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On Returning to the Road

Absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

I just returned from my first group trip of the post-pandemic era, and it was fantastic. For two days in late May, I joined a group of 14 of our travel planner readers on a familiarization tour of Louisville, Kentucky, hosted by Louisville Tourism. 

The trip itself was a blast — visiting Louisville always is. But this FAM felt especially significant: For many, it was the first tourism outing they had taken in over a year. It was the first time many of us had seen each other after a long and frightening ordeal. And it was our first glimpse of the prosperous return to travel that we’re all hoping for.

I came home from the trip with four takeaways that might help you as you begin to think about returning to the road.

1) It’s safe to go.

This trip was originally scheduled for May 2020 but was rescheduled several times because of the pandemic. In the lead-up to this departure, we were all prepared to take the precautions that have become second nature: masking, social distancing, etc. But less than a week before the trip started, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that vaccinated people could unmask, and Kentucky dropped its mask mandate for those who have been vaccinated. As a result, everyone on the trip was able to do whatever made them comfortable without fear of getting sick — or being shamed.

2) There are still hurdles to clear.

We’re making dramatic progress toward normalization, but we’re not there yet. There are real challenges facing the travel industry now, including a shortage of workers in service jobs and the loss of experienced veterans who went to work in other industries. On this trip, we found some places were adjusting their hours or limiting their services because of staffing shortages. And there was still some confusion about which safety requirements would and would not be in force. We’re all still figuring things out as we go. It will take a few months for these issues to  be resolved.

3) We’re all a little rusty.

If you’ve ever been on a FAM tour, you know they can be busy and very tiring. Many of us who take them often have built up a level of travel endurance. But after a year at home, that stamina has waned, and in Louisville we all felt more tired than usual. I also forgot some simple things in packing that I would have remembered in 2019. It will take time for us all to get back into the swing of things and re-engage the muscle memory that makes us great on the road. But we’ll get there.

4) It’s amazing to be back.

I’ve been to Louisville dozens of times, but I never enjoyed it as much as I did this time. Some of that is because the city is better than ever. But I think it’s mostly because being grounded at home for so long made travel feel that much sweeter. We’ve been through a lot in the past 15 months, and we still have some things to figure out. But now we can travel, we can take off our masks, and we can hug our friends. We can do the things we were made to do. And we’ll never take them for granted again.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.