In the waters between Krabi and Phuket, Thailand. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

We’re coming up on three years. Three years since so much of our world put on the brakes. It’s been a really rough stretch, hasn’t it? While this era has granted us clarity on important social issues, it’s also shown us the unthinkable dangers of the unvetted, unedited, unreliable data storm that is the internet. At the initial onset of the pandemic, I was concerned about the health and wellbeing of everyone. But if I’m honest, the widespread hellfire of hate and disinformation and the willingness of the silly masses to be formed by it has left me disenchanted with much of humankind.

I stopped writing about travel in the early stages of the pandemic because I felt it was irresponsible and unethical to encourage leisure travel. Instead, I mentally hunkered down for the long haul.

“Don’t you miss travel?” People would ask me.

I did, and I didn’t. I am at heart an introvert and a homebody, and so I dove down into the experience of just being home and making the best of it. I didn’t just stop traveling, I stopped watching travel shows, I stopped reading about travel, and I stopped dreaming about travel. In reality, it was too painful. I dove down into my work and cooking instead, eventually doing too much of both of them and burning myself out.

In those early stages of the pandemic, I went grocery shopping for others, to keep them safe. I would often shop early, before the crowds. I was wary of vegetables that were unwrapped–in those early days we didn’t know how the virus was spread. Along the way, I encountered people who refused to mask and even verbally attacked those who did. I remember standing in Safeway as an unmasked shopper screamed at all of us about how it was all a lie, how we were the stupid ones. We stood in that liminal space, our shopping carts stilled near the butchered meats, his words slicing the air we didn’t want to breathe, all of us struck speechless, my heart racing in my chest.

On another trip the shelves were largely bare, and I remember seeing elderly customers and a person in a wheelchair struggling to find what they needed. While some were filling chest freezers and garages and doomsday bunkers with supplies, those on a limited income were left with empty store shelves. It was excruciating to see. The next time I went to that store, I sat in my car for half an hour, anxious and trying to control my breathing, steeling myself for the experience. My once favorite activity of selecting beautiful produce had turned into a nightmare. Shortly thereafter, capitalism rose to meet me, and it was possible to have groceries delivered instead of going to the store. I tipped well, in recognition of the risks to those doing the job, and in gratitude for someone else carrying the psychological baggage. As the things we knew and the truths we embraced shifted, we were all compelled to pivot.

This job of being a good human is hard work, and even harder in trying times. Particularly when we are at war with one another, when people, just by being people, cause us harm in all its forms; not to mention when we fail to live up to our expectations for ourselves by returning hate to hate. I too am guilty of this. I’ve made significant use of my middle finger literally and figuratively over the past three years when seeing the proverbial flags of hate flying, and the world is no better for it nor do I feel better about the decaying state of discourse. But I’m struggling to have meaningful conversations these days, as everything has become politicized. The cynic in me believes this is by design; if we cannot talk with one another, if we are occupied by squabbles that divide us, we’ll be distracted from the things that really matter.

The older I get, the fewer answers I have it seems, yet my curiosity compels me to continue unlearning. Maybe that is how life is supposed to be, the great unlearning. At 16 we think we have it all figured out–and by 50 we realize we have so many more miles to travel, and there’s so much more we’ve yet to find along the way. We just start getting good at being human, and then, it’s game over. Roll the credits, pay the mortician, fight over the belongings left behind. Depending on your belief system or what you’ve unlearrned, you simply return to dust; spend the rest of eternity with the pious among the clouds or sinners in flames; float in the ether and occasionally move furniture to spook the living; or you restart the game with no memory of the purpose or roadmap and again bumble your way from amniotic fluid to casket, again and again and again.

