Our team has been keeping in touch throughout COVID-19 withregular, weekly video meetings. Unsurprisingly, our own travels become a frequent topic of conversations.
Sure, we each had – and still have – plans to visit destinations on our bucket lists, but what we found surprising was that each of us actually yearned to revisit favorite places from past trips. We dubbed this idea “Comfort Travel” meaning that these are destinations that give us a sense of comfort. In our thinking, it’s the travel equivalent of hygge design elements.
With that in mind, we each thought back to what would be a destination that gave us that same exact feeling. Where would be our idea of “comfort travel”.
Katie: Epirus, Greece
I took my first trip to Greece at just four years old and in the (many) years since, it’s a place that truly feels like a home away from home. The fact that a substantial percentage of my family still lives there makes it unsurprising that every time I go back, it feels like a perfect fit.
My family is from a part of Greece that the average North American visitor doesn’t frequent. Epirus is a mountainous region located in the country’s northwestern corner and, lucky for me, my village sits right on the Ionian Sea.
Working in travel public relations, I know and value exploring new cultures, but sometimes being a repeat visitor makes it easier to live in the moment. Each day comes with a glorious routine of morning bakery run, beach, lunch, nap, going into town for dinner and repeat.
You’re not running to see the sights out of fear of missing out. The sights have been exactly the same for 30, 40 or even 50+ years. They aren’t going anywhere. The only things that ever changed were the people. The aunts and uncles who get older and which cousin got her first job, which one has a new girlfriend and which one had a baby since the last time I saw them.
Given all the unanticipated stresses 2020 has brought on, I can’t think of a better way to spend my eventual first international trip.
Stephanie: Hyde Park, NY
I was eighteen when the Vanderbilts brought me to Hyde Park, New York for the first time.
It was my first semester at college and I felt adrift. Missing my close high school friends and family more than I cared to admit, I threw myself whole-heartedly into my classes to find some peace of mind.
It was while immersed in an Edith Wharton elective, studying the “Gilded Age” influence on her novels, that I discovered how popular my home region of the Hudson Valley had been among wealthy New Yorkers, like the Vanderbilt railroad tycoons.
One autumn weekend when my parents were visiting, I mentioned my discovery. In the cool October sunlight, we drove through the imposing front gates and ascended the winding, paved drive to the Beaux-Arts mansion nestled in the middle of wide, green lawns.
So many years and visits later, I cannot remember whether we took a tour of the house that day. What stands out most particularly were the grounds; we must have walked a mile, taking the winding path down to the river, where picnic tables overlooked the Hudson. The trees surrounding us had just begun to turn that russet and pale gold of early fall and the crisp breeze was refreshing in the sunlight.
In between the soft murmur of conversation with my family, there was silence for the first time in weeks. I felt myself relax; the pent-up tension that I had been carrying seemed to evaporate. My younger brother began to caper around as my mother unpacked a picnic lunch and my father pulled out his digital camera; I found myself smiling for the first time in weeks.
Now, this quiet spot in Hyde Park is my own special idyll. I return again and again, to wander the grounds in all seasons. Sometimes I dragged close friends and family with me, while other times I walked alone. I discovered new trails, spread out blankets to read and sunbathe on the lawns and watched as the formal gardens slowly blossomed back into life.
Nothing is more vivid than the sense of peace being on those Hyde Park grounds brought me on that afternoon years ago; a sentiment I have been chasing ever since and hope to recapture the next time I return.
Jacqui: Prato, Italy
“Alla prossima,” Francie and I called to one another as we blew kisses through the window.
Until the next time.
I loved everything about my two stays with Francesca and her family in Prato, a yellow-hued Tuscan town known for its biscotti. It was 2002 and I was just 16, a life of travel ahead of me. It seemed certain that I would be back.
But the world is big and beautiful and I had a list of countries to visit. India! Japan! China! Cambodia! Nepal! Mexico! Sweden! Botswana! Turkey! Algeria! The long list included most of the world’s countries. Over the ensuing 18 years I did a good job of exploring about 30 of them. Every time an opportunity to travel to Europe arose, I thought, “and then I could fly to Tuscany and see Francie”. But that never happened. Our regular letters and birthday gifts turned to emails and then a Facebook post, then an Instagram like.
And then, in March, the rug was pulled from beneath us all. Francie and her family were trapped in their apartments and the gelaterias and pizzerias and piazzas of Prato and its surrounds were shuttered. “I WILL come to see you again.” I said in my last message to her, as NYC followed in Italy’s grim footsteps. “As soon as this is over.”
I mean it. As my world has shrunk to my isolation bubble containing my immediate family and some visiting birds, I spend more time than ever thinking about the big wide world beyond. The thought of not going back to see the Sabatinis in Prato is worse than the thought of never traveling anywhere new.
I want to sit in Francie’s kitchen and learn her mother’s recipes this time, rather than just enjoying the final result. I want to order a new flavor of her brother’s gelato every day – in a giant cone. I want to sit and drink espresso and talk about things big and small and revel in words lost in translation. I will be happy to visit some landmarks again, but mostly I just want to sit in piazzas and watch people go about their lives. Quarantine has made me pretty good at that!