“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” But really, it was the worst of times. The last two years haven’t exactly been a blast for most people. It has scattered relatives, separated friends and shattered lives via a seemingly never-ending trail of stop-start moments and switchbacks along the road.
But one of the sleeping, silent casualties has been the slipping away of milestones. These key cornerstones and markers of life’s memorable moments are crucial to a shared feeling of progress. A sense that things are moving forward. Without them, time seems to stand still, life stagnates and we might as well be pacing around the park again.
Lockdown left many of us feeling disconnected from life
“The loss of our usual routines and rituals during the pandemic has had a huge psychological impact,” says Charlotte Russell, clinical psychologist and co-founder of The Travel Psychology project, which seeks to explore the mental and emotional benefits of travel.
“During lockdowns, we lost regular contact with key people in our lives and opportunities to celebrate important milestones. This left many of us feeling disconnected from life, our purpose and our sense of self,” she adds.
But years of blurry birthdays over Zoom spent sipping flat champagne; weddings canceled, rebooked, then canceled again; above-and-beyond honeymoons ditched and downgraded – all look set to become a thing of the past this year, as we emerge, blinking and bleary-eyed, back into the world – with a renewed appetite to celebrate all that’s been paused, postponed and put on hold.
We’re calling it milestone travel – the post-pandemic trend towards celebrating life’s significant moments, whether that’s a big-bash birthday spent salsa-dancing in Colombia, a first-time trip with a new partner to Japan, the chance to reconnect with old friends (and make new ones) in Morocco, or a just-because-I-made-it-through adventure in South Africa.
“Big transitions – whether they are positive ones, like a new job or a big birthday, or negative, like a break-up or the death of a loved one – are formative opportunities to go on a trip, particularly a solo one,” says Kate Wills, author of solo-travel manifesto, A Trip of One’s Own.
And Kate should know. After going through a divorce in her early 30s – one of life’s most unwelcome, unremitting milestones – she chose to do what she does best as a travel journalist: put distance between the past by visiting new places and marking out happier moments instead.
“There are already plenty of milestones that we traditionally mark with holidays, such as honeymoons or gap years. But it’s brilliant that we’re now widening it out to make the most of other key life moments, too,” says Kate. “I’ve recently met people who have booked solo trips to celebrate retirement or divorce – or just making it through the pandemic.”
Few people are more qualified to cast light on the current desire to shake off the cabin fever and celebrate than Simon Parker, author of Riding Out. After the death of a friend and his travel-writing career being swept away, seemingly overnight, during Covid, he decided to cycle 3,500 miles around pandemic Britain. Armed with only a sleeping bag and a stove, he set out in search of forward motion and peace of mind.
“On my 3,500-mile journey around Britain, I discovered a country that was itching to get back to normal. For a lot of people, that meant travel,” says Simon. “I sensed a pent-up desire to get out there and make up for lost time. After two years on pause, I think that big journeys like mine won’t be so niche anymore – they’ll be a rite of passage.”
I sensed a pent-up desire to get out there
So, where will the road take you? You might want to mark a career change, or a promotion that went unnoticed, by hitting new heights and hot-air ballooning over the caves of Cappadocia in Turkey. Perhaps you want to get far, far away from it all by wallowing on a private island in the Philippines. Or maybe, just maybe, you want to bolster that bucket list by ticking off the rose-pink Nabatean city of Petra in the dusty deserts of Jordan – just because you can.
For Kate Wills, it’s simple: “I’m currently planning my first solo trip to Greece after having my daughter in 2020. It’s a present to myself for making it through the first couple of years of motherhood. I’m already dreaming of lying on a sun lounger without a small child in tow.”
After all, what better way to pause and mark the passage of time, than by celebrating a new life? Apart from, possibly, celebrating a new life, with the benefit of a good night’s sleep…
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