Travel, Covid

Travel, Covid

Missing travel? A book is the best ticket to have right now

Worlds imagined or otherwise are still within reach.

17/09/2021 11:08:00 AM

Actual travel now is most accessible (and safest!) within the pages of a book. This is the kind of travel that I try to foster in my kids — books’ carbon footprints are smaller than those of a Boeing Dreamliner anyway | TRAVEL travel covid

Worlds imagined or otherwise are still within reach.

Normal text sizeVery large text sizeAdvertisementUntil early 2020, large numbers of Australians were committed travellers and expatriates: known to drink too much in Bangkok, backpack through Vietnam, trek in Nepal, as well as tour the Dalmatian Coast and climb Mt Kilimanjaro. In the process, they wrote about it — for better or worse — in books from Sarah Turnbull’s

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Almost FrenchHoly Cow, as well as in blogs, reviews and social media posts.They met people from all over the world, discovered that they had the capacity to buy tickets and board a train in a country where they could speak the language only as well as a local toddler, and were often brought face to face with a sense of their privilege. If you’ve been anywhere, you’ve met other Australians who might make you want to say that you’re a New Zealander. It’s nonetheless difficult to hold on to a singular way of viewing the world, and the people in it, if you spend time outside this country.

Travel is safest right now within the pages of a book, writes author Lucy Neave.Credit:Hilary WardhaughMy partner and I were not only travellers, but for long periods committed expatriates who lived for months or years — separately or together — in Kathmandu, Oxford and Brooklyn. We learned ways of subsisting in other places: how to navigate a subway system; how to prevent a monkey from stealing fruit from the kitchen (close the windows at night!); how to pronounce key words so that we were understood. We studied, volunteered and worked, mostly in places where English was spoken, but also where we had to get by in other languages.

In retrospect, we were phenomenally fortunate. At the end of our last stay overseas, which was a period of sabbatical spent at New York University, we returned in January 2020, by which time COVID-19 was already circulating in the city.My partner — later husband — and I had both lived shiftless existences as children. My husband moved back and forth between Britain and Australia. I lived — albeit briefly — in Toronto and London, as well as in three Australian cities. We must’ve decided to inflict the same kind of existence on our kids. They, too, have spent years of their lives overseas, mostly in the United States. They attended local schools, made friends and stressed about homework (three hours per night in middle school was the norm).

While both kids were homesick before we came back to Australia, they were also grateful for the different worldview they brought home with them. Both felt less fixed in their identities as Australians, as though travel itself lent them a kind of fluidity, a recognition that how they felt about themselves and related to the world changed in part according to their context. Their sense of who they were was enlarged by meeting relatives overseas, too.

Credit:Getty ImagesRight now, of course, with no travel on the horizon — and I recognise how ridiculously privileged my kids were, to have had an experience that at the time we took for granted — we are, like many, reluctant to travel far until we’re all fully vaccinated, and deeply sympathetic to the plight of Australians who didn’t make it home in as timely a way as we did. Our appetite for travel, which was already attenuated by our understanding of the environmental consequences of taking intercontinental flights, has been further eroded.

My second novel,Believe in Me, traces the experiences of an American woman who is sent to relatives in Australia in her late teens in the 1970s, because she is about to become an unmarried mother. Sections from the beginning of the novel are about what it is like to be a homesick young parent a long way from family support — an experience I lived myself, with my first child. The mother in the novel, Sarah, moved overseas at a time when travel and international phone calls were expensive, decades before WhatsApp, which renders her relationship with her family even more distant and estranged. She travels until she is stuck in Adelaide, unable to return home because she doesn’t have the money (or the courage) to face the family she has left behind.

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AdvertisementInstead, she and her daughter try to build satisfying lives for themselves, initially in 1980s Australia. They hardly go anywhere; the journeys they take are into memory, or in the daughter’s case — although she does escape to Sydney — are largely an act of piecing together her mother’s earlier trip, based on a collection of scrapbooks. While my novel’s characters are unable to travel far, the mother nurses native Australian animals back to health, while her daughter, with whom she is in conflict, finds a new identity that is truer to her sense of her sexuality and gender.

LoadingMy kids still talk about our travels: the afternoon they climbed into the crown of the Statue of Liberty in a howling wind and could feel the green lady swaying in the gale. The excess of an American Halloween, with its enormous inflatable spiders and wraith-like ghosts attached— by magic? — to the exterior of brownstones (they both came home lugging Santa-sized sacks of “candy”). They were dismayed by American ignorance about where they had come from; it was a source of mirth for my daughter that a middle school official we met initially thought that she didn’t speak English. They were nonetheless impressed by the warmth and curiosity that Americans often expressed towards people from other countries and cultures, an interest that they thought we could do well to emulate.

Actual travel now is most accessible (and safest!) within the pages of a book. This is the kind of travel that I try to foster in my kids — books’ carbon footprints are smaller than those of a Boeing Dreamliner anyway — who are currently unable to visit any members of our extended family. They read the same books as other kids their age, forever journeying in time, often to worlds that are entirely invented, through the eyes of characters who are distinct from them.

While they read, so do I: the work of writers working nearby, who are also under lockdown orders, but whose fiction is set in locations ranging from Thailand (Irma Gold’sThe Breaking, about backpackers trying to rescue elephants) to the Philippines (Merlinda Bobis’ short story collection,

The Kindness of Birds), to Melbourne, in the form of Tony Birch’s fabulous collection of short fiction,Dark as Last Night. Travel entails not just the journey to another country, of course, but attempting to surrender a long-held identity or state of mind, and the inhabiting of other worlds, other subjectivities.

Lucy Neave’s second novel,Believe in Me, published by UQP, is out now. Read more: The Age »

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