- While the world has been on lockdown, travelers have been dreaming of their future adventures.
- Solo travelers often travel to meet new people and learn about new cultures.
- Travelers shared with Insider how their trips might change now that lockdowns are beginning to ease.
- Most travelers agreed that they’ll focus on domestic trips in nature for the foreseeable future.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Colorful mosaics from Uzbekistan fill Ciara Johnson’s Instagram page.
Brooke Saward recently posted a photograph in Barcelona, Spain, even though she hasn’t left her home in South Africa for months.
Looking at Dan James’ Instagram, it’d be impossible to know that he canceled six trips and hasn’t traveled since mid-March. His page is still teeming with pictures of past trips to New Zealand, the United Arab Emirates, and Singapore.
Thousands of people like Johnson, Saward, and James spend their lives traveling — whether for fun or work — but for some, the current pandemic has left them stationary for the first time in years.
Insider spoke to five solo travelers about how their trips might look different in the future.
Solo travelers said they plan to escape to nature for the time being
Road trips, beaches, campouts, hikes, and backpacking excursions all filled the solo travelers’ itineraries.
Social distancing has become a priority when entering a public space, whether that be on an airplane, in a restaurant, or visiting a museum. These regulations, paired with higher risks of contracting the virus indoors, left travelers opting for adventure in nature.
Johnson discovered her passion for traveling after studying abroad in college. She graduated and immediately got a job. But when the job wasn’t enough, Johnson decided to travel the world. She saved up for two years, quit her job, sold everything, and bought a one-way ticket to Mexico.
So far she’s visited 65 countries, but her list won’t be growing anytime soon. She’s stationed with her family in Houston, Texas, and plans to search for outdoor destinations that have activities that allow for social distancing.
“Whether that be stand-up paddleboarding or going for a run in the city, there are a lot of outdoorsy things that you can still do while social distancing,” the 27-year-old told Insider.
Kristin Addis is also on the hunt for outdoor spaces to explore. Fortunately, the 34-year-old was already in love with the American Southwest before lockdown. As stay-at-home orders relax where she lives in Reno, Nevada, her love for nature has only grown.
“I’ve done a lot of solo road trips out here,” she told Insider. “I’m really excited to go do more of that. We have so much natural space in the US that you can be far away from people if you want and still have an amazing experience.”
The travelers are also embracing opportunities to explore domestic destinations
No matter where the travelers were located, they each mentioned staying within their current borders for the time being.
James, a solo traveler from Bournemouth, England, planned an 18-month sabbatical to travel the world in 2014. Eighteen months quickly turned into six years. Now he’s explored 67 countries, and many of them on his own.
James had to cancel his plans to travel to six different countries, so he’s now sticking to exploring his home and surrounding cities in Lisbon, Portugal.
He said he expects to see a shift and refocus on domestic travel.
“I think we’re all guilty of this, you go abroad before you explore where you live,” James told Insider.
After seven weeks of full lockdown in Portugal, James was finally free to explore the country. For the past month, he’s gone on road trips and explored new cities with his friend.
“I’ve had a bit of wanderlust by exploring a bit closer to home,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to get out of the house again.”
Sara Straw said she also has seen a shift toward domestic travel. The 34-year-old from Buffalo, New York, has been to 14 countries in the last four years. She recently became a travel adviser to help other solo travelers plan and book trips around the world.
Now, many of Straw’s clients aren’t looking to her for help with booking international vacations. Instead, they want her guidance on planning trips in nearby states and cities.
“I have a lot of people who want to do road trips, rather than fly somewhere,” she told Insider. “I have a lot of people who want to go on camping trips, so they’re in charge of their own area.”
She’s currently helping 13 clients book trips, and they’re all destinations in the US or Caribbean, she said.
“Especially in the US, we’re so inclined to go to Europe or go to the Caribbean to get away,” Straw said. “I think we forget how insanely beautiful America is.”
Addis wasn’t as concerned about flying as she was about the rules and regulations when she lands. Many governments and tourism boards have announced requirements for tourists when they visit.
For example, Cambodia recently announced that travelers are required to pay a $3,000 deposit if they visit the country. The deposit is meant to cover COVID-19 costs if the traveler was to get infected in the country.
“I take that as, ‘Please don’t come,'” she said, referring to the policy.
Addis said she’s always had an interest in domestic travel, so she plans to focus on that and book trips to countries with fewer regulations for the time being.
Some worry that the magic of forming new friendships on a trip will be lost, but other solo travelers are optimistic for the future
Many solo travelers embark on a journey alone, but they hope to build friendships along the way.
For example, when Johnson shares stories about her solo adventures, they often involve strangers who become friends.
