Ah, yes. The European summer. As COVID becomes increasingly familiar, the gleaming gates to international travel open wider, releasing batches of college students onto idyllic beaches and lamp-lit cobblestoned streets. Locals wish for relief, hoping the rowdy barcrawlers, unskilled-accent-imitators, relentless photo-takers will return to the uncultured holes from whence they sprang.
But nay, the travelers are here to stay, armed with reserves of five-percent nicotine and crossbody bags that are certain to saySwiper, no swiping, per favore.They are unyielding and unapologetic after years of convincing themselves that partying in Fort Lauderdale is as satisfying as sitting by the Eiffel Tower drinking wine that only tastes different by virtue of being French. The romanticism is bursting, the excitement exhibited in full,the young tourist reveling in how truly, completely wonderful it feels to travel once more.
Many of us who will not see the Parthenon, eat fresh gyros on the streets of Greece, or deliberately pronounce itBarthelonato show we deserve to be there, are in mourning. We sit at home, donning stained sweatpants as funeral garb, surfing streaming services in revolt. We may boycott Instagram to stifle our jealousy, and we may convince ourselves eating cereal for dinner is perfectly alright if it might, just might, allow us to partake in the great migration next year.
There are upsides to this European envy. It can push you to budget more carefully, become an Airbnb sleuth, and maybe get a credit card for the points. Recently, I’ve started wrangling myself out of the nest that is my bed at the godforsaken hour of 5:00 am, my mind brawling with my body in a Wrestlemania stadium, bleary eyes and fortitude drop kicked by the early morning light, so I can pick up that extra opening shift. Minor to some. A Herculean triumphpour moi.
But an extra shift isn’t always enough, and 5:00 am isn’t always early. There are those for whom a vacation is unthinkable, the only priority making enough money to get by. For whom school does not end, summer classes stringing one semester to the next. Who must take care of loved ones. Help at the family business. With health issues, seen or unseen, that make traveling daunting if not impossible, especially as COVID lingers.
One comfort people often turn to is the staycation. Romanticizing one’s home through wining and dining — a hotel if you’re really leaning into the play-pretend. Exploring areas so far unknown for some semblance of the novelty experienced when traveling. Yet this is still a luxury, rarely cheap.
There is a culture of pressure — of moving our fastest. It’s further fueled by social media, which creates the sensation of a looming, foreboding countdown. We’re meant to have money now, be our hottest now, our most successful now, our happiest now. We’re pushed to always be peaking, never plateauing. Our Instagram post says,This is the best day ever, and our next post counters,No, this is.It’s an unwinnable cycle of trying to outdo ourselves. This is only worsened during holiday seasons, our feeds promoting privilege, aestheticism, and lavish hyperreality. It’s not groundbreaking to say life isn’t made up of picturesque romps through the Swiss Alps. But it is worth repeating that social media posts are not a healthy yardstick to hold our lives up to. Things are harder than that.
Maybe you, me, we didn’t travel this summer. Maybe we won’t travel in the foreseeable future. And yes, it can sting. But use other’s experiences for your own gain. To get excited. To keep as an example of how not to plan your trip. I don’t typically preach silver linings, but it’s fair to say your reaction to people’s holidays can help you discover if traveling is important to you. Maybe a trip to Prague, Amsterdam, Venice, Vienna, Madrid, or some lesser known destination is the best carrot on the stick for keeping you running.
If you’re taking the altruistic route, your own desire to leave homebase can make you more empathetic with your friends who are having their European summer — can help you realize how elated they must feel, and that alone can be a source of dopamine. Hey, at least one of you got out! It’s fun to live through people you love, made to feel like a kid again, sitting at the base of some storyteller’s feet as they describe distant lands.
Even if budgeting for a vacation is impossible at the moment, and you don’t know when or if that will change, hope is not intrinsically unrealistic; there is room for it. It doesn’t need to happen now. It can’t all happen now. And at the risk of sounding like a parent lecturing you on optimism when all you want is more freetime and a plane ticket to Berlin, maybe the wait and strain to get there will make your trip, when it comes, should it come, a little more meaningful and a little sweeter.