These are strange and trying times. In a few months, we have witnessed a virus spread from one city in China to over 183 countries and territories around the world. We’ve seen a handful of cases turn into a global pandemic that has claimed almost 66,000 lives and infected over 1.2 million people and counting. (When I started drafting this post, last week that figure was at 200,000!)
Borders have been closed, grocery store shelves emptied, businesses ordered to shut down, and hospitals overwhelmed. The situation is evolving rapidly but one thing remains clear: now is the time to stay home and avoid travelling.
Not only are some governments arresting people who travel and don’t self-quarantine, but travel and tourism infrastructure and attractions are also shut down in many countries. While it’s undoubtedly sad to have to cancel or at the very least postpone a trip, it’s far better than the worst-case scenario.
We’ll be the first to admit that travel withdrawal is very real, but this government-mandated social-distancing is something else entirely. Attractions, events, and pretty much any place that encourages gatherings of even small crowds are off-limits even in our own community. The one ray of sunshine in all of this is that going outside is ok so long as you keep the recommending 2 meters (6 feet) distance from other people, and are not showing any signs of illness. Seriously, if you’re sick stay the F*** home!
This means that plenty of healthy and mood-lifting activities are still available to us as we navigate these difficult weeks and maybe even months ahead of us.
So what *can* you do during a pandemic? Let’s look at a few options in an effort to keep your spirits up.
1) Go for a bike ride!
As spring (slowly) starts to arrive in our part of the world, tune-up your bike and hit up your city’s pathways. Our hometown, Calgary, has over 984km of pathways and they’re starting to clear up! With fewer cars on the road, it’s a great time to explore your neighbourhood by bike too. A standard adult’s bike is about 2m from end to end so it’s a good visual for how far you need to be from others when outside.
2) Explore a new park or pathway.
Cities like ours (which is Calgary) have wonderful parks and pathways. These are free to access, provide the healing benefits of providing access to fresh air and nature, and spread people out so you don’t have to worry about large crowds. Take a look at the parks and pathway maps in your local community and try out a new park. Please be mindful of those with reduced abilities and move aside for them if you can. Everyone deserves to experience the outdoors and governments will restrict access if people don’t do it responsibly. There are lots of parks in Calgary, we don’t all have to flock to the same one!
3) Try birding!
Hear us out. We know it gets labelled as a hobby for rich retired boomers, but birding is another low cost of entry activity that can be done right in your own backyard. Simply pick up a guide book, or a free app like Merlin or Birds Eye and go see who you can find in your own community. Calgary, for example, has some great birding destinations such as the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, Carburn Park,
Fish Creek Park ,* and Confederation Park (and so many others!)
Just try not to group up too much when searching for the exciting spring migrants that are starting to show up. Remember the 2 meter/ 6 feet rule! Here is a great link for getting started birding in your area.
*Provincial parks have since been ordered closed because too many people were congregating in one spot and dumping their trash everywhere. Good job people. Remember, this can happen to city parks too if we don’t take care of them and practise safe social distancing. I know this sucks, but we’re in this together. Let’s keep our city parks and pathways safe and accessible.
If birds don’t totally excite you, consider downloading something like the iNaturalist app and trying to do a “bio-blitz” in your own backyard by seeing how many species of plants, animals, and insects you can identify. Consider joining your local city’s Nature Challenge that usually happens in the spring. Calgary’s is still going on this year and is being extended to nearby communities. Calgary’s City Nature Challenge takes place on April 24-27th. See their website for more info and to sign up.
5) Start planning your garden
If you’re lucky enough to live in a climate where spring is actually spring instead of
second third winter like it is in Alberta, get those bulbs and seeds in the ground! Otherwise, start pouring over seed catalogues and sketching out your dream garden for our short but spectacular summers. Try a new project like building a simple bumblebee house for your garden. Many garden Centres are delivering and offering curbside pick up.
6) Learn a new skill
Download the DuoLingo app and start learning a new language. Sign up for some distance learning courses. Pick up an instrument. Try to beat the self-isolation blues by doing more than just watching Netflix because even that will get old after a while. Try some new baking and get good and chonky, then do an online fitness class so it balances out.
7) Put together that Gallery Wall already
We’ve been meaning to make one since we returned from our very fortuitously-timed 14 month trip around the world. Now that there’s no restaurants, shows, movie nights, and weekend trips to distract us, it’s as good of a time as ever to put together our picture wall.
Studies have shown that even just looking at pictures from good times boosts our moods. So bask away in your former glory. It might be a while before travel becomes commonplace again.
8) Look at the positives
We’ve grappled with this conundrum before: travel is both a wonderful, terrible thing. It provides economic benefits while at the same time causing environmental degradation. It humanizes people on the other side of the world, but threatens their livelihoods with rising GhG emissions.
One bittersweet positive of this pandemic is that global GhG emissions have declined in China by 25%, and some over-visited environments are recovering. For example, the famous canals of Venice are running clear for the first time in decades as a result of decreased tourism traffic (sorry, the viral posts about dolphins and swans returning to the canals are fake news). Perhaps once the tourists return, one can hope that the officials in Venice will curb the amount of permissible visitors in order to preserve this recovery.
We’ve also been inspired by how much people are trying to support local businesses in lieu of wealthy corporations that benefited from decades of tax reduction schemes but are suddenly claiming to need publicly-funded handouts. Many local businesses are offering take-out, curbside pick up, and delivery. Think about which businesses you’ll want to visit first once this is all over and support them now so they’ll still be around. Even our amazing local craft brewers are offering beer delivery now, and that’s in addition to switching some of their production to make hand sanitizer — outstanding!
9) Reach out to Each Other
Not physically of course, but lines of communication remain open during this time. Text your neighbour to make sure they’re ok, offer to help seniors in your community, check in with your friends in other countries to let them know you’re thinking of them, donate to your local food bank. We need each other more than ever right now, even if it can’t always be in person.
10) Practice Self Care
This looks like different things to different people, but do make sure to carve out time every day to do something relaxing and fulfilling. Read a book, spend some time with your pet, do some yoga, meditate, and do not be afraid of taking a walk! Research shows that getting fresh air is good for mental and physical health. Just practice good hygiene and social distancing whenever you go outside.
11) Go “Plogging”
Plogging is a Scandinavian fitness trend where people combine jogging with picking up trash. We were planning on doing this before fourth winter arrived, but when the snow finally melts we will be putting on some serious rubber gloves, seizing our trash grabbers and heading to our local parks to pick up some trash. We’ve been spotting all kinds of exciting birds that are passing through our local park’s open stream before heading to the mountains, but it is sadly covered in trash.
We will be cleaning up the streams for the birds and for the people who enjoy the park. Don’t worry we will use gloves, sanitize our clothes and shoes afterward, and make sure that the trash is disposed of responsibly.
Being told to stay the F*** home and not travel for an undetermined amount of time is a depressing prospect, but it is necessary to flatten the curve and keep the most vulnerable in our society safe, and travel bloggers have a responsibility to share this message.
While travel addicts know there is nothing quite like the rush you get when you first land in a new country, it’s time to enjoy the beauty that is your own home. In the immortal words of celebrated conservationist John Muir “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” So now is the time to wash your hands and take a walk — with social distancing!