Travel and Writing in the Age of COVID-19

*This post is also published here.

For many years, travel has been a source of inspiration for my writing. What started as personal travel journaling shortly after college, turned to group email updates to family and friends at home through the years I worked in Africa, turned to an interest in creative writing. I started writing classes in 2017. In 2019, I launched a blog to share my travel experiences from the past three decades. Later in 2019, for my first National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo), I produced a very rough draft of a novel based on my two years living in Prague. I dreamed of traveling to Prague to do research for the book.

Photograph of the Charles Bridge, Prague by Todd Hirsh
Photo by my brother, Todd Hirsh

Starting March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic curtailed my travels and most everyone else’s. My international writing group, Writers Abroad, was considering possible destinations to meet for the group’s ten year anniversary.

In mid-January 2020, I flew to Lusaka, Zambia for work. When I arrived at the airport for my return flight on January 31, things had changed. The airport employees wore masks, as did many of the passengers. It was an eerie signal of what would come. The world watched the epicenter of the pandemic move from Asia to Europe. I postponed a work trip to Laos, concerned that, even if I found a flight pattern, I might not be able to get back to the U.S., where I live. The epicenter of the pandemic moved to the United States, where cases, hospitalizations, and deaths remain horrifically high.

I haven’t found much motivation to write since returning from Zambia. I haven’t even written a blog post about the trip, which was fabulous. By the way, the opening image at the top of this blog post is the lovely Sarovar Hotel in Lusaka.

Baby Elephants at the Lilayi Elephant Nursery, Zambia

From what I’m reading online, a lot of writers – including some members of this group, Pens Around the World – and other creatives are feeling similarly unmotivated. However, a minority of writers are finding themselves more prolific, which is wonderful.

For people who’ve had their travel plans cancelled or are missing their usual forms of inspiration, what to do? First, know that you’re in good company. In addition, here are some ideas that you might find a source of enjoyment:

  • “Retravel” by looking through old photo albums – even better, by organizing and scanning old travel photos from before your photography went digital.
  • Call a friend who you traveled with and share the memories.
  • Draft a flash story/essay about a favorite travel memory. Flashes are under 1000 words, but often are much shorter. There is a destination-based 100-word flash series that started in Santiago, Chile and expanded to other places such as Medellin, Bogota, and Boston. The flash pieces are written by someone who lives there and are in the native language. Maybe you’ll be inspired to start one in your city!
  • Watch travel shows, such as Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations or Parts Unknown, on Netflix or another streaming service. If you?re interested in a specific destination, search it online and see what videos you can find of the place.
  • Revisit your “bucket list”. Compile a list of places to go when restrictions ease and you feel comfortable traveling again. These might include visits to family, day trips, or places within driving distance of your home.
  • Try a new creative hobby. Rick Steves – whose name is synonymous with travel – told the New York Times that he’d never cooked a thing in his life before the pandemic. Now he’s taking short hikes around his home and cooking.

What new activity have you tried since quarantines started? Perhaps you’ve picked up an old hobby you hadn’t done in years. Where do you find creative inspiration these days? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!

3 Comments

  1. Indeed, Kimberly, the pandemic has affected writers in different ways. I’ve taken up sewing again. At first out of necessity to make face masks but I’ve got back into making clothes again. In the 80s I could make tailored jackets, even made my own wedding dress, but those skills are a bit rusty! In some sense, because my husband and I travelled a lot on house-sits I’m also quite enjoying the peace of not having to organise so much. I am missing England though and it’s looking less and less likely that international travel will open up in Europe anytime soon.

  2. No new activity at all, I’m afraid. It took three months to get my sewing machine fixed as everyone had the same idea. And when it was finally returned to me, I’d gone off the thought of making new curtains. The only thing that’s sustained me through lockdown is running and walking on alternate days.

  3. It certainly has been a weird time, this lockdown winter. But at least after Christmas I got my head around actually doing something productive. Like moving into my new pc. I’d never done that myself before, and it presented me with some great little challenges before I could claim to have everything installed and accessible. I witness almost daily how important it is for us seniors to keep up with tech development when I see friends who can’t cope with using a smartphone or can’t manage to join a Skype or Zoom call without a lot of assistance from offspring. I’m no poster child for IT skills, but I have learned how to acquire new ones by: TRIAL AND ERROR!

    I also was asked to revise a DeepL translation of a novel (German to English). As improved as the latest translation software now is, it doesn’t replace the native speaker, at least not in translating prose.

    Then my spring cleaning project in my study took hold of me. See tomorrow’s (29.3) BI-WEEKLY WISDOM!

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