In 2019 I visited seven countries on three continents and was away from home for several months. It was a banner travel year for me and one I won’t soon forget. I had similar plans in 2020 that would have included travel to Singapore, Japan, Korea, Kenya, and Puerto Rico. There would have been museums, palaces, World Heritage sites, a safari, and much more. But we all know what happened in 2020, and every single one of those trips had to be canceled.
I live in California, so like most of the country, we were directed to stay at home beginning in March of this year. And like many people, I cooked, baked, played board games, attended virtual events, and generally tried to make the best of the situation. But the minute it was permitted to travel again, I was out the door.
First I was off to Palm Springs, then Joshua Tree and Mammoth Lakes. As summer faded into fall, I went to Santa Monica, La Jolla, Santa Barbara, and the Channel Islands. All places I had been before, but somehow I saw them differently. For many years I viewed international travel as sexy and exciting, while domestic travel was just something I did until my next overseas adventure. But after several months of no travel, my perspective changed, and changed drastically. I began to appreciate my own backyard.
The First Trip: Palm Springs
One night in June I was sitting outside on the patio with my sister, daughter, and a couple of friends. My daughter announced that the Palm Springs City Council had just approved the reopening of hotels. Within minutes we had found and booked The Saguaro Hotel for the weekend. The next morning we were off to the desert.
During the day we floated in the pool, soaked in the sun, and drank margaritas. At night we ate out at restaurants. All of it felt so decadent, and I savored every minute of it.
The hotel had expected to reach 20 percent occupancy that weekend but was caught off guard when it reached 60 percent. The general manager and his staff were quite busy and a bit stressed. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one eager for a quick getaway. And while I loved the experience, it was at times anxiety-producing to constantly worry about social distancing and sanitizing. Travel always presents challenges, but traveling during a pandemic adds even more.
The Flood Gates Open
When I was a kid I used to play travel agent. I would get maps and brochures from AAA and pretend to plan other people’s trips. That love of planning travel has only grown stronger throughout my life. But the early days of the pandemic squashed that passion. For months I stopped any type of research.
But after Palm Springs my desire to research travel was rekindled. I seriously considered a trip to Alaska only to learn of their COVID testing and quarantining requirements. Then it occurred to me that a trip to Mammoth Lakes would be fun. A few weeks later my son and I packed up the car and drove to the Eastern Sierras. We hiked, kayaked, and explored the mountains. I thought Mammoth would be empty, but I was wrong. Once again, many people like myself were eager to get away, and an outdoor destination felt both safe and appealing.
Next was a trip to Santa Monica with my daughter. We booked an ocean view room at The Shore Hotel. While waiting to check-in we watched a video about the new sanitizing standards of the hotel. Space that might have been dedicated to promoting the restaurant or spa was now used to assure guests that the hotel was doing its part to keep everyone safe. I appreciated their efforts. Over the next few days, we shopped, relaxed by the pool, rode bikes, and ate at some of LA’s best restaurants.
Appreciating Our National Parks
The outdoors have felt both safe and comforting to me during the pandemic. So many of my trips have focused on outdoor activities like hiking, biking, and kayaking, all of which can be done in our national parks.
My husband and I had the chance to revisit Channel Islands National Park this year and kayak along the coast of Santa Cruz Island. We paddled into sea caves and through sea arches while watching harbor seals bob up and down in the water. I continue to be amazed that a park so beautiful is among the least visited in the national park system. Even in a state as densely populated as California, there are still hidden and uncrowded gems.
I’ve made two trips to Joshua Tree National Park this year with my brother and sister and had the opportunity to hike Barker’s Dam Trail and the Hidden Valley Trail. Both of these short nature trails offer beautiful scenery as well as stories of local history. At the end of Barker’s Dam are Native American petroglyphs. Hidden Valley was purportedly the spot used by cattle rustlers to hide their ill-gotten gain.
Most of our 61 national parks are about $30 to visit and an annual pass is $80. With nine national parks and 300 state parks in California, there are endless opportunities to get outdoors and explore nature.
Loving California Again
Over the course of six months, I’ve made nine day trips or weekend trips to California cities. Along the way, it occurred to me that people come from all over the world to visit the Golden State. I live here. In fact, I’ve lived here for over 30 years. Why did I take this place for granted? We have beaches, mountains, deserts, forests, and more national parks than any other state in the U.S. California is home to the oldest living organism (one of the White Mountain’s bristlecone pines) on earth and the highest concentration of sea caves in the world. There’s Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego, just to name a few of our great cities. And I would be totally remiss if I didn’t mention this state is home to both Hollywood and Disneyland.
For decades I’ve dreamed and planned my next international trip while forgetting how much my home state has to offer. This isn’t just a place to pass the time before going abroad; it’s a truly world-class destination. I have no idea when my next overseas trip will be, and quite frankly, that’s okay. It took a pandemic for me to finally appreciate the beauty and diversity of California.