Travel and coronavirus: Why travelling is essential

Somewhere. Anywhere. I need to move. I need to go. I need to see something different, see somewhere different, feel the joy and the fear and the amazement of stepping into a new world, into someone else's world, into the farthest unknowable reaches of this vast and seemingly infinite planet.

I need to go beyond four walls and a garden fence. I need a boarding pass in my hand. I need a train ticket in my pocket. I need sweat from south-east Asian humidity and chills from Canadian cold. I need vodka shots on the Trans-Siberian. I need lions roaring in the depths of night. I need a gallop across the pampas on an Argentinian estancia. I need snacks in a Tokyo bar.

Travel is a joy, but it's so much more. It's a limitless journey of discovery.

I need to travel. Somewhere. Anywhere. And I'm sure I'm not alone.

Isolation does interesting things to a person. It gives you time to think about the things you treasure, about what you love doing and what's most important. Everyone will have their own take on this. Everyone will feel differently.

Predictably for a travel writer, I miss movement. I miss it now that it's gone.

My wings have been clipped by the coronavirus, which I understand that, in terms of public sympathy for the world's predicaments, falls somewhere near David Geffen being forced to self-isolate on his $900 millon superyacht. Professional travellers aren't important. If things get truly dire, we'll be among the first to be eaten.

It's a mistake, however, to assume that just because travel writers aren't important, travel itself is insignificant. This might not be life-or-death stuff, but it has value. And for some of us it's immense.

This occurred to me a few weeks ago when I read Australian author Christos Tsiolkas's excellent piece about returning home from England in the midst of the coronavirus panic. He described sitting in Dubai airport, watching so many people flee to their homes and being struck with a realisation.

"All of this," he said to his partner, "it's unnecessary. All this travel, all this movement… it's unnecessary."


Well, Mr Tsiolkas, I respectfully and humbly disagree. If anything, this enforced isolation has made me realise the opposite. Travel is necessary. Movement is necessary. It's a privilege, of course, a lark for the ridiculously lucky. But there's still something inherently valuable to it, and having it taken away has only sharpened that belief.

Travel is a joy, but it's so much more. It's a limitless journey of discovery – discovery of the world, discovery of the people who live in it, discovery of yourself and everything you're capable of. It's a challenge. It's a risk. It's a conscious decision to throw yourself into places you think you know and to be proved wrong over, and over, and over again.

Travel brings us all closer. Not just physically but in a much more meaningful way. Exposure to other cultures and other people breeds understanding. It adds nuance. It blends the black and white of your preconceived notions into a beautiful and endless grey.

Travel has the power to shrink the physical world while expanding your own. It shows you other ways of thinking, other ways of living, other ways of doing, other ways of being.

Travel takes you away from home, but at the same time it gives you a renewed sense of what that concept is, and where yours lies. Home, for me, for now, is Australia. But how could you know that if you'd never been anywhere else? How could you decide your place in the world after having seen so little of it?

Travel brings so much to so many. It brings those of us privileged enough to be able to do it a huge amount of joy and fulfilment – but it also brings livelihoods to many who can't. That might be the most important aspect of all.

Travel employs people. It takes money from places that have a lot of it and puts a modest amount into places that don't. It supports economies. It supports communities. It allows people to build a life. It allows people to live.

Right now, it's gone. I have the utmost respect for the necessity of that, and plan to stay at home for as long as it takes to protect the vulnerable, and to protect myself. But as soon as the gates open, as soon as the destination boards light up, as soon as the boarding calls ring out and we're able to get out there and explore and enjoy once again – hopefully in ways that are more sustainable and thoughtful than before – I'll be one of the first in line.

To go somewhere. To go anywhere. To move.

Do you miss travel? Is movement necessary for you? What makes it important? What about it do you miss most?



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