Non-traditional days call for the intermittent non-traditional piece of writing. This is a break from the traditional travel narrative posts that spark inspiration for me. I was in the mood for a stripped-down and topical focus on coping and distractions in this crazy boat we all find ourselves in - ideally rowing all in the same direction.
I operate under zero assumptions that my approaches are a fit for a good number of people during this time. My coping tools revolve around creating and a heavy dose of responsible escapism. I have seen and read so many other unique approaches and challenges, and I value each one through the context that we are all individuals struggling to make sense and pull through.
While I am likely to intersperse some topical writings during this time, next week I intend a return to a backlog of destination focused pieces from recent trips that will hopefully serve as some distraction and inspiration for readers.
Like most everyone else not employed in an “essential” field, I now find myself confined primarily to my home with intermittent trips out for needed provisions and strolls around the neighborhood with my pup, Tucker. These tent-pole events mark time around the surprisingly countless other in-home activities which have kept me focused and remaining busy.
The aforementioned neighborhood walks have been a particularly out-of-body experience in an environment bursting with surrealism. A string of beautiful sun-soaked afternoons have settled in to mark the early Spring here in central Texas. With the warmer temperatures comes a backing soundtrack of lawnmowers and chirping birds (or with Austin, the alarming squawking of the Grackle).
One almost lulls themselves into a sense of normalcy before snapping back to the very existent reality and challenge we are staring down. On our walks, that moment is most often marked by the distant appearance a fellow seeker of fresh air. Appearing on the horizon like a dusty stranger from an old Western standoff scene. Closing the distance between each other, the delicate dance begins between fifty- and twenty-five yards out. Each of you giving non-verbal signals that you intend to either take the initiative proactively crossing the street, step into a perpendicular driveway or make and early turn down an unintended side street and alter your path.
Unlike most outcomes in the Westerns, this is a cordial encounter and the passing is always met with a smile or knowing nod. Hands ease their grips on the retractable leash harness held cocked in your hands, reminiscent of an outlaw slowly releasing the hammer on a cocked revolver. If it were a Wayne or Eastwood flick, one would imagine tipping a wide-brimmed cowboy hat in a “Ma’am” salute.
Of the many new norms I hope do not stand a chance post-pandemic, this is right up there. For this new avoidance planning to become ingrained cultural behavior will make me melancholy.
Tucker, especially, seems confused that previously eventful outings are now devoid of friendly sniffing sessions and testing just how tangled he and his mates can knot their leashes.
We are now roughly one week into the stepped up measures here in Austin and nothing about it feels normal still. I am, admittedly, in a logistically favorable position of being single and only sharing space with my four-legged best friend. I truly feel for some real stay-at-home heroes managing unexpected (and unprepared) tasks of homeschooling, conference calls and juggling multiple emotions under one roof.
My sister has two awesomely energetic boys, not to mention a new puppy introduced to their family just before “social-distancing” was a Websters candidate. I already knew she was a professional Mom, but my virtual check-ins only confirm the wonders that homemakers like her manage each day that hold so many extensions of the societal branches firm to a rooted trunk.
So, instead of a narrative format, here is a straightforward bulleted list of tactics and tools keeping me sane and motivated. Trust me, I want nothing more than for this piece to feel hopelessly outdated in a few week’s time. However, all indications are we have at least that amount of responsible distancing in our future to blunt the curve and spread.
Maybe one or two of these apply for you, or can serve someone in your circle? I’m bucketing these into “Practical” and the more “Travel/Creative” specific. I am a photographer and writer, so the latter are more steered to my own personal passions. However, I think several suggestions blur lines.
Limit your news intake: I have a strict rule in the age of pandemic, stay informed but not over-informed. I allow myself twice daily check-ins on the news via a preferred and trusted method (for me, the New York Times or Reuters). This cadence allows me to stay aware of sizable updates that warrant my attention.
Same goes for the market: If you are invested in the stock market and not aiming to retire this year, best to divert your eyes right now. I suggested to one colleague that they just delete that app from their device for the time being. Daily check-ins on the market movement are never a good idea, but to do so is especially crazy-making right now. Also, that is not in keeping with the reason you invested to begin with - for the long haul.
“When the stock is up 30% in a month, don’t feel 30% smarter — because when the stock is down 30% in a month, it’s not going to feel so good to feel 30% dumber.” - Jeff Bezos
Get outside (responsibly, and wave + smile): Hours spent indoors with recycled air is, literally, not natural. As someone who spent ten years living in the Pacific Northwest, I appreciate the importance of vitamin D to overall mood and happiness. Even if it is just for a brief stroll around your neighborhood or short interludes in your yard, get out there for a change in scenery. When you hit the sidewalks, keep a safe distance from others but make sure to toss them a reassuring smile. Note for young and healthy exercise seekers - if you are approaching one of your older neighbors or stroller pushing parents, take the initiative to cross the street or create clearance. We are all in this together, and small gestures count.
Get dressed: This is a valuable lesson learned from working remotely years ago: the simple act of dressing yourself as if you were going into an office where other people would lay eyes on you is critical. Staying in your comfortable home lounge wear will encourage you to, well, lounge. Get up, get showered, get dressed and get started.
