Have Cards, Will Travel

Travel in the time of coronavirus: One year later

Travel is much different from the way it was this time last year, but for me that hasn't been all bad


With encouraging news about effective coronavirus vaccines, people are starting to get more optimistic about travel. When travel picks back up, I hope we continue to slow down and enjoy the beauty around us.

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This week I took a short road trip to Seattle. After a couple of days without electricity and heat in my Portland home base, I needed a coronavirus-safe getaway with a nice bathtub and a warm hotel room. Based on past experience, I knew the Hyatt Regency Seattle would be the perfect place.

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My nights at the Hyatt were fantastic, as expected. The hotel was quiet, the rates were low and I got to take advantage of three World of Hyatt promotions on my stay. I earned 3x points per dollar I spent, I got free parking in downtown Seattle and the two nights I stayed counted as four qualifying nights towards renewing my Hyatt Globalist elite status for 2022. And the gym was open! (By reservation.)

While the stay was just as I expected, I didn’t realize how much my visit to this hotel would make me reflect on how my relationship with travel has changed in the past year.

As we’re all about to commemorate one year of a world with a lot of lockdowns and little travel, perhaps it’s a good time to consider how much the travel industry – and travelers – have overcome.

Travel before the pandemic

For me, it’s pretty natural that I reflect on life before the coronavirus when I’m visiting a location I’d frequented back when we naturally stood close together in lines, crowded in elevators and ate from communal breakfast buffets. Sometimes I stop and think, did we really do all those things?

When I arrived at the Hyatt Regency Seattle and was greeted by the single staff member manning the cavernous empty reception area, I was reminded that it had been exactly a year to the day that I’d last visited this hotel. In fact, I’d used my World of Hyatt points to stay at this hotel on two separate occasions in 2020 before the world shut down.

Before the pandemic, it wasn’t unusual for me to spend up to 100 nights a year in a hotel bed and half of my days away from my own home. I loved using my rewards points, bouncing from place to place and searching for the perfect combination of an excellent hotel breakfast and a soaking tub to bookend my days spent exploring new – and sometimes old – destinations.

I truly loved travel pre-pandemic. But reflecting back, I often I found myself too busy in the logistics of traveling to stop long enough to be grateful and wonder at the miracle of it all. I was always trying to beat a crowd, get to the next place or looking at my phone for the perfect hidden happy hour spot with an Instagrammable view – sometimes neglecting the beauty right around me.

Even when I wasn’t traveling, I was always somewhere else in my mind: planning the next trip, forever counting my credit card points and calculating how far I could stretch them to a new adventure. I was points obsessed.

See related: When to use your rewards and when to pay with cash

What the pandemic has taught me about travel

When the coronavirus stopped me in my tracks last March, and closed UK borders sent me packing, I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. I was still able to amass points and miles by ordering grocery delivery from the comfort of my living room sofa. But for months upon months, there was no next big thing to plan.

While not traveling was a huge disappointment of the past year, I have to admit that it’s also been an amazing lesson. For me, this pandemic has been the world’s greatest reminder that the ability I have had to travel in the past and will certainly again have to travel in the future is an extraordinary privilege.

As I’ve traveled a small amount the last year, I find myself being more patient, more grateful and more in awe of even the smallest opportunities that I have. This year has shifted so much of my perspective. I used to be frustrated to wait in immigration lines or disappointed if I didn’t get a nice view or the best upgrade. Now I’m just grateful to be sleeping in any hotel room where someone else has cleaned and made the bed for me. And I can’t even imagine how excited I’ll be to truly put my passport back to work again – no matter how long the line is.

Looking ahead

Though sometimes I’m still nostalgic for old travel times, I do get encouraged by visiting places like the Hyatt in Seattle. While so much of the hotel isn’t yet fully open, I’m so thrilled that it’s no longer completely closed and thankful for every employee who has returned to their work in hospitality. Friends, we are heading in the right direction.

The travel industry is continuing to adapt to make things as safe and convenient as possible for visitors. Destinations have discovered new ways to welcome and serve local and domestic travelers. We’ve seen tour operators reimagine travel experiences and bring them to your homes and kitchens.

And we’ve all adapted to slower living, exploring more of the beauty that’s closer to home. Sure, there are still closed borders and so many uncertainties about how things will look in the future, but at least we are beginning to look forward again.

Every day my list of friends and family who have been vaccinated grows. Likewise, my list of people who I know who have found ways to safely return to travel is growing. Of course, we aren’t back to pre-pandemic ways yet, but I’m wondering if that’s really the place where we ever want to be again.

Instead of bringing travel back the way it was, my hope is that travel will come back a little better. And that we’ll all be a little bit better ourselves as travelers – more kind, more patient and definitely more grateful.

It’s been a wild ride this year, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

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