Growing up in Florida, many of our public schools incorporated a language into our daily schedule, and it was in the third grade that it started to click for me that it was much more than vocab words we were learning, but the first peek into another culture that was so different from ours. Spaniards got to take naps during the day! And eat churros! And how cool what we call soccer, they call football! For a third grader, these were major highlights that got me fascinated with Spanish culture.

Why do we travel? To meet new people, try different foods, see art.After getting hooked through grade school, I minored in the language and was able to spend my junior spring of college studying abroad in Madrid and completing the program there, while living with a host family. While there was the occasional language barrier, like the time I mixed up ‘couch’ and ‘knights’ when my host mom asked me what my college mascot was, I loved getting to see the city from the local’s perspective. With weekends free, my classmates and I traveled throughout Europe and while it wasn’t always glamorous (hello hostels) we learned more from the people we met along the way than we did in the classroom.

My passion for travel is easy to fulfill by living in New York, with the convenience of having international airports within reach, often leading to great flight deals. It was not uncommon to book a trip on a moment’s notice. Process: see a great flight deal – $300 to Iceland! $250 to Barcelona! – quickly text a few friends and go from sitting on the couch to booking trip in 15 minutes. (Good thing those PTO requests always got approved!).  To consider the world our playground was a blessing we never truly stopped to appreciate it until COVID-19 hit, and we suddenly couldn’t travel freely.

Besides the rush of adrenaline I’d feel from snagging a great deal, why do we travel? Sure, in recent years there’s people that only ‘do it for the gram,’ but we all know it’s much deeper than that. We travel to meet new people, try different foods, see art. We travel to see if it can’t really be all that hard to drive a car with the steering wheel on the right side (spoiler: definitely a bit trickier than it seems.) We travel as a way to bond with our friends, family and partners and create experiences and memories that can change the way we see the world. To escape the bubble we live in and take a look into the ways others eat, play, drink, live and dream.

We've had to learn a new way to travel.

When the pandemic started to feel real, I was traveling in Scottsdale, Arizona for a bachelorette party when the NBA paused the season due to the virus and Major League Baseball shutdown spring training. We started hearing rumblings of not being allowed to fly back to New York and even spent a few minutes playing out the possibilities if our flights were cancelled. Thankfully we were able to fly home, but it was the first time I stepped on a plane and suddenly felt scared. We wiped down our seats and the airline did their best to space us out but there was a lingering of uncertainty that didn’t go away for the duration of the flight.

Returning to New York felt eerie. People in Arizona were visiting bars and swimming in public pools and suddenly I’m elbowing people for toilet paper and stocking up soups from Duane Reade. On March 13 we were told we wouldn’t be back in the office for an undisclosed time, and it’s crazy to think of how the world’s changed over the last four months.

Not only was leisure travel now on hold, but my job focuses on travel – what would happen to the tourism industry? After we all took a few days to catch our breath, we set into action. Virtual experiences, live streaming web cameras, video conferencing backgrounds – we started brainstorming ways that we could bring the destinations to consumers who were suddenly bound to their home.

New Jersey transported people to the iconic Jersey shore with a compilation of beach cams and created a Spotify list of greatest hits from some of the state’s best talent. Alexandria, Virginia brought visitors the overly cute “Lamb Cam” at Mount Vernon and live streaming of workout classes. Nassau Paradise Island even launched an app for TVs and smartphones that featured six different calming beaches you could play.

As the stay-at-home orders continued, businesses started getting more creative. Wineries from around the world, including Sonoma County, launched virtual wine tastings – allowing customers a personalized experience to engage with some of their favorite brands. Destinations launched cooking classes, quilting lessons and musicians started teaching guitar through services like Zoom. We all suddenly found ways to connect with the places we loved from our kitchens and couches.

Being confined to my apartment helped me slow down. Suddenly, it wasn’t about all far-off places I could go but about exploring where I lived. Slowing down meant taking previously unexplored walking paths, learning to cook new recipes and overall appreciating the small beauty when we could find it, like a clear spring day or the sun setting over New Jersey.

With many international borders closed to Americans, many are predicting a surge in staycations and road-trips this summer. Data has shown travelers are still hesitant to board a flight for a vacation but are open to driving themselves to a destination in their own car or even an RV. DMO’s and CVB’s, short on marketing budgets, are also going after the local market with a new lens, encouraging locals to play tourist for a day in their own city and visit restaurants, bars and shops to help reinvigorate tourism.

I’m looking forward to discovering the hidden gems throughout New York City and the surrounding state that may have never been on my radar. New travel goals for this summer include finding the best soft serve vanilla ice cream cone in the tri-state and visiting a u-pick farm for the first time.

We travel to learn and educate ourselves about the way others live but when travel went away many of us learned new ways to do it. Special places are all around us and I think I’m not alone in learning it doesn’t always take a plane ticket to have a great adventure and a way to build incredible memories.

While we wait for the world to reopen to travel and dream of the once-in-a-lifetime trips to places like Peru or Thailand, it’s a good reminder that sometimes an ice cream cone with people you love can also be the perfect setting to create a lasting memory.