For the 50+ Traveler

Social distancing is a term we have all come to know in the year 2020. While I watch the world adjust to this new lifestyle, I reflect on how this is nothing new to me. I have lived on a farm in Iowa all of my life. A lot of the adjustments that I am seeing my friends have to make are things that I’m already accustomed to.

I learned at a young age that I had to create many opportunities myself. It’s fascinating that decades later, people of all ages are realizing that they have to create these types of opportunities.

Family is all around where I live. And even as the definition of home in my area has changed as family farms are no longer what they once were, social distancing is not easy when you all rely on each other for so many things. Still, in this time of distress, those of us in rural America understand that we need to practice social distancing, just as everyone else is.

In rural America, we are used to not seeing other people for days at a time if we choose. We have learned through the years to be smart with our trips to town to save a little money on gas. Once weekly or even semimonthly grocery trips are somewhat normal, as we tend to purchase things in larger quantities. In my household, dining out is something that we often do as a family, typically once or twice a week. We cook a lot of our own food but enjoy supporting local restaurants when we do go out to eat.

It’s not uncommon to find many of us in rural America out walking the dirt roads with our pets tagging along. Our farm cats have always loved a daily stroll to the train tracks and back. In the country, we don’t talk about city blocks; instead, we tend to use directions or landmarks. Our daily exercise is right out our front doors -- when the weather permits. We do not find ourselves surrounded by others when we head out, which makes social distancing very easy to practice.

When the weather does not cooperate, we have gotten really good about hunkering down in our homes. We break out a puzzle or two and it’s fairly common to find a board game set up in the living room. So while this is our reality, social distancing is obviously not an idea I had thought about until recently. Throughout the years, I have learned that it’s okay to stay home when I’m not traveling. I will admit it: Being forced to stay home makes things look a little different, but I am adjusting rather well.

Here in rural America, many of us know how to repair a washing machine, fix a flat tire, change out a spark plug, and even replace a motor in a vehicle. I have yet to meet a farmer who is not a jack-of-all-trades. Farmers are experts when it comes to fixing problems and learning by doing. Social distancing may be a challenge at times, but for many of the day-to-day things, we have learned how to be self-reliant over the years.

Rural America is a great place to raise animals. We love the pigs, cows, horses, and chickens that we and our extended family have raised through the years. 4-H kids everywhere are rejoicing in this social distancing, treating it as an opportunity that has been presented to them. As a 10-year 4-H member, back in the day, I would have loved a break from school a few months before the county fair. It takes time to train a cow for the show ring, and it takes a lot of patience to groom a chicken. These are all things that make rural America a fun place to be.

The crops will be planted soon and our gravel road will be busy with tractors. The corn and soybeans will know no different as they will grow just as they have in previous years. Farmers everywhere will drive their utility vehicles or trucks through the fields to check on the progress of these crops. They have done this alone or with a close relative for years, and this year will be no different.

Social distancing will not be an issue when it comes time to harvest, either. When August rolls around, it’s a treat to walk across the yard to the cornfield. Several rows of sweet corn will have been planted, and I’ll literally be able to pick sweet corn to toss in a kettle for supper, whether social distancing is still in effect or not.

There is minimal traffic in our area. When I see more than four cars drive by my house on any given day, I have to wonder what has happened. This is just one reason bike riding is a popular pastime. Here, we hop on our mountain bikes and take to the gravel roads. Family members of all ages can walk and bike safely, and in relative solitude, without worrying about traffic or encountering a lot of people.

All of those years of bean walking and rock picking taught me a lot, and for that I am grateful. I am thankful that I grew up on an Iowa farm and still have the opportunity to live in rural America. While many of my friends were socializing at the local swimming pool, I was out pulling weeds in a bean field. Today, kids, whether they’re in the country or not, have an opportunity to work on new skills and learn that there is always something to do.

Road trips have never looked better. Here in rural America, we can hop in our cars and take a drive around the section. Depending on the weather, we may come upon a tractor jam. The views of the wide-open road are something that I have appreciated for many years, and even as people coast to coast commit to distancing themselves physically, I’m thankful that I can share my views and insights with the world through social media.

For more COVID-19 insights and inspiration from other TravelAwaits writers, see our most recently published COVID-19-specific content here.