Back on the Road – 3 Years After COVID Started
During the second week of April 2023, I went on my first business trip since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was joyful and challenging. I knew intellectually that I craved connection with people outside my family and circle of friends. Once I traveled I achieved what this extrovert had yearned for; face to face human connection with colleagues who became friends. I want to do it again and never again.
That is, until I volunteered to go to the Colorado Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Management Access and Functional Needs Conference. As I expressed my desire to go I felt simultaneous elation and dread. It was December and I decided to compartmentalize my feelings about the trip from Connecticut to Colorado until well after the holidays. As winter unfolded, I gradually made arrangements to be on the road. My old scooter had been randomly stopping, sometimes at intersections, so I decided to get a new one. I also replaced my old phone that wouldn’t hold a charge.
I began to plan trip details. Since I would be flying into the Denver International Airport, I would stop at the Colorado Cross Disability Coalition (CCDC) and do a training on the way back from the conference. My very close friend Julie Reiskin is the Co-Executive Director. Her assistant generously arranged for me to have an accessible room in a hotel next door to the office. I got new pill boxes for the numerous new nutritional supplements that I have started taking since 2020, and I made sure my clothes were ready.
Two Sundays before my trip, I was seized in the grip of relentless anxiety. Nevermind the very real possibility of getting COVID after I got back or worse yet, while I was there, leaving me stranded in a hotel; I had forgotten how to travel. What if something went wrong? As someone who uses a mobility device, I knew that SOMETHING would go wrong. It was likely that several things would go wrong. My rational self knew that I could cope with whatever didn’t go my way, but my pandemic-worn-self could only try to stave off anxiety as best I could.
Thanks to overplanning, keeping as strict COVID mitigation practices as was possible, and good luck, nothing major went wrong. My scooter wasn’t damaged or destroyed. I didn’t contract COVID or even a head cold. The conference was great and I felt a sense of camaraderie with new colleagues that I haven’t experienced since 2020. I savored each conversation with people I had only met virtually and others that I was meeting for the first time. To be clear, I have formed and maintained tight bonds with my team, people who join the Partnership daily calls and others since I had stopped traveling in 2020. But I had not experienced the excitement of connecting with people in person.
For those of you who are eager to travel, I encourage you to consider it. Since you are out of practice, spend a little more time than usual planning. It will give you a better sense of control and make it much less likely that you will forget essentials. Be prepared to resist subtle adult peer pressure not to wear a mask or social distance. The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over but since traveling, even within disability and public health spaces, it seems as if virtually everyone has forgotten this. Don’t expect to see many people wearing masks.
If you are not eager to travel, don’t. The world has gone without your physical presence for a long time. It can wait a bit longer. Don't pressure yourself, if you are uncomfortable traveling.
As for me, I have volunteered for another business trip for The Partnership in a few weeks. And I don't feel any anxiety at all.