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Will social distancing ruin the Travel during pandemic?





The pandemic numbers are only increasing. For travelling buffs, the life during pandemic has changed everything. The essence of Travel during pandemic needs to be touched. Can you still travel like before? Will this pandemic restrict the real fruits of travel? Will such travel be complete?


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After several months of lockdown, states have finally started opening their boundaries to the tourists. The news is good for travellers whose souls demand constant fuel of travelling. Many packed their bags after Unlock 1 was announced and did a short trip with their closed ones to a nearby destination. Interstate tourism till date is almost close to zero because of closed rail & bus connectivity, limited flights between cities, and stringent requirements imposed by some states, which opened their boundaries to travelers after the unlock started. The Railways, which is only serving the selected routes for now, is expected to get more trains back on the track soon. As more routes open, many will look forward to packing their bags for longer overnight trips to their preferred destination.

Will this pandemic restrict the real fruits of travel? Travelling to a place provides a traveler varying exposure to landscapes & culture. Mary Ritter Beard rightly said “Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” Real travel is all about meeting new people, understanding their culture, eating local meals, and exploring one’s horizon of thinking. The picturesque green landscapes, the pristine beaches and snowy mountains tell only a part of the story. The story completes when the traveller understands how the geography & history of an area have affected the food choices of the area, clothing choices of an area, and livelihoods of its people.

Travelling changes people. The hosts, who consider tourists their responsibility, feel proud in showing people the rich cultures of their ancestors. Fellow travelers, some time accompany you for a part of the trip and become friends for life. I remember my trip to Meghalaya where I made few friends during a trek. We did the whole trek together talking about our states and then stayed near the famous double decker bridge in a homestay. During my Arunachal trip, 2 locals showed me the entire city and we partied at a lesser “TouristY” Hot Spring which was 10 kms away from Tawang and was a famous spot among locals for picnics. My friend and I were the only outsiders here. A police official I met here gave me more insights about the city. A bus conductor in Kolkata was kind enough to design an entire itinerary for me. He wrote it on the back of a paper with the bus numbers for each route. There are numerous such moments that I remember as if I lived them yesterday.

The shift in travelling pattern has been happening since the last few years. A lot of travellers now prefer staying in hostels, meeting new people, and taking group trips with new people. The trend is also visible in the number of startups in the hostels and experiential tourism category in the last few years. Zostel is now in more than 35 cities. Tata Group owned IHCL entered into the homestay segment last year with the launch of Ama Trails & Stay. There is a surge in the number of travelers using online services like Couchsurfing to connect with locals and other travelers to participate in meetups organized in the city they are travelling to. Many hosts on Airbnb also offer to show you around the city as a USP to increase their bookings. More travelers now than ever want to explore more than just the rich sceneries of the destination.

The real challenge lies in the way people will travel during the pandemic. I am not talking about ones whose only gain is social media attention. I am talking about the ones who travel to broaden their vision, who love to explore the city, its heritage, its cuisine, and connect with its people. The pandemic demands social distance between individuals to curb its spread. This pandemic for sure will limit the number of people who would like to visit the crowded historical site, stay in a hostel, mix with local communities, and visit the crowded food joints.

The real traveller will be deprived of many such experiences. Heritage walks, Food walks, Group guided tours where you could meet new people, Village visits, and other Experiential tours such as local cooking experience, local handicraft workshops, and many other such experiences will be lost for sometime or will get limited till the fear goes out. Only a cure of the virus can get things back on normal. Till then, people will travel but for a real traveller, the most important part of his trip will be missing. The trip though complete will be incomplete.

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