Why travel should be considered an essential human activity

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I’ve been putting my passport to good use lately. I use it as a coaster and to level wobbly table legs. It makes an excellent cat toy.

Welcome to the pandemic of disappointments. Canceled trips, or ones never planned lest they be canceled. Family reunions, study-abroad years, lazy beach vacations. Poof. Gone. Obliterated by a tiny virus, and the long list of countries where United States passports are not welcome.

Only a third of Americans say they have traveled overnight for leisure since March, and only slightly more, 38 percent, say they are likely to do so by the end of the year, according to one report. Only a quarter of us plan on leaving home for Thanksgiving, typically the busiest travel time. The numbers paint a grim picture of our stilled lives.

It is not natural for us to be this sedentary. Travel is in our genes. For most of the time our species has existed, “we’ve lived as nomadic hunter-gatherers moving about in small bands of 150 or fewer people,” writes Christopher Ryan in Civilized to Death. This nomadic life was no accident. It was useful. “Moving to a neighboring band is always an option to avoid brewing conflict or just for a change in social scenery,” says Ryan. Robert Louis Stevenson put it more succinctly: “The great affair is to move.”

What if we can’t move, though? What if we’re unable to hunt or gather? What’s a traveler to do? There are many ways to answer that question. “Despair,” though, is not one of them.

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