I realize I’ve been holding my breath for almost 30 seconds as I walk from the restaurant’s host counter, past the other diners, to our table in the back corner. I wait until I feel the steady ocean breeze hit my face from the open window before releasing my held air and discreetly gulping in a new breath. The funny thing is, I didn’t even realize I was doing it until I felt my lungs tightening.
It’s the first time I’ve been inside a restaurant since March. It’s now mid-summer, and I try to remember life before the pandemic of COVID-19. It’s starting to seem like a lifetime ago, a lifetime where I breathed normally without worrying about the invisible chainlink of germs that might find their way to me.
Like thousands of other Americans, I have ventured out of my home to come to Florida’s panhandle for a change of scenery. I grapple between relaxing and enjoying the gulf views and the fear of returning home with more than just a sunburn.
With it being mid-summer, I had expected crowded beaches, but not like this. Even in quiet Santa Rosa nestled along scenic Highway 30A, the sheer number of people cramming the public beach area is overwhelming. So much so, we even skipped going to the beach one day, grateful for the condo’s large corner balcony.
At times it seems we’re all living in two separate worlds. In one world, COVID-19 is wreaking havoc everywhere, so people wear masks, carry hand sanitizer wherever they go, and mostly stay at home. The other parallel world is living life blissfully unaware of the pandemic, going about their day like it’s summer 2019.
Even though there were times during this trip I wished I could get out to see and do more, I was also mindfully happy about spending time with family. Sitting and gazing into the waves as they washed in and out, going for long walks, playing games in the evenings, or just watching a movie.
Simply being together is enough.
During my four days on Florida’s 30A, I also enjoyed quiet moments by myself. I would intermittently drift out to the balcony, stretch out on the lounge chair to watch the sunrise. In the afternoons, a storm would drift through, and I would wrap myself in a linen blanket to guard against the chilly misting rain gusting through.
When the crowds on the beach below thinned, I would walk the sands at sunset, grateful for the exercise, and thinking back to the days that turned into months sheltered in place when the world basically shut down.
I’ve had to cancel quite a few plans and travel reservations, and keep my wanderlust close to home. Thousands of you out there have had to do the same. I’m more appreciative than ever of the places I have traveled before the pandemic set in and changed the way we live our lives.
I’ve also become more grateful and aware of the beauty and sights to see in “my own backyard.” I look forward to exploring more destinations close to home in the coming months until it’s safe to fly further afield.
Although travel may have altered for the moment, one thing remains the same. It’s always nice to have a change of scenery.
Even the tiniest of details like stretching out on someone else’s couch, cooking dinner in a kitchen that isn’t your own, and looking out from time to time to glimpse a different scene was just the renewal needed to keep me going until the next trip––however and wherever that may be.