The lessons we glean from our personal timelines are rarely what we see coming, nor what we hope to find. What’s struck me most profoundly in this collective layover, this purgatory of pandemic, is the lack of empathy. I truly used to believe that it was possible for everyone to experience empathy, if only they knew the realities of the world. I guess that’s my great unlearning. When masses of people remain willfully ignorant, or put their perceived needs first before the safety, wellbeing and lives of others, there is no space for empathy. When educators, journalists, scientists and medical professionals are rampantly demonized, and those left owning the pens can publish any fabricated “truth” they want, too many will believe it at their own peril and that of those in their wake. Even when someone seems inherently empathetic–I’m thinking of an “influencer” on Instagram who declared to her followers that wearing charged tourmaline on a chain will protect her from COVID in an airport–that empathy, when under the influence of disinformation, still bleeds out to blatant disregard for the wellbeing of others.

This spread of disinformation, manipulation and conspiracy disturbs me deeply. With no controls in place, least of all self-control, fragile values like critical thinking, truth, kindness and empathy are cracking like fine crystal with every mean-spirited, hate-based meme or gif that is shared; we are all nothing more than marionettes pulled and pushed to do the bidding of profiteering and power-seeking puppet masters. So blind are we to this issue that even when we are shown the strings that bind us on social media, even when disreputable information sources are exposed, we refuse to believe these matters are problematic. Our cognitive bias holds us hostage. Scroll, scroll, scroll. Like, share, hot take, screenshot, link, believe.

The decade-plus of content on this travelogue was built on the premise that empathy is always possible, but I did not foresee the role of disinformation in our timeline. The realization that this premise is false makes me question the value of carrying on. Has this been a fool’s errand? At some point, I am just preaching to the choir as they say, a choir whose voices are drowned out these days by intolerance, ignorance, corruption, greed and hatred. Yet here I am, writing again. Truth is, I don’t know anything else.

Given the choice, I would never opt to live in uninteresting times, though over the past three years it would certainly have been a temptation. These lessons, while hard, are still worth learning, or unlearning as it may be.

Of all that we’ve lost over the past three years, it’s my faith in humanity I miss most. To be honest it was probably a tenuous relationship from the start, at best. I hope travel, as always, will restore some measure of it. I need new spaces. Maybe we all do. Real spaces outside the virtual landscape that challenge and delight and restore a sense of wonder. Spaces so full of love and life that they edge out the all-caps rants, our meltdowns in the meat department, our propensity to dig in our heels, the manipulation of information.

Therein lives truth. She has always been there. On the bench at the bus stop in a country where you don’t speak the language. In the kitchen of a local who invites you to dinner with their family. In the eyes of the elephant, the camel, the herdsman. On the confounding trek with no map. On the back of a scooter, whizzing through the busy streets and past the tiny boxes we call home. In the places with no wifi and no cell service. In the quiet of the jungle, where the world smells of rain and rebirth. In the beautiful nothingness of the desert, where you cannot hide from yourself. In the depths of the turquoise waters, where we are tiny, insignificant and breathless. In lake country where the mournful loons sing. In the silence, and in the screaming. In the unfathomable colors of the Northern Lights. In the stillness and, yes, in the dancing. In the clack and rumble of a slow-moving train through the underbelly of a nation. In the perfume of the market: ripened fruit, rotting flesh, hot oil and soap. It’s in the liminal spaces, the terminals, the ticket counter lines, the hotel hallways. It’s in the cool air at 35,000 feet, where we can see what a precious and fragile planet we occupy, how the sun turns 100 shades of orange as she flirts with nightfall. It’s in the palm of the outstretched hand, in the haunting whispers of ancient ruins, in the chants of the seekers, and in every forkful of the unfamiliar we feed to our hungry souls.

It’s time, my friends.

It’s time to travel again.


Charish Badzinski is an explorer and award-winning features, food and travel writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, Rollerbag Goddess Global Communications, providing powerful storytelling to her clients.

Posts on the Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World travel blog are never sponsored and have no affiliate links, so you know you will get an honest review, every time.

Read more about Charish Badzinski’s professional experience in marketing, public relations and writing.

2 thoughts on “Rebirth

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