This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org.
I made a bold declaration: In the year I turned 50, I’d leave my North Carolina home and visit 50 places around the world I’d never seen. Then the Universe said, “Hold my beer.”
I never expected that a pandemic would crash my intended year of travel. But then again, I never expected to be on such a journey in the first place.
Three years ago, my marriage of 23 years was over, I’d just left a successful career as a TV news producer to start a content creation business and my daughter, Sidney, was becoming a teenager. All the expectations I had for my life were shaken up like a snow globe and I was watching the pieces fall, uncertain where they’d land. Life felt out of control.
Mile Marker 50 was my solution. I’ve lived long enough to see how mile markers like divorce, death, job loss or a health diagnosis can change people for the worst. I didn’t want my turning-50 mile marker to result in a smaller version of myself. Instead, I wanted to show others that rising above circumstances that bring us to our knees can be a beautiful and fun journey.
Planning my mile marker 50 trip
It took over two years of planning, saving and sacrificing to make my plan a reality.
Those plans included booking a paella class in Spain, plotting a 12-day tour of Italy, finishing the trip with a Northern Lights tour in Iceland. I was just as excited about the domestic trips I’d planned, including a train ride from Los Angeles to Seattle, camping in Marfa, Texas and hiking in Joshua Tree, Calif.
Paying for these trips was a tall order for a single working mom. There were moments it sounded crazy even to me. But I stayed focused on my goal, and by the time 2020 came around, I was ready to start seeing the world.
I completed eight trips before the pandemic closed borders and COVID-19 cut my trip to Europe short with my daughter and goddaughter in early March.
One day, we were standing in awe of the Eiffel Tower. The next, we were in Geneva being awakened by frantic texts warning us that the U.S. was implementing travel restrictions. We rushed to get home before chaos erupted. It was a spring break the girls will never forget.
I think the hardest thing about canceling so many trips has been missing the chance to spend time with people I love. I was looking forward to a cruise to the Bahamas with my college roommate, a trip to Greece with another single friend I don’t get to see enough, and dog sledding in Jackson Hole, Wyo. with a former work colleague who is one of my favorite people.
Facing the unknown again
After sitting grounded at home by a global public health crisis and unable to travel freely, I found myself again facing the unknown. The feelings of grief I’d experienced about the loss of my “old life” resurfaced.
Consequently, I’ve been putting to good use some of the lessons I learned from those first trips.
Thanks to the way Mile Marker 50 began, I am now more comfortable with not being in control. Since my mission was, in part, about learning to embrace the unknown, I had decided to let a travel agency choose my initial destination. I didn’t know I was going to Burlington, Vt. until I got to the airport.
That experience has helped me focus on what I can control during this quarantine, instead of getting upset by what I can’t.
My Mile Marker trip to Key West, Fla. with my 71-year-old mom and four sisters reminded me that I come from a long line of strong women who have gracefully weathered adversity. I know now that I’m made to handle whatever life throws my way.
I returned from Palm Springs, Calif. with a renewed appreciation for small, thoughtful acts of kindness. That trip was filled with kind gestures like my friend packing me a snack bag for our cross-country flight and watching the charming way a restaurant celebrated a patron’s birthday.
While I waited out the shelter-in-place order, I sent a puzzle to one friend, surprised another with takeout and dropped off food on a neighbor’s porch.
My new itinerary
I’m now turning to travel once again to help get me through, albeit with a very different itinerary. To me, travel is more than just checking things off a bucket list. It offers a healthy distraction to our routines. It gives you something to look forward to and reminds us that the world is bigger than our problems.
No, international travel likely won’t happen for me this year, but I can take shorter trips closer to home. And I will.
I’ve already found a few that easily allow for social distancing.
A trip to Ocean Isle Beach, N.C. and a mountain getaway in a renovated caboose on a bison farm in the mountains of Western North Carolina are both just a few hours drive from my Mooresville, N.C. home.
I’m still planning to include some more unusual destinations, like the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia and a visit to Mile Marker 50 on Route 66.
For farther destinations like Cape Cod, Mass. and Mackinac Island, Mich., I’m following expert advice and outlining a vague itinerary that doesn’t rely on exact dates. I’m also watching flight and hotel cancellation policies as they continue to change from city to city.
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I could say I was supposed to be sitting in a cafe in Venice right now… but then that negates the beauty of the moment I am in.
The truth is: I’m exactly where I am supposed to be right now.
Perhaps that’s the real lesson of the pandemic. We never know how life is going to go, even when we think we do. All we can do is learn to find stability and balance amid every uncertainty in our now.
Allison Andrews is an Emmy-award winning producer and writer. Her work has been published in The Washington Post, Good Housekeeping, Business Insider and in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. You can follow her adventures on Instagram @Milemarker_50.
This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org, © 2020 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.