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Up The Road: In This New Year: Where To Now?

Damian Gadal
Flickr Creative Commons

Unless you’re long in the tooth, like me, you’ve probably never heard the Midwestern witticisms of Bill Vaughan, editor and columnist at the Kansas City Star, who died in 1977. Here is some sample wit:

“A citizen of America will cross the ocean to fight for democracy, but won’t cross the street to vote in a national election.” That one, not always true, given the turnout in our most recent presidential election, but based on past ones, true enough.

“If there is anything the nonconformist hates worse than a conformist, it’s another nonconformist who doesn’t conform to the prevailing standard of nonconformity.” That’s truthy too.

“An optimist stays up to see the New Year in. A pessimist waits up to make sure the old one leaves.” I’m typically an optimist. That’s usually me, laughing and jumping up and down, eager for the sparkling new year. This year, I grumbled and groused like an exhausted security guard, furtively glancing at my watch and then up the road, not at all sure that old coot, 2020, was leaving office like he said he would.

Credit Sharon Mollerus / Flickr Creative Commons
Flickr Creative Commons
Any cool place crowded with people will do -- such as the word-class Monterey Bay Aquarium, pack to the gills with amazement. (Show here: sea nettles)

Just where are we as travelers in 2021? Optimistic—ready to enjoy a freewheeling, fun year, thrilled by the world unfurling at our feet, never once looking back over our shoulders? Or pessimistic—trudging along, glumly in step with some sad version of the status quo?

Looks like 2021 will offer both—more cautious, let’s-wait-and-see 2020-type travel, pandemic and all. But also, as coronavirus vaccines start to transform the world, a friendlier travel future.

The American Automobile Association expects domestic travel to begin picking up this spring into summer, though with the surprisingly slow vaccination rollout so far, that start may actually be summer into fall. According to AAA, consider not only traveling from Point A to Point B, but also necessary or desired stops in between, because COVID-19 situations may vary greatly. Will you need to quarantine, for example? Will you need a negative COVID test?

Credit Travis Wise / Flickr Creative Commons
Flickr Creative Commons
And maybe a baseball game?


California’s strict (but essentially unenforced) travel advisory discourages visitors from other states and countries. A 10-day quarantine is required. It also discourages non-essential travel more than 120 miles from home for Californians. Which includes traveling for fun. And if they travel recreationally across state lines, Californians, too, need to quarantine when they come back home.

What does all this mean?

My own opinion is, we need to continue to dream—and plan! Planning a trip can be quite satisfying, even if you have to wait to set out. But maybe you won’t need to wait long. None of us yet knows what will be possible this year. So, we need to be flexible in 2021.

For example: Starting next week, we’ll start to dream. Up the Road will explore California destinations we’ll be able to visit one day, once most of us are vaccinated and we’re free to travel. But we’ll also plan, considering relatively safe excursions closer to home. Stay tuned!

Up the Road Encourages Responsible, Safe Travel

Here are previous Up the Road episodes that explore why we should travel, how to do it responsibly, and how to travel responsibly now, in the shadow of COVID-19. Not everyone should be traveling now, of course. But everyone who does travel needs to do so responsibly, to prevent viral spread. Take a listen:

Kim Weir is the founder of Up the Road, a nonprofit public-interest journalism project. She researches, writes, and hosts Up the Road, a radio show and mini-podcast about California co-produced by North State Public Radio. Kim got her start as a travel journalist in 1990 with the publication of the first and original Moon Handbooks Northern California, a surprise best-seller. Six other Moon books on California soon followed. She is a member, by invitation, of the venerable Society of American Travel Writers (SATW). Kim earned a BA in environmental studies and analysis, with an emphasis on botany and ecology, and also holds an MFA in creative writing. She lives in Paradise.
Matt Fidler is a producer and sound designer with over 15 years’ experience producing nationally distributed public radio programs. He has worked for shows such as Freakonomics Radio, Selected Shorts, Studio 360, The New Yorker Radio Hour and The Takeaway. In 2017, Matt launched the language podcast Very Bad Words, hitting the #28 spot in the iTunes podcast charts.