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        The author standing in front of a building with a baby in a baby bjorn.

        Parental Arts

        How to “Travel the World” During a Pandemic

        Alexandra Brown is a travel-loving mother of two and the author of "A Year Off: A Story About Traveling the World—And How to Make It Happen for You." Here, she reflects on creative ways to incorporate travel during a global pandemic.
        Written By
        Alexandra Brown

        “Wait for me.”

        My now husband David had been describing his plan to quit his job to travel for a few months, and without hesitation, I had blurted out those three little words. It was our first date, and neither of us could have imagined that sharing a plate of enchiladas would lead to a whirlwind adventure. But it did. That first date set into motion not only our budding romance but also a yearlong round-the-world trip. After knowing each other for only two months, we made plans to quit our jobs to travel, and two months after that, we put the plan into action. Over the course of the next year, we traveled through 22 countries, moving east to west across the globe in a pursuit of endless summer. It was a trip of a lifetime.

        Travel was immediately woven into the very fabric of our relationship. So when we got pregnant with our first child, Emma, several years later, we excitedly made plans to take her to France for a month during our parental leaves. Most people thought we were crazy to not only take an 11-hour flight with a three-month-old but also spend four weeks traveling through a foreign country with her. But to us, it was a way to introduce our newest family member to the magic of travel that had defined our dynamic as a couple from the start. From unexpectedly getting stuck in several hours of traffic leaving Paris after an 11-hour flight, (Who knew it was Fashion Week?), to flipping jet lag on its head by enjoying late night dinners avec bébé to nap drives through the picturesque Loire Valley, Emma experienced the up-and-down rhythm of travel that makes it both character building and life giving. She now loves traveling as much as we do and comes to life when we move through an airport, take a flight or jump into the car for a road trip.

        Fast forward to March 2020: I was pregnant with our second daughter, Tatum, and David and I were starting the early planning for another family trip abroad after she was born. But as all of us now know, our travel plans were put on an indefinite pause when COVID hit. Like us, many families are desperately missing travel, so how can the itch be scratched when we are faced with a whole suite of limitations we live with today? After letting this question marinate, a few ideas sprang to mind - ways to keep the magic of travel alive in the day-to-day of pandemic life but without compromising safety. 

        man on a bench holding a baby; castle on a hill

        1. Make Family Night a Themed Night: Put a fresh twist on a weekly dinner-and-movie night by giving it an international theme. Each month, pick a new country and then each week, select a regional dish to make for dinner, accompanied by a playlist of music from that country and rounded out with a family-friendly movie from that country as well. You can also purchase some snacks or treats from the country of the month to keep up the international flavor during the week.

        2. Discover New Traditions: With the holiday season upon us, now is a great time to explore different traditions from around the world. For example, carve festive radishes as a family on Christmas Eve in honor of the Oaxacan tradition of Night of the Radishes or read about La Befana, the good Italian witch who delivers stocking stuffers the eve of January 5. This celebration of different traditions can extend beyond the winter holiday season as well.

        3. Integrate Cultural Immersion into your Homeschool Repertoire: For those already in the land of virtual learning, try a family cultural "immersion" program each week. Every family member takes turns picking a different international city or country to learn about together.

        4. Make a Modern Pen Pal: I still remember writing letters to my pen pal in Croatia when I was in second grade, but nowadays, it’s even easier to connect with people around the globe. Reach out to your network of family and friends to be connected to a family in another country and using apps like Telegram and WhatsApp, start a video messaging pen pal relationship between your kids. They can get to know someone their age from another country and begin to understand more about what their different daily experiences are like.

        5. Explore Local Getaways: While traveling looks very different right now, there are still ways to travel safely and have the feeling of “getting away from it all.” Look into destinations that are within a reasonable driving distance from your home. Places like Sauvie Island on the outskirts of Portland, Inverness in the Bay Area, the Hudson Valley in New York and the Blue Ridge Mountains outside Atlanta are only a short ways away but give the sense of being somewhere else entirely. Many Airbnbs are practicing enhanced cleaning protocols, so connect with the hosts before booking to double check what their practices are. Also double check your state’s travel restrictions before embarking on your adventure, to ensure you’re keeping both your family and other families safe.

        6. Make a Family Dream Travel Map: To channel your wishes for travel into something more concrete, consider creating a family dream travel map together. Get a big map to tack up on the wall and little colored pins, one color for each member of the family, to mark different places on the map where you’d all like to go on future adventures. And with the possibility of more travel *dimly* on the horizon, you could plan, and maybe even start booking, a trip for next year. Pick a destination and then make a list of all the sights you’ll see, the delicious dishes you’ll eat, the accommodations you’ll call “home” for a time and more, giving you a chance to vicariously live through your future jet-setting selves.

        While we cannot travel as freely now as we once did, there will be a time...when we will be able to explore the world once again.

        2020 has been a year like no other, to put it simply, and it has made us appreciate so many things we might have taken for granted before, travel among them. While we cannot travel as freely now as we once did, there will be a time (hopefully sooner rather than later!) when we will be able to explore the world once again. But until then, trying out a few of these tips and tricks can hopefully keep the magic alive. For my little family, this means spending a week in a cabin in the Columbia River Gorge; while not as far-reaching as the travels we’ve taken in the past, it’s the gift we feel lucky to be able to give ourselves for now.