Meditation: I am no expert on alternative medicine, or spiritual practices, but I know since using the Headspace app just before the current crisis hit our radar, I am thankful each day that I introduced it to my routine. Meditation is a skill that requires a high-level of mindfulness and practice, but it also encourages you to just breathe. To really breathe and deliberately be mindful of rhythms of inhales and exhales is the most inexpensive form of stress therapy on the planet.
Four-legged housemate: You are home a lot right now. There are dogs that need a home, even if for a short-term setup. If you are someone not overwhelmed with your current stay-home setup, consider bringing a loving companion into the house for a period of foster care. As a dog owner, I can attest, to their ability to calm and also introduce an element of unexpected variety to your day.
Work it, work it, work it: Groundbreaking news - exercise is good for you and relieves stress. Get moving a little. I am running a lot lately. There are hundreds of online resources for body-weight exercises that can be accomplished in limited spaced and with no equipment. My body and mind are thanking me with some enhanced clarity as the days wear on.
“Physical Distancing” vs. “Social Distancing”: A very important one. Panning for silver-linings amid this fight often feels fruitless. However, imagine if all those comparisons to the Spanish Flu included the one glaring fact about life in 1918: no FaceTime, no Instagram, no Zoom, no online gaming, no online courses and more. Count that blessing as one that was ready for this moment. Virtually connect, and let your loves ones and friends see your face and hear your voice. Let’s agree to embrace physical distancing and continue to be social through creative means. Note, I did not come up with the “physical distancing” phrase - stole it from Twitter.
Take a "couch vacation": Sure, we are not currently grabbing Uber to the airport, contorting ourselves to navigate the markets of Thailand, or pointing at some mysterious roadside dish in a remote locale and giving a “Sure, why not” nod of approval. That does not mean we should not engage those same sensory receptors from the comfort of our home. Take some time at the end of a day to watch an episode on Netflix (a few good ones include Street Food, Chef’s Table, Our Planet, and Conan Without Borders), pick up a transportive travel tome (some classics for me include We Are Not Such Things, Hitching Rides with Buddha, The Sun Also Rises, The Sweet Life of Paris, On the Road), or listen to a travel podcast (a few of my favorites include Flight of Fancy, The Trip That Changed Me, Extra Pack of Peanuts and The Amateur Traveler Podcast). This content helps boost my creativity and provide the added benefit of some great ideas for where to explore after the storm passes. Treat these just as your would a vacation - a designated and limited amount of time focused on escapism. I am not advocating for taking an entire day to stay glued to the couch endlessly bingeing.
Document the moment: This is a unique time in our history. Give thought to capturing your reflections by journaling, blogging or vlogging. No need, necessarily, to share these captures. The act of creating and processing through a medium outside the mind can be freeing. Consider the impact and perspective documenting your thoughts in real-time will have when you look back on it years from now. One rarely realizes personal growth as the process unfolds.
Draft your bucket list: No, not only the standard destination bucket list, although I see great value in just such a draft. Think of mapping out a list of general life goals under various classifications: professional, personal, family, travel…each encompass enough gravity to justify their own list. Get started today and then establish a routine to come back to the list at various times in the year to make edits and measure progress.
Get some virtual culture: Want to glide through the fathomless hallways of the Louvre? Perhaps glimpse the Mona Lisa without craning your head around a sea of uplifted iPads blocking your view? Itching to lay eyes on the Impressionists masterpieces of the Musée d’Orsay or the Dutch masters of Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum? How does a visit to Madrid’s Reina Sofia suit you? Well, you can go…sort of. Sure, it does not compare to setting foot in the real thing and hearing the soft whispers and clicking heels of slowly studying onlookers. However, it is pretty damn immersive and informative. Bonus, these museums are enormous and mapping out via a virtual tour will put you one step ahead of everyone else when you see it in person. You will see it in person!
“I always wanted to learn to…”: Speak Italian, change your oil filter, make a killer chicken and ginger breakfast congee, shoot in manual mode or dust off the guitar. The list really goes on forever and, good news, so do the options to learn. Some of the best skilled amateurs and professionals are eager to share best practices and show you the ropes. Use free services like YouTube or paid services like Skillshare, The Great Courses, and MasterClass to find your specific interest and then head to class.
Learn a new language: What country is first on your radar when the skies open back up for country hopping? Consider taking this time to learn some conversation basics of that country to present yourself as a more well-rounded traveler when you order that baguette, ask for directions or order another round.
Get cooking: Recent studies have shown that more than half of international travelers in 2020 listed “food” as the main criteria for their planned destination. We have all felt the pull. The coiled buttery simplicity of a bowl of cacio e pepe in a hidden Rome trattoria. A perfectly layered mix of pickled vegetables, cold cuts and pate between a crusty french loaf at a nondescript roadside báhn mì stand in Hanoi. I can sense the hunger hormone firing up at these personal memories and many more. Consider an attempt to recreate some iconic international dishes at home. It likely will not be perfect the first go around, but it will be yours, it will have heart and you will have a story to share when you try the authentic thing.
Finally, find time to rest. Consistent sleep is often overlooked and a key component to mental and physical well-being. A good night’s sleep dispenses mental freshness. Plus, it allows for a little more time to dream. Do not stop dreaming, and not just while tucked under the covers. Daydream when the lights are on. Dream big. Really damn big.
Please comment if you have other strategies that are working for you. Stay well and stay home, friends. Chat again soon.
*Note: this post does include affiliate links for the book titles referenced in the article.