When travelers can’t travel, what should we do?? Make lemonade!
“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” is a proverbial phrase used to encourage optimism and a positive can-do attitude in the face of adversity or misfortune. Lemons suggest sourness or difficulty in life; making lemonade is turning them into something positive or desirable. (Wikipedia)
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It seems a lifetime ago. On February 29 and March 1 we were at the Atlanta Travel & Adventure show, interacting with hundreds of enthusiastic travelers about our small group tours in Europe. People were interested in talking about joining us on one of our few remaining openings this year, on one of next year’s trips (which had just been announced), or in the future. There were a few questions about the coronavirus, but it wasn’t a major issue. On Saturday evening we had a fun happy hour with European Experiences travelers from the Atlanta area.
A few days later I flew to France to spend time in Provence getting ready for this year’s trips, participate in a special tour in the Loire Valley, and attend the big annual conference sponsored by the French tourism organization in Nantes.
How quickly life changed after I arrived in France on March 5. A few days after I arrived the tour and conference were cancelled, and then the US border was closed. I flew home early on March 17, the first day of the very strict lockdown in France.
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Fast forward to June 2020. The world we knew it at the end of February is a very different world today. We’ll always remember 2020 as the year of the coronavirus, when our lives changed quickly and dramatically. This is definitely a year when life handed everyone lemons. The challenge is to take advantage of the lemons to make lemonade… and for those of us who love travel to find joy in other ways.
The coronavirus has impacted everyone around the world, and everyone’s experience has been different. We cannot forget that more than 7,000,000 people have contracted the virus worldwide and 400,000+ have sadly lost their lives. We think about how they suffered and the impact on their family and friends. Although many people could work from home, millions of people have lost their jobs and their livelihoods. Some businesses ended up closing forever. Our hearts go out to all those who have dealt with devastating losses.
If you or your family members are on the front lines in health care or essential services, we applaud and thank you. And if there’s been an impact on your family’s finances, we hope you can navigate through those issues until our national and global economies are back on track.
The inconveniences and uncertainties most of us face seem minor compared to those who have lost lives, loved ones, jobs, or businesses.
My last blog post Seeking Simplicity was eight weeks ago, and here we are… still at home. In that post, I reflected that this unusual time of our lives was a hardship of sorts but also perhaps a gift… an opportunity to reflect on what’s most important in our lives: the blessing of good health, the love of family and friends, the beauty of God’s world, the simple pleasures of living.
Most of us have more freedom now than we did last month. Many people are now venturing out to shop, have a haircut, visit family and friends, or take a vacation by car, but others continue to stay close to home. The travel industry has been in a tailspin with a slow recovery expected, especially for international travel. International borders are still restricted, and many people hesitate to get on an airplane to go very far. Many long-anticipated vacations have been cancelled or postponed… plenty of “lemons” to go around!
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I reached out to several of our frequent European Experiences travelers to find out how they’re using this unexpected time at home. What do these travelers do when they can’t travel? How have they coped? How are they fulfilling some of their wanderlust? Have they made lemonade from these lemons?
Freda from North Carolina has been fortunate to travel internationally for many years and joined us for three trips in the last three years. Since she had to postpone her 2020 travels until 2021, she’s found ways to appreciate her past trips.
Freda is a very talented “leisure painter,” and is working her way through a selection of photographs from her travels, attempting to paint each one.
“While painting, I’m experimenting with different methods and unusual colors, rather than painting exactly like the photos. It doesn’t matter whether every painting is a success, as I find it quite therapeutic and a way to keep my mind off the news,” she told us. We loved Freda’s paintings from her Return to the Cotswolds trip with us last year.
Freda recommends the Footloose series (Amazon Prime), travelogues filmed by a British couple as they travel around Europe. She’s currently watching “McLeod’s Daughters (also Amazon Prime), a series set on a ranch in Australia.
