic fears have me flying solo

Wanda and Wayne,

My girlfriend and I have dated for a few years, and it’s been great. We have amazing jobs, started planning for our future, and love love love traveling together. In fact, we actually met in Oahu randomly at a bar and spent the rest of our vacations hanging out. It was a pretty cool start to what is now a great relationship and it felt meant to be.

We started seriously dating after returning to Anchorage and travel remained a big part of our lives. We took a trip at least every other month, usually somewhere far away, much warmer and focused on adventures and beaches, but sometimes even quick weekends to Portland or L.A. We’ve made some great memories and that time together brought us really close. Even after COVID hit, we traveled around Alaska: lots of road trips and camping, new hikes and new Alaska places we haven’t experienced before.

I’ve been antsy to travel beyond Alaska again and it finally feels safe to go for it. But my girlfriend still refuses to entertain, much less plan a trip Outside. She says COVID and Delta variant anxiety are part of it, but there’s something else that she isn’t sharing or can’t/won’t explain. It’s not money. I’m thinking it might just be reluctance to give up the routine that we created over the past year: being happy being together seeing Alaska and staying close to home, our safe place.

I took a recent weekend trip to Seattle and I felt totally safe wearing a mask pretty much the whole time and being careful about what I did. She seemed fine with my taking the trip. I was hoping it would help her get past her hesitations, but it hasn’t. We have no trips on the horizon even though I’m constantly sharing airfare deals and ideas.

I’m afraid we’re losing a special part of our connection and missing this window in life when we have money and don’t have kids, big bills, or other circumstances tying us down. Any advice helping her take the travel plunge again? Or am I going to be stuck being a staycationer?

Wayne says:

Unfortunately, my fellow travel fanatic, not everyone is as excited or ready to fly, fly away again as we are. Yes, there has definitely been a surge in travel among Americans this summer — families and friends uniting after a very long time apart, people finally able to take their COVID-cancelled adventures and events, and others, like you, who are just traveling because they miss traveling.

But there are just as many people who are waiting to get back in the air, or even roam from home. COVID certainly did a number on the travel, tourism and hospitality industries, and it also did a serious number on our mental health. Some folks still just don’t feel safe or comfortable going indoors, being in small crowds, much less walking through busy airports and then sitting on a plane packed with strangers for four hours or more, just to land and be around even more strangers indoors and outdoors. And yes, the current Delta variant concerns and seeming COVID surge is renewing another round of anxiety for some.

What can you do? Try to understand and appreciate where your girlfriend is at — she doesn’t want to go big on travel right now, plain and simple. Why push it, especially with so many unknowns still in the air? Instead, why not spend another summer exploring Alaska with her: revisiting favorites, checking out a few new places. And maybe cap the summer with a short flight to a small, hospitable AK town with lots of space and outdoor adventures which could provide a comfortable middle ground for both of you? It’s not Oahu, but Sitka and Juneau have their unique charms and fun, too. You may not be frequent flyers for a while, but at least you’ll remain best travel buddies.

Wanda says:

Many people remain in transition professionally, socially and personally, as they contemplate what parts of pre-COVID life they long to retrieve, versus what new pastimes and passions they want to hang on to. It could be anxiety and nerves that are keeping your lady from busting out her passport and booking exotic treks. It could also be she’s realized she’s just as satisfied cruising around our great state, trading air miles for road miles and four-star resorts for rustic cabins.

Or, it could be that after an emotionally arduous 2020-to-present, she’s exhausted versus exhilarated at the idea of a complex trip that means long lines at customs, language barriers, currency conundrums and tiring time zone changes. If we’re honest, while international travel is a lot of things — exciting, fascinating, glorious — it’s also exhausting, expensive and often excessively complex. No wonder she’s not up for that kind of energy investment at this time.

Maybe, just maybe, her reluctance to take flight is rooted in lingering anxiety about leaving the comfort of home. If that’s the case, seize on Wayne’s suggestion to book a trip nearby, like Sitka, Ketchikan or Juneau. All require plane travel, but they’re short flights on big jets to small towns loaded with charm, scenery and unforgettable experiences.

Personally, my first flight coming through COVID was strange — so many masks and distancing requirements and weird pre-packaged snacks! But it also wasn’t strange. Because there was something comforting and familiar about being back on a plane and in an airport again. And personally, it ended up being a gratifying and settling experience. From that lens, giving your girlfriend a vacation to a relatively close-to-Alaska destination could be a great way for her to find her wings again.

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