The temporary normal: travels from our sofas
We never knew how much we took travelling for granted until our ability to get up and go was gone. We may be stuck at home, but, as we’re rapidly learning, there are other ways to travel that can (temporarily) ease our wanderlust
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Lockdown. Quarantine. Social distancing. In a short period, Covid-19 has turned our world upside-down as we attempt to flatten the curve. All of us who aren’t key workers are doing our jobs from home. Our new colleagues are children who are being homeschooled and our confused-but-delighted pets. It is unlike anything we have collectively experienced.
For a tour operator like Abercrombie & Kent, this peculiarity we are experiencing all comes down to advice from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO). Seven plain words: “do not travel abroad unless it’s essential”.
As of 17 March 2020, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab decided to advise all British Nationals against non-essential travel. Our world became limited as air routes and land borders closed, and new restrictions on flights were put in place.
Like everyone else, we are confined. Our raison d’etre has been restricted, not forever, but for now. Like so many of our clients, the A&K family is made up of what English author, critic and philosopher Aldous Leonard Huxley called “born travellers”. He described travel as “imperious” and “a besetting vice” for born travellers.
Put simply, we love to travel, and we’re missing it. There’s even a word for it in German: fernweh or pain to see far-flung places beyond your doorstep. It’s the opposite of homesickness and perfectly describes our feelings at the moment.
This feeling of fernweh that we are experiencing during lockdown has clarified just how much we took travelling for granted and how much we long to board a plane for parts unknown. How much we relied on the thought of our next holiday as escapism and as a crutch for our mental health.
But rather than feel downhearted, we’re choosing to travel differently. For now, we’re going to escape the four walls we are currently inhabiting mentally rather than physically by travelling from the comfort of our sofas. To paraphrase Betty Smith from her 1943 novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: the world is ours for the reading… and imagining, listening and remembering.
We’re choosing to reflect on all the things that made us fall in love with travel in the first place. We’re reminiscing about the destinations that won our hearts; the laughter, the soundtracks, the holiday reads, and the fantastic people we met along the way. After all, travel isn’t just about all the beautiful places we wish to visit next. It’s also about all the wonderful places we’ve been.
Geoffrey Kent, our founder and co-chairman, believes that travel is primarily for the mind, not the body. He’s currently dreaming of his birthplace and the destination in which he established A&K: Kenya. He’s rereading West With the Night by Beryl Markham, which chronicles Markham’s experiences growing up in Kenya (what was then British East Africa) in the early 1900s, her career as a racehorse trainer and adventures as a pilot.
He recommends Markham’s book as the perfect lockdown antidote. He also likes The Silk Road: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan, which inspired him to visit some of the usually overlooked ‘stans’ of Central Asia.
And he’s not the only one: our A&K travel specialists are escaping from the confines of their homes too. Adam Fogg is exploring Antarctica by reading Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Journey by Alfred Lansing and watching David Attenborough’s Frozen Planet on Netflix. Debbie Rawnsley is toasting Japan with a Sapporo beer while listening to Distance, the second album released by J-pop artist Utada Hikaru. Brandon Clements is cooking up recipes from Rick Stein’s India with Nitin Sawhney playing in the background to eat in front of the BBC programme Great Indian Railway Journeys. Private client manager Elizabeth Patch, who is enamoured with romantic Saint Petersburg, is listening to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake while reading Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.
Travel is, when done correctly, transformational — a collection of experiences that change the traveller forever. Geoffrey Kent, pre-lockdown, recently met a couple on the beach who recognised him. They told him that despite the money they spend on their holidays, they always feel richer when they get home. So dig into that treasure trove: dust off those souvenirs, flip open an old guidebook or novel, watch a scene-setting movie or programme, take a virtual museum tour, and let a little travel nostalgia brighten up your day. It's what we're doing while we stay at home.