Eric from Oregon and his husband Lorn have been with us on two trips and had been looking forward to number three. Eric is a retired Physician Associate and enjoys a busy life including volunteer work, photography, and travel. During the last few months, he’s used Zoom to reconnect with friends and family, sometimes reaching out to people he hasn’t connected with for 50 years! Eric told us he lost friends to COVID and wanted to support their families from afar. “Because I’m a photographer, I’ve created online albums to share to honor their loved one’s memory. I’ve also printed a portrait, had it framed and shipped to the spouse of someone who has just died. Being unable to travel to be with them during COVID, for me that is the next best thing I can do.”
Eric has also worked with a local hospice to create a virtual camp for children who have lost parents/grandparents during the past year, and recently started working with a senior center, delivering food and essential supplies to homebound seniors. He was featured in an article in the New York Times for his volunteer work during the pandemic. Out of Retirement, Into the Coronavirus Fight
And although his April trip with us to Cornwall was cancelled, he recently took their motor home to the central Oregon desert to enjoy wildlife and nature’s geologic wonders.
Carol from Georgia has been with us on seven trips and would have been on our Chianti Experience trip this week… for the second time. She works for a major brokerage firm and has been able to continue working at home.
Carol told us that she’s enjoyed watching programs on Netflix and Acorn, but has tried to find calmer types of shows these days. She recommends “Anne with an E” and “Somebody Feed Phil” on Netflix and “A Place Called Home” on Acorn (set in Australia in post-World War II years). She also recommends the book, “The Little Paris Bookshop,” as a way to do some armchair traveling.
Ginger from Wisconsin has been with us on four trips and has the unique experience of raising her nine-year old grandson. She admits she’s struggling quite a bit because many of her interests are things she cannot do now: travel, concerts, plays, musicals, getting together with friends. “Even though Ben’s school has been great about connecting via the internet with videos of lessons and weekly class Zoom meetings, it is really hard to homeschool. Any nine-year old boy would much rather be with friends than stuck at home isolating with their mom or dad.”
Ginger offers this advice: “Everyone’s exhausted! Be kind to yourself and enjoy that morning cup of coffee or tea. Have a glass of wine nightly. Ditto with the extra pounds. It’s OK! It’s a pandemic!”
She’s also been working on a project that has been “nagging at her forever.” She finished a quilt that she started a year ago and also picked up knitting again. (She’s on her second pair of socks!)
Ginger recommends “Dawn Wall” (Netflix), a documentary on rock climbing. “There’s adventure, romance, terrorism, friendship, and a great story. Watch the credits. You will love it!”
Steve and Linda from California are both retired and had planned a year with a lot of travel, internationally and in the USA. They’ve been with us on six trips in six years, and we will miss seeing them this year. Linda has been working on photo books of their travels over the past five years… so far she’s completed six books with many more to go. Although Linda would much rather travel, she says it’s “fun to be reminded of all the wonderful places I’ve had the good fortune to visit.” She’s also working on several “boring projects” that she would normally put off, like deleting emails and sorting through files.
Steve and Linda spend an hour each day walking Teddy, their two-year-old Labrador. (Teddy is really enjoying having them at home.) Steve also spends a lot of time working on their vegetable garden.
One of their most interesting projects is doing a weekly “school day” through Zoom with their five-year-old grandson Elliott in Washington, D.C. A former high school teacher, Steve says he tries to “search deep into my 35 years of teaching to find fun activities to enrich Elliott’s learning. We have made slime, and recently constructed a toothpick building. I have worked on math activities using a ruler, Cheerios and pennies. Last week Elliott read them an eight-chapter story. Steve says “Zoom has helped keep us sane since we haven’t seen Annie, Brandon and Elliott since Christmas and that is a long time to go without five-year old hugs.”
Steve and Linda have also been movie-watchers during this time. They recommend 1917 (amazing cinematography), Little Women 2019, Ford v Ferrari, and Harriet.
Sarah from Missouri is another traveler we’re used to seeing every year… also six trips in six years. She’s keeping busy working from home, but because of cancelled vacation plans, she’s ended up with time for other projects. Sarah reorganized her home office and joined Ancestry.com to start work on a family tree. She’s cooking more than usual, including a special “high tea” for a family Zoom call, in lieu of a trip to England. She and husband Fred are also training a new puppy, Sheldon.
