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The Joy of Travel After a Pandemic Year

This could be a summer of hope and inspiration as more folks hit the road—and the rails.

The hope of summer travel
Credit: Getty Images

The other morning I took the train into New York City. The tracks run along the east bank of the Hudson River, and I watched as the sun evaporated the mist drifting above the water, the Catskills to the west emerging like a painted backdrop. It was beautiful and peaceful.

And familiar. I’ve made this trip many times but not so much this past pandemic year. This trip felt different, like I was really traveling again. On the move. A year ago, locked down in the Berkshires, I would imagine places I would go if I could. Dublin. San Fransico. Ann Arbor. Venice. Taos. Boulder. The Baja. Maybe Hong Kong; I’ve never been there. This summer is different. Travel restrictions are falling away, and folks are on the move again, even if it’s only driving a few miles to hug the grandkids. Feels like we’re getting our freedom back, right?

I’ve never lived in a time when I couldn’t travel. I keep my passport current just so I know I can go anywhere in the world if the urge strikes me. But my first love is rail. I grew up riding trollies in Philadelphia. The train from Detroit to Ann Arbor. Then Metro-North from New Haven to Manhattan. Subways in New York. Eurail. And now this familiar Amtrak line along the Hudson bringing me back into the city I call home. 

As a youthful traveler, I truly enlivened my mother’s already busy prayer life. I hitchhiked all across North America with nary a postcard or a phone call home. I traveled with chickens and goats on third-class buses in South America because first- and second-class buses were prone to attacks by highwaymen, and I couldn’t afford them anyway. Third-class just broke down all the time or plunged over cliffs. 

I attempted to hike across the island of Hispaniola, from Haiti to the Dominican Republic. I shipped out on ore boats plying the Great Lakes. I wasn’t trying to worry my mom to death. At the time I considered myself a pretty capable young man. Now I know what probably saved my neck on numerous occasions was her constant prayers for my safety. Prayers I believe she’s still saying for me from heaven. 

My train pulled into the new and stately Moynihan Train Hall. Architecturally it is partly a throwback to the original Penn Station (before it was botched into a cheap mall) and to classic American train station architecture with its vaulted glass ceiling and echoey concourse. 

Pre-pandemic, Penn Station was the busiest transportation hub in the Western Hemisphere. Last time I passed through, it was more like a mausoleum. But today there are people. People everywhere, not just commuters but people with big rolling suitcases looking at Google Maps on their phones. In other words, travelers. Adventurers. Folks on the move again. 

Is there a more hopeful thing than travel? The excitement of new places and the comfort of familiar ones? If you are planning a trip this summer my prayers go with you. And even if you are just traveling in your mind and in your heart, that counts too. Let me know where you are going by emailing me here.

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