My gap year took a surprising turn when a global pandemic hit and I had to cut my trip short. I had been in Spain for six months and the original plan was to stay for nine and then head to Colombia for the summer. When I came back to the UK in March, I was still optimistic that I could make it to Colombia, I thought things would return to normal and travelling would be okay again… Obviously that didn’t happen. What was originally a brief lockdown in the UK turned into three months, but slowly things started to open up but travel was still out of the question.
In the end, I didn’t get to make the trip I had spent months planning. I didn’t get to visit Tayrona National Park or buy some locally grown coffee beans from Salento. There was no laying around on the beaches in Cartagena or hiking around Cali. No day trip to Volcan del Totumo or Isla de Tierra Bomba. I had put so much thought into the trip and I was super excited to experience Colombia, improve my Spanish and learn a bit of salsa dancing too. So I was really sad and disappointed that I couldn’t do it. At the time, I didn’t feel like I could speak about it because things were pretty bad globally. People were dying, there were PPE shortages and general chaos. I felt like my sadness didn’t matter because there were bigger problems facing us all. So I didn’t say anything, I just wallowed in my thoughts and stared longingly at Google image searches of Colombian beaches and wishing I was there instead.
I realised a few months into lock-down that feeling sad about how our personal lives have been affected by the virus doesn’t negate or ignore the gravity of the situation. It is very dire, people are dying and some countries are not able to cope. My travel plans may seem trivial in comparison, but they were important to me and I believe we should be able to feel sad about plans that were disrupted and not feel guilty about it. There are students who graduated this year and were unable to attend their graduation or summer balls, left their high-school and didn’t get to say goodbye to their friends properly or get their leavers hoody. People who have had to cancel weddings, who can’t visit family abroad, kids who can’t go outside to play with their friends. It’s these little moments that we look forward to in our lives, and it’s natural to feel down about them. Ignoring them, letting them stew in our minds is not good for us in the slightest.
But I am grateful for the things I have been able to do instead. I’ve been able to continue my Spanish lesson online using iTalki, my confidence has improved so much and so has my vocabulary! I definitely recommend using it to boost your conversational skills. I’ve also been spending more time with my friends and family which has been great – especially since it’s more than I would have done had I been travelling. And then when lock-down eased I went out more in my local area and visited different parts of the UK to see friends – I have never been more thankful for my car because I still wasn’t too keen on taking coaches or trains.
It was no Colombia but it has been great to ‘discover’ new places near me and within the country! I may not have been able to go to Colombia this summer.. But I can always go next year. And I can appreciate the privilege I have, in that I haven’t had to worry about where my next meal will come from or whether I would be able to afford my rent. I also know it is not a competition of who has it worst, we all find different things challenging and difficult to deal with and it doesn’t make us bad people for feeling the way we do. If you’re missing travelling like I am or fancy a change of scenery, I found this great website called Window Swap, where you can open a new window somewhere in the world.