The devastating effects of the pandemic span beyond just physical. The stress of going through a pandemic and living in quarantine, along with the loss of loved ones, employment, or at the very least, social interaction, is taking a toll on our mental health.

While it’s imperative to abide by restrictions to protect the physical health of ourselves and others, we take care of our mental wellbeing during these trying times.

But for many of us wanderlust-filled souls, there is one major influence on our well-being that the pandemic discourages — and that is travel. Travel is where our spirits come alive, it’s where inspiration and opportunity flow into our lives, it’s where we feel not only happy and stimulated but also motivated and driven. 

Mexico - Raw Love Cafe, Tulum. Photo: Kellie Paxian
Mexico – Raw Love Cafe, Tulum. Photo: Kellie Paxian

None of us are thrilled about the pandemic and we all have to do what we can to stay mentally sound. Some are discovering new hobbies, others are focusing on work, couples are enjoying quality time, and introverts are saying in and watching Netflix.

Personally, as a single extrovert whose income and wellbeing are both directly tied to travel, knowing my mental health does not thrive in a Canadian winter on a good year, let alone a pandemic year where I’m crashing in my parents’ basement — I knew for my mental health, career, and sanity I had to go. So with some careful consideration, that is why I chose to base myself in Mexico for the past two months and South Africa for the next three. I know many of my fellow wanderlusters are considering or dreaming of getting on a plane to recharge their souls, if they haven’t done so already.

Mexico - View from Selina Hostel, Puerto Escondido. Photo: Kellie Paxian
Mexico – View from Selina Hostel, Puerto Escondido. Photo: Kellie Paxian

I certainly am not advocating for people to travel recklessly or unnecessarily, and I know how privileged I am to even be able to consider travelling during a pandemic. As a freelancer and remote worker, I’m not restricted by two-week quarantines or limited vacation time. So my “trips” are months in duration, and I am working while abroad. For me, there is no other option than to be “travelling” right now — staying safe to the best of my ability while prioritizing my personal and professional wellbeing.

I use quotation marks because I am not travelling as I normally would, and the experience is certainly not as easy and liberating as it once was. I arrived in South Africa via a 27-hour flight through Calgary and Amsterdam — two planes that had empty rows, and one which was relatively full due to recently cancelled flights from the UK. I spent $400 to get a Q-Tip shoved up my nose and scratched around on my brain to be allowed in this country. I spent hours and hours on the phone with Flighthub and Air Canada trying to sort out flights after they tried to place me on some ridiculous 29-hour layover in London (still waiting on my voucher, guys). I’m only on a 90-day tourist visa so I’ll have to do another 14-day self-isolation when I eventually go back home to see my family unless rules change by then (which I am optimistic that they will).

South Africa - Secret cave in Cape Town
South Africa – Secret cave in Cape Town. Photo: Kellie Paxian

But I write this article from Atlantic Point Backpackers in Cape Town, South Africa, my home away from home, the place where my heart is the happiest, my soul is the most stimulated, and where I feel most present, inspired, and alive. I was here from January to March 2020, and now am back again for 2021. Yes, I am staying in a hostel during the pandemic. I’m in a private room with ensuite bathroom, I am able to lounge in the open-air garden area, and I, like my friends and family back home, am able to go to grocery stores and cafes and restaurants as I continue to wear my mask and wash my hands. South Africa is currently on level three lockdown, which means that beaches are closed, alcohol sales are banned, and there is a 9 PM to 6 AM curfew. Things are not in vacation-mode here, and travel is not easy these days, but I know this is the right decision for me.

South Africa - Table Mountain, Cape Town. Photo: Kellie Paxian
South Africa – Table Mountain, Cape Town. Photo: Kellie Paxian

On top of this, at risk of the travel shamers calling out some sort of saviour complex, the countries that are open to travellers are so mainly because they rely heavily on tourism. The travel and tourism sector accounts for 15.5% of Mexico’s GDP, and I have close friends in the tourism industry here in South Africa from safari operators to accommodation owners who have been struggling badly. These countries are open to tourists, and these local businesses want and need them to come. Just as we may be risking lives by coming off an airplane with the potential of COVID (highly unlikely with a negative PCR test, but of course there is a risk), local lives are also at risk from the economic collapse that came with the pandemic. If borders are open and restrictions are followed, I believe there is a safe way to sustain our souls by travelling.

So let’s wear our masks, wash our hands, and social distance to the best of our abilities. I will be the first to admit I’ve pushed my luck a few times and could have been safer. I also believe this is the case for any of us unless we’ve been hiding under a rock for the past nine months with zero human contact. COVID-19 is relentless and anytime we enter a public space, visit a friend, go to the office, go to the grocery store, we’re at risk. We’re doing our best.

Travelling right now isn’t for everyone, and I don’t believe it should be for everyone. I am blessed to be able to make this work. Who knows what the future holds, but so far, the payoff is knowing that I am making decisions that I can stand behind and knowing I am exactly where I am supposed to be, for me.

South Africa - Lion's Head, Cape Town
South Africa – Lion’s Head, Cape Town. Photo: Kellie Paxian

Cover photo of author at Lion’s Head, Cape Town, South Africa.

Publisher’s Note: We respect that travel is a personal choice and that some depend on travel for their livelihood. Before embarking on travel it is imperative that you monitor your health and research local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19.