Earlier this week, as I packed my things for my first post-pandemic vacation, my eyes and mind dwelled on the object I spend more time with than any other: my laptop.
Of course many things have changed since last summer's break. Instead of flying, I'll drive from my home in the northern city of Milan to the southern island of Sicily (along with a short ferry ride). I'm also avoiding August, the most unbearably crowded month to travel in Italy. And I will be camping instead of staying in an AirBnb apartment.
And yet, what's surprising is how much will stay the same. Look around, after months of pandemic mourning and lockdowns, European countries seem to be relishing more than ever the place that tourism has in their lives — and economies. Some countries are racing to lure back masses of visitors, worried by the absence of traditionally big-spending Americans and Russians. Sicily has even promised to pay for one of every three nights in hotels, and to subsidise tours and museum visits.
The reasons why we travel haven't changed much, either. With borders reopening and the virus seemingly receding in Europe, many of us are planning vacations almost compulsively, as if they were a duty dictated by our Instagram feeds. According to the Wall Street Journal, some top destinations are already selling out for 2021.
Not particularly interested in seaside discos — which remain closed — my 2020 itinerary looks like it would any other year: drives through the island's rolling hills, Greek temples and sizzling Baroque cities, some sea, some sand, great food.
Many of us are planning vacations almost compulsively — Photo: Josi Donelli/TheNEWS2/ZUMA
Another thing that hasn't fundamentally changed is that many will have to check work emails as they travel. This has always been the case for millennials, in Italy and beyond, where the expression "work-life balance" can be met with a giggle. The most extreme case that comes to mind is from a friend of mine, whose boss wished him a great vacation, but added that as soon as he needs him to work, my friend will have to rush back to his desk immediately.
As the German historian Valentin Groebner said in an interview with Der Spiegel, perhaps the pandemic was our opportunity to rethink all this. The word "vacation" has Latin origins, meaning respite from duty and work. But "vacations have long been a consumption ritual — not a discharge from duty, but just another kind of duty," Groebner said.
Perhaps, he suggested, we should use the pandemic to reexamine what "discharge from duty" means, and ask ourselves if we really want to go back to joining the summer vacation herds.
Having finished writing this article, this opportunity seems to have already passed. I packed my laptop and took it with me.