Pandemic Lessons on ‘Meaningful Travel’

The Covid-19 epidemic reminds us why we explore—and what that means for your family travel plans in the future.

By Liliia DeCos



The past year has been a looooong and weird one. And though there were countless worse tragedies in the world, the impact of the pandemic on traveling has been unprecedented.

But I would argue that the impact on our travel habits hasn’t been all bad.


The New York Times and other media outlets have begun to run stories about the switch from typical tourism to “meaningful travel”—leaving behind tour buses and Instagramable sights to instead travel for a purpose, whether it be meeting locals, connecting with family, exploring new areas independently or learning new skills.

For our family, for ROAM, and for the many families who read it, “meaningful travel” is the meaning of travel. We’ve never traveled for any other reason. We know you don’t have to stay in an overwater bungalow or snap the perfect “golden hour” sunset shot to have an incredible experience on the road—one that both parents and kids learn from, together.

Travel Lessons from the Pandemic 

My husband, Jose, our two girls, and I are full-time travelers right now, so when the pandemic hit we were preparing to set off on a year of sailing and world-schooling.

As the world shut down, we were forced to stay with friends and family in North America and Europe. We did so safely, following all the rules, and had a fabulous experience. We watched many other families do the same—whether camping near home or road-tripping or negotiating safe air passage to an open destination.

The many months of “safe adventuring” and “shutdown contemplation” have taught us lessons that are going to shape our family’s travels in the years to come.

1. Appreciate where you can go today because it might not be possible tomorrow.

While we can get upset about not being able to go to a certain far-flung destination right now, it’s important to be positive and think about where can we go, safely.

Last year we took for granted the possibility to go anywhere in the world—we can’t make that mistake again. Let’s appreciate every park, every beach, every state, and every country that welcomes visitors and be very happy for the simple fact that we are not under a lockdown in our home.


2. Don’t postpone that bucket list trip until better times. If you can go safely, go now!

This is a lesson many travelers have learned. When the pandemic hit the Americas, we had just crossed the border into Texas after road-tripping through Mexico for three months. I can’t even tell you how many times we told ourselves what an amazing decision it was for us to go for it and not wait until the kids got older or Mexico gets safer (alert: most of Mexico is really safe despite what you see on the news). Of course, we still have regrets about other missed opportunities: not going to Australia yet, not visiting China when we could have, not showing my mom the Eiffel Tower (her dream), and not visiting my family as often as I could.

 3. Traveling doesn’t have to be Paris. A simple road trip can be invigorating.

After years of unfettered roaming, many of us think of “traveling” as going abroad to the most famous—or most touristed—spots around the world. We often think of exploring near home as a more mundane, unexciting proposition.

Well, the pandemic taught us—or at least me—that it is me who decides whether my trip will be exciting or not. I don’t need to go to Paris to have a dream trip (though my mom would disagree). In fact, when the world started to shut down and we were in the United States for several months, we finally had a chance to see the areas near our home that we never had time for before.

That’s how our minds were blown by a kayaking expedition in Florida. Swimming with manatees, seeing dolphins, paddling through the most spectacular mangroves, chasing alligators, camping on remote uninhabited islands — it’s the type of experience we usually cross the world for and it turned out that it was just “down the street” from our home base in Delaware. The most surprising part? If not for the pandemic, we would be still underestimating all that Florida has to offer.


4. Traveling has a positive impact on a traveler’s mental health. In order to stay sane, we must get out and explore.

When we travel we connect with others, see things we’ve never seen or experienced before, learn new things and build lifelong memories. These experiences bring us happiness—and they’re why we love traveling!

Talking to travelers from all over the world over the past year, we all agreed on one simple fact: Nothing made us unhappier than losing our freedom to move freely and explore.

My best friend lived through a 100-day lockdown in Spain. For more than three months straight, her children were not allowed on the streets, and she and her husband could only leave the house once or twice a week to go to a supermarket or pharmacy. She confided in me that the experience was the worst time in her life and that she now has panic attacks, fearing it could happen again.

5. By encouraging families to get out and travel, we mean traveling safely and responsibly, respecting local rules, and following travel guidelines.

Over the past year, we’ve traveled a lot, including internationally, and I am stating unequivocally that it is possible to travel safely and responsibly in certain areas. Traveling during a pandemic doesn’t make you a bad citizen, not at all. In fact, it can be just as tempting to spread the virus when you are staying put in your own town, and can’t resist the temptation to get together with family and friends.

6. Pandemic traveling is about seizing the right opportunity.

Our family had planned to start a sailing adventure last spring, but it didn’t happen, for obvious reasons. We had no choice but to wait it out.

Instead, we were surprised to find that traveling could still be a very fun and unique experience closer to home. In fact, trips to certain destinations cost us a fraction of what they would during normal times.

For an entire month, we lived in Manhattan—just minutes away from Times Square and Central Park. I had never seen the “city that never sleeps” so quiet and, well, sleepy, but we loved it! We had the whole city to ourselves and it was a truly exceptional time to visit NYC. All the tourist attractions were closed, so finally we had a chance to live our lives like New Yorkers, just walking the streets, visiting countless parks, getting lost in many neighborhoods of Manhattan and Brooklyn, and simply soaking in the New York atmosphere.

Don’t we all get annoyed by herds of tourists, even though we’re part of the herd too? Don’t we all dream of having a place to ourselves? These dreams came true for us during our travels in 2020.

We played badminton alone in Times Square. We were the only tourists in Spain’s Alhambra, a place that normally has a months-long waiting list. We had the whole historic town of Malaga to ourselves. And we flew on a transatlantic flight with only 10 other desperate souls trying to get back to the U.S. I doubt any of these experiences will happen again in our lifetimes.


7. We will forever be grateful for Covid-19 pushing everyone outdoors.

When all the restaurants and indoor activities closed up, millions and millions of people around the world rushed to nature: whether for hiking, biking, rafting or simply picnicking in the fresh air. Being outdoors during the pandemic is the safest way to be.

We are frequent visitors to the few state parks we have in Delaware, and we were pleasantly shocked to see the increasing number of families coming to these parks. I hope people realized that spending time in nature has so many benefits to our physical and mental health and that the draw of being outside won’t end once our world is back to normal.

8. Things don’t breed happiness, experiences do.

When everything closed down, my biggest surprise was realizing that I didn’t miss shopping, buying things, or even going out to restaurants. The most painful part was realizing I couldn’t just buy a ticket and go somewhere. My path to happiness is seeing things I’ve never seen before, connecting with other people, and making new memories as a family. Luckily, a year of traveling during the pandemic has taught us that we can still find that experience safely, locally, and mindfully.






Liliia DeCos  – February 2021

ROAM Executive Editor

Originally from Ukraine and now based in Spain, Liliia has traveled literally across the world with her husband Jose and their two young daughters. Follow their intrepid walkabouts at bring_baby_abroad and see Liliia’s amazing photos on Instagram at bring_baby_abroad or on ROAM where she won Best Family Photo of 2019

© ROAM Family Travel 2021 – All rights reserved


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