What will the world look like when all of this is over?
Right now there are few bigger questions; there are few things we consider more often in our little dens of hibernation. What will life be like "AC" – After Coronavirus? It will have changed forever, of course. But how?
I like some of the theories that have been floating around. There's an admirable positivity to the notion that the COVID-19 pandemic will change us for the better, that we the human race will learn important lessons about our skewed priorities and our messed-up values.
In some ways, how could it be any different? How could you look at photos of Delhi and Bangkok, Beijing and Bogota, these formerly smog-laden megacities that right now enjoy clear blue skies and alpine air and not think: this is the way we should be living all the time? How could you hear stories of wildlife reappearing in urban areas, of Andean pumas wandering the streets of Santiago, of coyotes on the Golden Gate Bridge, and not consider the negative impact we've been having on the Earth?
We spend too much money on material things – surely that, too, is obvious after being locked inside for a few weeks with nothing to splash your cash on, or no longer having the cash to spend. We in the West have become rampant, mindless consumers, swinging from one purchase to the next, always chasing the next shiny, expensive thing.
The theory is that the coronavirus and our enforced hibernation and separation will change all of this. We'll re-emerge into the normal world in six, 12 or even 18 months with new and better ideas about the way the world should be run. What's important. What's not. What's valuable. What's unnecessary.
I wish that was true – but I don't think it is. And I think anyone who has travelled for any reasonable length of time would also recognise the futility of it.
Because we've all had these epiphanies before, haven't we? We've all come to these conclusions on our travels numerous times in the past.
They usually hit you while you're sitting in some beach shack in south-east Asia, wearing the same boardies or sarong you've had on for the last four weeks straight, sipping a 50c beer and watching the sunset. Later you'll curl up for the night under a ratty old mosquito net. You'll wake to the sound of roosters and breaking waves.
It's about that time that you decide we're doing things wrong back home. We don't need all those material possessions. We don't need the big house and the two cars. We don't need the new iPhone and the designer garments.
We just need a backpack full of clothes and a decent roof over our heads. Family. Friends. Joy. Connection.
The rest is BS. It's a game, and we're losing.
So you decide to do things differently when you get home. You decide that you're over all the frippery of Western life, that your values have changed, that you're going to sell all the stuff you don't really need, all those possessions you haven't seen in months and don't miss a single bit, and live a simpler, easier, better life.
We all do it. These are noble ambitions and genuine realisations, which I've had so many times when I've travelled. The intentions are always good. The goals are always real.
And then I get home and they all disappear.
I get home and our capitalist, consumerist world sucks me straight back in. I don't need a new iPhone, I tell myself, except the new iPhone 11 Pro has all those cool cameras and the big screen on it and, yeah, I definitely should get one of those. I don't need anywhere near as many clothes as I have either, except there's a sale on down the road and a few more pairs of jeans and a new jumper for winter wouldn't be such a bad idea.
It doesn't take long – a couple of months, maybe even just weeks – before you slip straight back into your old ways after a long period of travel, before you're buying and consuming and acting in exactly the same way as you were before you left home.
That's what I see happening post-coronavirus. Not a glorious and much-needed realignment of values and priorities, but a rapid shift back to the way things always were. Advertising will get you. Marketing will get you. Natural human behaviour will get you too.
It might sound cynical and it's definitely a bit sad, but I reckon most travellers already know it to be true.
Have you ever had an epiphany while you were travelling? To change your values and priorities? Did it stick when you got home? And what do you think the world will look like after coronavirus?
LISTEN: Flight of Fancy - the Traveller.com.au podcast
To subscribe to the Traveller.com.au podcast Flight of Fancy on iTunes, click here.