Looking to Travel for a Sense of Renewal

Svetlana Reznikova-Steinway, an emergency-room physician who lives in Phoenix, has spent the better part of a year pulling double-duty in an overwhelmed intensive care unit. Early in the pandemic, she and her husband, a urologist, developed a system for after work, stripping off their scrubs in their garage to protect their 12-year-old daughter and 10-year-old twin sons from the virus. She has gotten used to intubating critically ill Covid-19 patients. She has learned how to delicately use patients’ phones to FaceTime family members so that everyone can say their goodbyes.

“It’s been horrific,” Dr. Reznikova-Steinway, 43, said. “My colleagues and I have come across a lot of death, a lot of horror and a lot of suffering — it’s pretty hard to describe the weight, the awfulness and the mental and physical toll.”

In June, Dr. Reznikova-Steinway and her husband will join a group of about a dozen doctors, nurses and their spouses — all of whom will be fully vaccinated — on an eight-night journey to Alaska organized by Boutique Travel Advisors, a luxury travel agency. The itinerary will keep them largely outdoors; they’ll bike, hike and kayak amid the mountains and fjords of the Kenai Peninsula.

Beyond needing a vacation, Dr. Reznikova-Steinway said she is hoping to “debrief” with the other health care professionals, many of whom have also been working in emergency rooms around the country.

“There’s no safety net in medicine to discuss how one feels and to be able to share the pain you’ve experienced and seen,” Dr. Reznikova-Steinway said. “But hopefully we can also take some time to laugh and maybe almost pretend like we’re in a different world for a few minutes.”

Although in some places case counts are increasing, many parts of the United States and the world are opening up, with vaccination numbers rising and more travelers passing through United States airports than at any other point in the pandemic. As we all emerge from our homes and rub our eyes, some travelers believe that vacations nowadays are about restoration — recovering from all that has happened since last March. Instead of no-holds-barred, blowout trips designed to exert “revenge” on the year, these deeply personal trips are meant as a salve that will offer some way — large or small — to move on.

“Traveling offers the opportunity to escape from our thoughts and feelings we’ve been consumed by over the past year as we quarantined,” said Vaile Wright, a clinical psychologist and senior director of Health Care Innovation at the American Psychological Association. “It provides a much-needed break from the routines we’ve had to establish to survive the stress of the pandemic, and reminds us of all the vast beauty and humanity that exists outside the homes we’ve been isolating in since last March.”

In a January survey of 3,000 travelers from the United States, Canada and several other countries, American Express Travel found that 78 percent of respondents want to travel this year as a way to relieve stress from 2020.

“Clients are telling me that because it has been such a difficult year, and because travel is something that they hold near and dear, finally being able to take that trip they’ve been dreaming about changes their mind-set and outlook,” said Amina Dearmon, a travel adviser based in New Orleans and owner of Perspectives Travel, an affiliate of the travel company SmartFlyer.

Stress and anxiety about the virus nearly overcame Deepa Patel, 36, as she gave birth to her third child in March 2020. Ms. Patel, who lives in Anaheim, Calif., and works in public health, was turned away from her postpartum exam for bringing her 6-week-old son. None of the Gujarati birth and postpartum traditions that she cherishes — the stream of well-wishers, the family meals and blessings — took place. She deferred a master’s program so she could care for her children — now 6, almost 4 and 1 — full time at home.

Ms. Patel’s work in humanitarian aid has taken her far beyond the typical vacation destinations — to South Sudan, Iraq and beyond. But in July, Ms. Patel and her family will embrace a new-for-them kind of trip: a fly-and-flop at an all-inclusive resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

“My humanitarian butt is going to be sitting on a beach, drinking mai tais all day,” she joked. “I am ready to go get out and do nothing for a little while. I just want to shut my brain off; I just want to see my children play.”

Ms. Patel knows she is lucky; she and her husband have been healthy and able to work. But like many parents at the year-plus mark, they are still craving a reprieve.

“We’re hoping to take advantage of the kids’ club,” she said. “We’ve been with our children every day for a year. We have had no babysitters — no family help, no nights away. It’s important for us to find a way to do nothing but relax.”

In January, about three weeks after Mirba Vega-Simcic lost her mother to Covid-19 — and not long after recovering from the virus herself — she and one of her brothers traveled to what she calls her “happy place”: The Roxbury, a colorful, fantastical resort nestled in the rolling Catskill Mountains.

“There was a meditative aspect to it — looking at the waterfalls and feeling the wind on your cheek and feeling her presence,” said Ms. Vega-Simcic, 44, a certified community work incentive coordinator for The Family Resource Network, of her late mother. “Until that point, I hadn’t had a moment to mourn.”

Although Ms. Vega-Simcic, who lives in Belleville, N.J. and goes by Mimi, has been to The Roxbury at least a dozen times, the January trip, by virtue of its timing — and because she went with her brother — was the most meaningful. The resort’s storybook white cottages, which are individually decorated in themes that range from Greek gods to mythical fairy forests, were more than just a physical change of scenery.

“When I took a bath, I cried and I cried, but I felt this calmness come over me, because when I looked at my surroundings, I wasn’t looking at my home and the chaos of my life,” she said. “I was looking at something really beautiful — something that allowed me to escape.”

Like Ms. Vega-Simcic, Judith West has taken comfort in the familiar after a heartbreaking year. Her husband of 61 years died right before the pandemic, in February 2020.

“I had the isolation of grief exacerbated by the isolation of Covid,” said Ms. West, 80, a Manhattanite who’s active in the philanthropy world. “It was a double whammy.”

Fully vaccinated as of mid-February, last month Ms. West escaped to The Seagate Hotel & Spa, in Delray Beach, Fla. Although she and her late husband went to Seagate many times together, this trip, by contrast, was her “‘getting accustomed to being alone’ vacation,” as she put it.

Ms. West spent the time leisurely reading newspapers, taking walks, chatting with resort staff, visiting the beach club and going out for dinner, either solo or with friends living nearby.

Although she had been nervous before the trip about being bored and lonely, Ms. West left “on a high note,” she said, feeling at peace and relaxed.

“I would be a robot if I didn’t say there was some nostalgia, but it’s pleasant,” she said. “It’s all good memories. What is life about except good memories and experiences?”


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