Travel overseas and coronavirus: The 11 things I miss the most

You miss people, obviously. When you can't travel, that global network of friends and family members that you've been so lucky to cultivate becomes reduced to a sea of faces on a computer screen.

You miss all of those people around the world that you've come to know. You miss old acquaintances. You miss former flings. You miss those chances to catch up with long-lost friends when you just happen to be passing through their country or city one day.

That's a given. But during these times of lockdowns and travel bans, you also miss more about the world. Or at least, I do. I miss specific things. I miss specific places. I miss the incredible privilege of being able to plan and book and go to see some of these wonders that I've always enjoyed so much.

Right now, this is what I'm missing most.

Japanese trains

There's something that's both calming and exciting about a Japanese train. Doesn't matter which form of the transport we're talking either, from the newest shinkansen bullet train to the oldest suburban rattler. Japanese trains are charmingly predictable: they're always on time; they're always clean; they're always safe. They also invariably spirit you away to somewhere exciting, somewhere beautiful, somewhere new. Right now I would love to be on a Japanese train.

Namibian sunsets

Tourists climbing Sossusvlei dune, Naukluft National Park, Namibia satmar28One

Photo: iStock

There's a special sort of sunset that you only get in an African game park, particularly one in Namibia where the ground is so dusty and dry, and there are so many millions of hoofs and paws to stir it up. The dust hangs in the air towards the end of the day, creating these amazing sunsets, where you get to stand and watch as this huge purple orb makes its way towards the horizon, as the noise of the African bush subsides and night settles in. There's nothing else like it.

Spanish bar culture

Obviously, any sort of bar or pub would be welcome right now. However, if I had my choice I would definitely be heading to a Spanish drinking establishment, the sort of place where you can stand outside on a crowded street with your beer or wine, where you can pick over tasty morsels of food to keep you sated, where you can mix with people of all ages and backgrounds, where you can move on to the next bar, and the next bar, and the next bar after that, and barely move a few metres. No drunkenness. No fights. Just joy.

Iranian hospitality

No country in the world does hospitality like Iran. No one gives you the genuine warmth of welcome. No one provides the same generosity. No one offers the Iranian goodwill. Right now I miss so much about the Middle Eastern travel experience, but more than anything it's the smiling hospitality of the Iranians, the kindness that puts the lie to the commonly held belief about those from this part of the world.

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French bread

You think you've had good bread in your life. You think you get high-quality baguettes at home. You think bread can't get much better. But then you go to France, to some tiny village in the middle of nowhere, to some pokey bakery that's churning out long, thin loaves, and your world is changed forever. This happened to me in Montagne, near St Emilion in south-western France. The bread there was the best bread I've ever tasted. It was mind-blowing. Crusty on the outside, pillowy soft on the inside. Smothered with salty butter, it would almost be my death row meal (if carbonara didn't exist).

Argentinian pampas

I'm no horseman, as multiple patient steeds around the world could attest. But still, there's something truly great about trundling around the Argentinian pampas – the country's grassy lowlands – on horseback, getting in touch with gaucho culture, taking in the beautiful scenery and getting ready for a traditional asado, or barbecue, at the end of the day. When you now spend most of your time cooped up inside, the freedom of a horse and on open plain sounds pretty darn good.

American music

Festival goers attend the Coachella Music and Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club.

Revellers at the Coachella festival last year. Photo: AP

You can listen to all the American music you want right now. But that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking live music, the experience of sound at its most raw and real. The USA has an incredible live music scene, from the biggest festivals to the dingiest dive bars, with genres that span rock to hip hop, blues to jazz, country to soul, the shows often staged in the very venues in which those forms of music were created. That's an experience to hanker for.

See also: Top 10 American music cities

Pacific Island kava

I could take or leave kava, the mildly sedative brew made in many of the Pacific Islands from the ground root of the piper methysticum plant. It doesn't taste great. It doesn't do much. What I do miss, however, is the culture around kava, the act of sitting in a circle with a community and sharing an experience, of chatting and listening and passing the cup, of being allowed to experience a cultural rite in a way that doesn't feel forced or fake. That's a rare and special thing.

Vietnamese streets

Busy street corner in old town Hanoi, Vietnam. Lots of people are commuting on motorbikes or cars. The street is lined by stores and appartment buildings. sunmar15hanoi food walking tour Hanoi old town Vietnam ; text by Steve Meacham ; SUPPLIED via journalist ; iStock ^^^ REUSE PERMITTED ^^^ 

Photo: iStock

In real life, the streets in cities such as Hanoi and Saigon scare the hell out of me. As they exist in my memory, however, those scooter-strewn rivers of humanity represent something much more exciting and valuable. They represent all that's different and amazing about Vietnam. They represent the arteries that whisked me through the Mekong Delta when I hired a scooter to drive around. They represent the highway stalls selling cold coffee and condensed milk. They represent the chaos and energy of the wonderful south-east Asian experience. That's something to miss.

Thai markets

Talat Rot Fai in Bangkok, Thailand.

Talat Rot Fai in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo: iStock

Not just any Thai markets: Thai street-food markets. The sort of places you can spot from hundreds of metres away thanks to the plumes of smoke from wood fires and the scents of chilli and lemongrass and charred, singeing hunks of fish and sausage. The sort of places where you can pick up the best meal of your life for a few dollars, where you can sit down on a plastic stool and drip with sweat as you fight the chilli pain and just keep on pushing through. Gimme that.

Swiss mountains

Ch?teau-d'Oex, Switzerland by hot air balloon. traxx-online-balloon

Photo: Craig Platt

Is there a more beautiful sight in the world than a Swiss alpine setting? The impossibly green grass of the foothills, the flawless lakes, the postcard villages with their little churches with spires, and then the grandeur of the mountains proper, the sheer cliffs, the snow-capped peaks, the blue of the sky behind them. No photo or video could ever do it justice.

What do you miss most about the world right now? Where would you be and what would you be doing if you had your choice?

Email: b.groundwater@traveller.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

​See also: Trapped with my in-laws, here's my 'hotel review' of their home

See also: Eight ways to bring the horrors of travel to your own home

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