Currently I live in Toronto, where I work full-time as a writer for a polar expedition company. I also contribute freelance articles to a range of magazines and web sites. COVID-19 has meant our office is shut down, so everyone is WFH. (It’s funny how acronyms have changed.) I’m actually bunking in with my cousin outside the city at the moment in a smaller suburb while waiting out the storm.

Life Without Travel is a series of first-person accounts from the Getting On Travel team. Each post offers a personal glimpse into the lives of our travel writers and bloggers apropos of the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020.

Like everyone around me, I’m concerned about the health and safety of family, friends and the world in general. Financial well-being will become an increasing worry as four friends have already lost their jobs. But I’m also concerned about younger people who are at the start of their careers and haven’t yet established themselves. Will this further delay their career paths? And while social isolation isn’t a huge challenge for me—it is for others. I worry about people very close to me who thrive on the closeness of others.

Apart from the uncertainty and worry I share with all of you, the two biggest changes in my life are:

• I no longer see my colleagues on a daily basis, and

• I’ve lost the option of regular real hikes and time in nature.

Nature outside Toronto

Taking a solo nature break outside Toronto.

My new normal

The coronavirus arrived—in a more concrete way—just as the snowshoe and cross-country ski season was coming to an end. All nature/hiking outings have been cancelled. Because I’m useless without a bit of exercise or Vitamin N (nature), I’ve found a compromise: I go on a solo hike (late day, evening, depending on the demands of work) as there’s an empty lane nearby that allows me access a Creekside trail where no one walks. I’m fortunate. Just me and a river valley (okay, more of a creek). At the moment in Toronto, we’re not living under a lockdown so fingers crossed that I’ll continue getting out for exercise and a dose of nature. Otherwise, I’ll chew my hand off.

I make a point of showering each day and putting on a proper shirt. Regular morning video meetings with my colleagues require one to look professional from the waist-up! I do a yoga stretch mid-morning and I block computer-free time at lunch. While helpful, it’s not the same as being with them. I miss the impromptu sharing and spontaneous brainstorming.

In addition to working from home, all of my travel plans (and a handful of writing assignments) have evaporated. This is the first time in 25 years that I’ve not been in the midst of planning and anticipating my next voyage. Travel has been a huge part of my life, not only my days as a travel editor and travel blogger but just in general. My conscious response to this unwelcome void has been to ponder other areas of my life that have become lost in the shuffle of life and travel planning.

Paid writing assignments have gone up in smoke, partly because media outlets have lost their budgets (advertising revenues have nose-dived). The lack of new travel assignments and trips is making it possible for me to focus on some other projects and subjects. I’m reading a lot about transformational travel. I’m listening to new travel podcasts.

Feeding your travel dreams

Take a moment and consider what is it exactly that travel gives you, and are you able to tap those benefits or fulfill those elements in other ways? For instance: Is it the adventure aspect of travel that you miss? Is it escapism from your job or daily life? Are you missing the newness that travel brings? Exotic food? Unfamiliar cultural experiences? There are ways to feed those needs even while being socially isolated.

Can you try an exotic Indian recipe? Join a group chat about travel in South America? Can you take a free (or budget-friendly) online course that’s far removed from your regular experience? Are you trying yoga for the first time? Can you do a solo walk (mindful of social and physical distancing) in an area of town that’s new to you? Can you do a basic conversational Spanish course online?

In short: look for ways to step outside your comfort zone and tap into the benefits of traveling without actually traveling.

Creekside trail outside Toronto

Scratching the hiking itch on an empty trail outside Toronto.

Entertainment and other diversions

Online:  I’m glued to Live Web Cams of nature spots. I’m currently watching polar bears in the sub-Arctic and following hikers along the coast of Wales. I’ve also been spying on a small Norwegian fishing village by web cam.

I’m shying away from Facebook travel groups that seem competitive – in which people tend to boast about where they’ve been. I’d love to see people post about: “How this destination/trip was so profound – or changed me in unexpected ways.”

“Derry Girls.” Set in Derry, Northern Ireland, in the 1990s. Hilarious and moving. It revolves around a cast of characters getting on with their lives at the height of The Troubles in Northern Ireland.

New authors or good reads: Elizabeth Strout. Not that she’s new but I just read her “Olive Again.” Dang, she can write and share such insight. In terms of “new,” I’d suggest you read Irish writer Sally Rooney. Her award-winning books (she’s only 28!) have such insight into family dynamics and relationships. I believe she was in her early 20s when she wrote her first book.

Ken Bruen’s “Detective Jack Taylor” series set in Galway is like a travelogue but one littered with dead bodies. Chapter by gripping chapter he paints a portrait of real Ireland today—better than Frommer’s. I’m also reading “The Hero’s Journey,” by Joseph Campbell, whom many consider to be the “father of transformational travel.” If you’re interested in travel that transforms, and approaching travel from a new perspective, definitely consider this book.

What’s cooking? I’ve been experimenting with vegetarian cooking. I’ve finally conquered cauliflower steaks, which I first ate a restaurant in London, UK. So here’s a recipe from British TV Chef Jamie Oliver – but you can simplify it.

What’s ahead?

Two thoughts: Firstly, when our society rebounds from this crappy experience (which will go on for months yet), I think people will express a renewed desire for authentic travel experiences and immersive travel. Just an inkling. My gut tells me that once we get through this life-changing pandemic, people will want something more out of their travels, and friendships and work for that matter. Less Disney, something deeper. I think people will be choosier, pickier about their travels. Less rushed.

Secondly, there’s a bigger message/lesson for all of us: Let’s stop farting around in terms of global warming and the havoc we wreak on the environment. If there ever was a loud wake-up call (repeat wake-up call, that is), this is it. Sustainable travel will be even more important than ever before.

Timely advice from Toronto

Each time I talk to my oldest aunts (especially those in their 90s) I know we’ll get through this. It’s time to look for wisdom from those who’ve weathered the storm before.

GOT Contributor Doug O’Neill

Three things Doug O’Neill cannot live without: his hiking boots, portable coffee mug and any kind of e-reader. Based in Toronto, O’Neill has held full-time positions at Canadian Living, Homemakers, TV Guide Canada and Toronto Life, and now, as a busy freelancer, he contributes to Canadian Traveller, Canadian Geographic Travel, BOLD magazine, WestJet, Explore Magazine, Ensemble, Ignite, Urban Guides Canada and many others. While O’Neill loves scribbling about city escapes –nature and the outdoors are his first passions. His favourite hikes so far: the 800-km Camino de Santiago across northern Spain, and a luxury heli-hiking adventure in the Cariboo Mountains, B.C. Doug is a member of the Adventure Travel Trade Association.