Summer in Lucca came right on time. As if a switch were flipped, the solstice happened and one day later the sun showed up in full force, blasting down 87-degree days one after another. It’s beautiful in this part of Italy at this time of year, while the greenery, wildflowers, and other remnants of spring are still on display and the summer nights seem to last forever. Italy has successfully (so far, at least) emerged from one of the world’s strictest lockdowns and la bella vita once again surrounds us. Masks are commonplace (mandatory when in close proximity to other people), Italians are the least touchy they’ll probably ever be, and there is enough hand sanitizer to give every one of the world’s germaphobes a lifetime supply, but life is otherwise pretty normal. The country as a whole followed a long, closely monitored quarantine with a quite uniform reopening strategy and the numbers continue to look good. There are currently less than 14,000 total cases in Italy, with only 69 considered critical, and fewer than 200 new cases per day.
As the situation here has improved, we’ve watched as the U.S. and other countries have struggled to contain COVID-19. Travel has been massively impacted, with the EU’s recent reopening excluding Americans (for now, at least). And while people’s health and safety, especially those who are most vulnerable, should be all of our greatest concern at the moment, the impact of the virus can be felt in a myriad of ways. The travel industry has suffered immensely, along with the many amazing restaurants, shops, and small businesses that support and rely on tourism. Devastatingly, some of these businesses may not survive 2020. But in a year as impactful as this, we think it’s important to acknowledge another loss, one that may be less apparent.
The loss of travel is also a lost opportunity for more cultural understanding, self exploration, and an invaluable perspective to be gained. Because to truly travel is to open oneself to the magnificent differences, and similarities, of people, traditions, and histories of someplace new. The insights we take from experiences that pry us out of our comfort zones, away from the distractions of our daily lives, and into the world of someone else, can be genuinely transformative. After returning from a trip that challenges us, that inspires us, we are forever changed, even if ever so slightly.
In a recent interview with the Washington Post, long time Europe Travel Guru, Rick Steves, put it this way:
Travel is the best way to get to know your neighbor. If a community is going to function, you need to know and respect your neighbors, need to trust your neighbors. You need to collaborate and work together. That’s not just a community thing. Community is global now. That’s a scary thought for a lot of people, especially people who don’t travel, who are afraid of people who are different.
When you travel, you celebrate diversity. When you travel, you’re not afraid.
The most fearful people in our country are the people buried deep in the middle of it who have no passports. I’ve thought a lot about it lately, and fear is for people who don’t get out very much.
The flip side of fear is understanding, and we gain understanding when we travel. It’s pretty straightforward to me. And I just think that if everybody traveled, we would be a country that better understood certain realities that are confronting us. If everybody traveled, we would be able to celebrate diversity instead of being afraid of it.
(Well said, Rick.)
Since starting Cohica, we’ve been lucky enough to travel across the world, visiting dozens of countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, South and Central America. We’ve had long conversations with friends in Vietnam and Thailand, enjoyed meals with local partners in Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala, and El Salvador, and shared stories over drinks with the people we’ve met all over Europe. In each of these experiences we’ve come away with a similar understanding. That people and cultures are both beautifully unique and different and also so incredibly similar. It’s these similarities of the human experience that bridge the divides of language and culture, and allow us to learn about and appreciate the wonderfully distinct aspects of each of our lives. In all of this, it’s these moments that we miss the most and these moments that the world is missing.
So while much of this year’s travel opportunities may have been lost, there are innumerable ways to prepare for our next life-changing travel experience. Some suggestions from our friend, Rick:
Take this opportunity to hone your ability to appreciate different cultures. Get kids into art. Read something about Islam. Read something about the Renaissance….. It really gets you tuned in to better appreciating the travel spirit, and the actual travel experiences that await you when you’re ready to travel again.
So, like Rick, we’ll be spending much of the summer here in Italy, working on our Italian, boning up on our Roman history and Renaissance art, exploring and admiring diverse and spectacular landscapes, and soaking up as much of the culture and traditions as we possibly can. Travel will be back soon, better than ever (we think), and so greatly appreciated more than ever before.
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