There’s probably a good reason most people don’t hang out with travel writers. Aside from the moaning about travel minutiae – I didn’t get that upgrade, had to transit through Heathrow, had to stay in a hotel that only had four stars, blah blah blah – there’s also just a lot of general travel chat.
Where we’ve been. Where we’ve loved. Where we’ve hated. Where we’re going next. And now, of course, we have a new topic of conversation: where we would like to be right now.
Travel has changed. We can’t just be in the places we might want to be anymore (see, you’re getting an idea of how annoying the chat is). Though some countries are now open to tourists and Australians are free to leave our home nation in order to explore, plenty of borders remain closed, and the world just doesn’t work the way it used to anymore, you can’t just think about somewhere you would like to go and save for it and make the arrangements and off you go.
And so, a few weeks ago I sat there with a couple of fellow travel writers, drinking cheap beer behind a tennis court in Sydney’s Inner West, and played a game: where would you like to be right now? If you could be anywhere in the world, doing anything, with no COVID-19 to worry about, everything the way it once was – where would you be, and what would you be doing?
This isn’t just the stuff of pure fantasy. It’s actually not a bad way to organise your priorities. As international travel begins to open to us again, it can be tempting to just jump on the first plane out of here and see where it takes you.
But the possibilities these days are finite, and travel is a hassle, so if you’re going to go somewhere, it’s worth knowing that you really want to visit. What do you love about that place? What do you hope to discover? What are you dying to experience?
Work all of that out, and you have your next holiday planned, you have your first post-COVID-19 escape.
Or in my case, you have three. I have three answers for where I would like to be right now and what I would like to be doing, because it’s my fantasy and I can do whatever I want. And they are, in ascending order of fantastical importance, as follows.
I would like to be walking the streets of the Old Town in San Sebastian, somewhere mid-pintxos-crawl, boozy and hungry and happy. I would like to be back in the city I once called home, to catch up with old and dear friends, to see sights I’ve missed for years now, and most of all to wander those narrow, paved alleyways of the Old Town and eat and drink with a happy crowd.
There are few dining experiences better than a San Sebastian pintxos crawl. One snack, one drink at each bar. And because this is a COVID-free fantasy, there are no restrictions here, no worries, you elbow your way to the bar and point at some of the food and yell to the bartender. You grab your plates and glasses of beer or txakoli and take them out onto the street to consume. And I know where all the good stuff is now. I know how to get it.
But then we’re onto the next fantasy. If I could be anywhere. If I could be doing anything. I would be in a campsite in Botswana, a place called Third Bridge in Moremi Game Reserve. I’d have a tent set up in a good spot overlooking the plains of the Okavango Delta.
I’d be sitting there with my family watching the sunset, talking about the day that was, about the wildlife spotting, the 4WD adventures, the brushes with danger, soaking up the sights and the sounds and the scents of southern Africa at the end of the day. I’d be keeping an eye out for elephants roaming through the campsite, and for the hyena that usually calls through trying to steal people’s food. Amazing.
And finally, my last choice, my last fantasy. If I could be anywhere. It’s a busy izakaya in downtown Tokyo, a place called Ginza Shimada. This is a “tachinomi”, a standing bar, with no seats, just room around a small L-shaped bar for about 10 people to crowd around.
Ginza Shimada does high-end food, weird for a bar where people stand up, a style that’s mostly about rapid drinking and then departing. But here you get soba noodles topped with a mountain of grated bottarga; you get Hokkaido turnips with this incredible flavour; you get perfect, fatty hunks of Hamachi, or Japanese amberjack sashimi. And you get it all in the genial surrounds that you have to love about Tokyo, where you’re thrown together with a bunch of strangers and everyone talks to each other and drinks sake and beer and has a good time.
It’s interesting, really, that my fantasy travel experiences are ones I’ve already had. Maybe this is what we will do for the next few years at least, reunite with old friends and family around the world, become reacquainted with old favourite destinations, reassure ourselves that our passion is still possible. Have adventures, but in places we know we’ll love.
That sounds fine to me. I promise I won’t even find reason to complain.
Where is your fantasy trip right now? If you could be anywhere in the world, with no COVID-19 worries, where would you be, and what would you be doing? Will that be your first post-pandemic trip overseas?