Straw’s adventures are similar — in fact, she met two of her best friends while traveling alone.
James believes in the sentiment so much, you’ll see the phrase “meeting new faces” mentioned across his website.
“If you strip everything back on what travel is, 1000% it’s the people you met, the connections you have,” Saward said.
As travel starts up again, some people expressed concerns about the ability to casually meet strangers. Hotels, hostels, restaurants, and bars are advertising social-distancing measures to help keep people safe. Restaurants are placing partitions between customers and resorts are advertising contact-free experiences.
While these safety precautions are necessary, Johnson — who started her travels on a budget, which often meant staying with strangers — worried that meaningful friendships might be harder to develop.
“I think that’s my biggest fear of all,” she said. “That is what makes travel for me. Whether that be staying in a hostel, couch surfing, staying in an Airbnb with a local in their home, those have been the most meaningful travel experiences to me.”
She added that some “people may go and travel, but they’ll social distance and miss out on the magic of travel, which comes with meeting people from different backgrounds and speaking to people with different perspectives.”
James agreed. “I think it’s that kind of interaction that will be lost for now in travel,” he said. “It’s really sad, but it’s really necessary.”
James has already noticed it on his recent trips throughout Portugal. He described how in restaurants, waiters were there for efficiency, but not to make conversation.
“There’s no chat, there are no local recommendations, there’s this wary distance in everything,” James said.
Neither James nor Johnson think that those interactions will be gone forever, but they do expect to see people cautious of strangers and the potential of spreading the virus.
Saward, a 28-year-old solo traveler from Tasmania, Australia, mentioned finding the positive things that the “new normal” of travel might bring.
“You won’t have those classic experiences that you once had, but maybe you’ll be making the most of empty streets in Rome or Venice where it’s normally overrun by millions of tourists every year.”
For now, some travelers are abandoning solo trips and opting to explore with friends and family
“After having such a long period of isolation, the idea of traveling solo is not as appealing at all,” James said. “Now I want to be around friends. I want to be creating memories with people.”
After having a cousin contract COVID-19, he said it made him consider the trips he could’ve taken with her. “Now I’m realizing, ‘Wow, I wish I invested more time traveling with my friends and family,'” he said.
So he’s bringing along friends while he explores Portugal and planning a trip back home to the UK when it’s safe.
Johnson has been traveling constantly for three years, and the coronavirus has been the first time she’s stopped.
Now, she’s home in Houston, Texas, and is spending time with family.
(1/2)“Where are you REALLY from?” | The Most Common Question I Am Asked While Traveling Local: “Where are you from?” Me: “The United States…America.” Local: “No, but where are you really from?” Me: “…America.” Local: “Where are your parents from?” Me: “America :).” Local: “Your grandparents?.” Me: “Still…America.” I’ve been asked this question by locals all over the world and I know what they’re getting at. I know they see my brown skin and while they can see that I am black by race, they’re curious about my ethnicity. They’re curious about my origins. Sometimes they’ll suggest countries in Africa or even the Carribean. I simply smile and say, “Maybe. It’s possible.” This has triggered arguments, as if they believe I’m lying or hiding something. I can see the confusion on their face, but I truly do not have an answer for them. So, there are a few things to note about this conversation. When I’m asked of my origins, people are often confused about WHY I don’t know where my family is “actually” from. I must then share a history lesson about the transatlatic slave trade in America. I must tell them that most(not all!) African Americans know that we have African Ancestry, but we were robbed of knowing our identity. We don’t know the true extent of our heritage. Eventually, the constant question revealed how great of a privilege it is to know where your ancestors come from. To carry their last names rather than that of a slave owner. To have remnants of family history that weren’t burned and records of your relatives that weren’t “lost” somewhere along the way. By the end of my mini-history lesson, they kinda sorta get it. I walk away feeling proud of the culture that black Americans have created inspite of, while also having a burning desire to know more about my roots. Because at times, being being black in America feels like being in the between. Maybe one day I’ll take a DNA test. Who Knows? I worry about giving away that access. Can we trust the accuracy of this stuff anyway? Have you taken a DNA test? What were your thoughts about it? There’s 1 more thing I want to point out about this convo, but we’ll discuss tomorrow.
“There’s the simple joy of travel that I miss, but in some ways, it’s nice to not be on-the-go constantly,” Johnson said.
For Saward, the thought of traveling hasn’t even crossed her mind. In fact, now’s one of the first times she’s hit the pause button, and she doesn’t plan to press play anytime soon.
Saward’s first international trip was a school adventure to Hong Kong when she was 13 years old. She started working odd jobs and saving money for traveling. When she was 20, she went on a three-week trip across Europe, went to graduate school, and traveled for the next eight years.