Sarah’s reading more, a mix of new releases and classics. She highly recommends “The Splendid and the Vile” by Erik Larson, a saga of Churchill, family and defiance during the blitz and “Dandelion Wine” by Ray Bradbury.
It was good to catch up with Michell from Louisiana by phone this week; she and her husband Bobby have been with us on two trips and are hoping to join us in Puglia in mid-October… we hope so too! Her family has been impacted directly by COVID-19, since her son and daughter-in-law both contracted the virus. Fortunately, they both recovered, but her daughter-in-law was quite ill.
Michell has been keeping busy with various projects. She’s been cooking and baking (even made mozzarella and ricotta cheese!) and says her garden has never looked this good.
A retired registered nurse, Michell worked with a church group that made face masks for health care organizations and at-risk individuals. She made about a hundred masks, especially important in the early days when they weren’t widely available. She and Bobby participate in a weekly Zoom call with travel friends and also enjoy going out for drives.
She recommends two favorite movies that relate to France and food: “The Hundred Foot Journey” and “Julie and Julia,” both on Netflix.
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Charley and I are also trying hard to “make lemonade” during this unexpected spring and summer. Charley retired from most of his European Experiences involvement at the end of 2019 (see our October 2019 blog post, Celebrating Charley), but we planned to co-lead our Cornwall trip together in April and then celebrate our anniversary with a week in London before I headed to the Luberon. Instead, we’re together at home in East Tennessee through the end of August. This is the first summer we haven’t made a trip to Europe in almost 20 years! Although the impact on our business has been very challenging, we’re staying positive and optimistic. We appreciate having this unexpected time at home together.
I’m working most of every day on European Experiences… working in my home office instead of being in Europe with our groups. I’m coordinating with our travelers and our European partners and looking ahead to the future.
Like others, I’ve had time for a long list of projects: cleaning out my office, setting up the new computer I bought a year ago, organizing digital files, and converting old family 35 mm slides to digital. (I keep managing to avoid the closet-cleaning-out project.) I participate in a few webinars a week, and we enjoy Zoom sessions with groups of family and friends. I’m having fun gardening and cooking, and most weeks I prepare a special meal featuring a menu from the area where I would have been that week. (Read about these on our Facebook page and also see our daily “travel dreams” photo.)
Charley is hard at work on a new book, this one set in Alsace. He’s continuing with his weekly Mobile Meals route; he’s been a volunteer for 20 years. This regular contact is especially important to homebound seniors these days. And he always enjoys playing the piano, and nowadays occasionally shares a special song online.
My series recommendations: “Somebody Feed Phil” and “Chef’s Table France” on Netflix. We both recently finished the newest “Bruno” book by Martin Walker, set in the Dordogne. We highly recommend this series, but definitely suggest starting with the first book—“Bruno, Chief of Police.”
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We would love to hear how others are “making lemonade” during these difficult times, including any recommendations for books, movies, and shows with a travel theme.
This year when travelers can’t travel, let’s make the best of our time at home. It can be a gift! Savor the memories of the places we love and look forward to the day we’ll be traveling again.
(And for European travelers, if you don’t care for lemonade, here are some other alternatives!)
Kathy and Charley Wood founded European Experiences in 2006, offering week-long “slow tours” in some of the most beautiful areas of Europe. Their trips include The Luberon Experience in Provence, France, named one of the top 50 tours in the world by National Geographic Traveler magazine.
Kathy has personally hosted over 130 Experience groups. She hosts Experience weeks in the Luberon, the Chianti region of Tuscany, Puglia, Alsace, the Dordogne, the Cotswolds, and Normandy. Charley is now mostly retired but continues to co-host The Cornwall Experience and our Christmas trips with Kathy every year.
Kathy has been traveling in Europe for 30+ years and loves sharing her special places in Europe with other travelers. The Woods have a second home in their beloved village of Bonnieux in the Luberon. Read more about Kathy and Charley here.
Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.