“I was just so enamored with the idea of running away to different countries and having these experiences so foreign to what I grew up with in Australia,” she said.
Now, she’s in no rush to book a flight or get on a plane.
“It hasn’t even dawned on my yet to start planning a trip,” Saward said.
Instead, she’s spending the lockdown in South Africa working on her travel memoir.
Most travelers plan to do more research before picking a destination
Straw said the biggest thing she’ll be looking for when she books trips for both herself and others is what protections there are for the traveler. She’s looking into different travel insurance plans, what refund policies airlines have, and what visitors can expect when they reach a destination.
Straw, who started advising travelers this year, expected to see a large drop-off of clients because of the pandemic. Instead, she has a full portfolio of people she’s working with.
“I thought it really would affect it, but people still need hope, and they still need something to look forward to,” she said. “Although they’re not traveling right now, I have clients booking groups of 30 to Jamaica and honeymoons and December trips.”
Portugal is open for tourists! 🇵🇹 Slowly life returns to something normal. It feels a bit strange promoting tourism and travel right now, but tourism employs so many people, and is a huge part of the economy for many countries – Portugal included – and with some businesses on the brink, I’m glad to see visitors here in restaurants and beaches again. Right now the focus is mainly on EU tourists, but the EU is in discussions to open external borders from July. I took a trip to the #Alentejo region a couple of weeks ago for a long weekend, and Moura was one of my favourite spots – here’s a little bit of info on the deal in Portugal right now. The ‘Clean and Safe’ programme has been introduced, so in restaurants and public spaces a mask is needed, can be removed when sat at the table. In accommodation, new cleaning procedures and restrictions on gyms and pools are in place, with rules at a national level. Villas and self-catering are going to be popular for sure. There is no quarantine needed on arrival to the mainland, beaches are open and an app and colour coded lights/flags at the beaches advise where is the best beach to visit at that moment, as number restrictions are in place. Most tourist attractions, galleries, palaces and museums are also open with reduced numbers, as are some culture shows. Late night bars remain closed, but a wine, drink or meal on a cafes terrace is no problem. The islands – Açores and Madiera have slightly different rules in place. For the most part, Coronavirus was well managed here and continues to be. Hand sanitiser is everywhere, even dispensers appearing on walls by ATMs these days. There is certainly a worry that with tourism the situation could change, but with the need to support businesses, and the right precautions in place, the hope is it won’t. The first few flights into the Algarve have been full, which surprised me as I expected there to be caution this summer… let’s see what the next chapter of 2020 brings us! #moura #visitportugal #portugal
Each traveler shared different things they’ll consider before booking their next big international trip. Many are considering what rules countries are adopting to protect their residents and incoming travelers.
“The biggest thing right now is looking at the requirements to travel to a country and return to the US,” Johnson said.
Will they need to bring a negative coronavirus test? Will travelers need to quarantine upon arrival? Is medical insurance required to travel to a destination?
James said he plans to only book direct flights to avoid spending unnecessary time in new airports and additional rules.
“It’s really changed the planning process,” he said. “My process used to be book a flight and turn up, and now any trip is going to be planned to the hour.”
James also doesn’t plan to go to remote destinations anytime soon. This decision comes both out of concern about his ability to seek medical help, but also, the fear of bringing it to remote destinations that might not have the hospital capacity.
“No one wants to be responsible for taking a virus to a community that doesn’t have it,” he said.
Some solo travelers plan to take longer, more meaningful trips
“If I’m going to take the risk of traveling this year, I should go somewhere that really matters to me,” James said.
Saward, who has explored 74 countries, said she’ll be looking for the places that “shock you.”
In the future, she said she’ll pass on another trip to Paris or top tourist destinations and opt for under-the-radar locations.
“The rise of Instagram’s popularity has changed the narrative of why we go travel,” she said. “It’s really moved so far away from what travel is, or should be, which is a connection with people and cultures and food and whole sensory experience.”
She described how people often travel for the photographs, and she hopes that once travel reemerges, people will pick places based on their interests and not what’s trending.
Johnson has heard similar sentiments throughout her online community. She said her friends and followers have made it clear they plan to use their vacation time and stop postponing their dream trips.
“People will actually be more eager to say like, ‘Hey, life is short,'” she said. “This pandemic has shown us what is important, more than anything.”
And when they go, Johnson said she hopes travelers, herself included, continue to focus on supporting local businesses.
“Hopefully people are giving back to locals and prioritizing frequenting these local businesses when they’re traveling, as opposed to these bigger, well-known hotels, and restaurants,” she said. “We’re seeing that a lot right now locally, but I hope that expands globally.”