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Will We Ever Get to Travel Again?

Plane at Sunset _ Image Credit Oli Lynch via Flickr
Plane at sunset. Image credit Oli Lynch via Flickr.

By Ernest White II

Will we ever get to travel again?

The short answer: yes. People need to connect with people, and the hankering for adventure, for intrigue, for romance has only been exacerbated by mandatory lockdowns. And, despite warnings to the contrary, some people never stopped traveling in 2020. In 2021 and beyond, however, travel will be much different than what we were used to before the pandemic.

The days of weekend getaways, last-minute jaunts, and general get-up-and-go are long gone. Destinations, airline and cruise companies, restaurants, tour companies, independent tour guides, shops, hotels, and every sector you can think of in the travel industry are still reeling from the pandemic, and most won’t recover quickly, if ever. In fact, the United Nations World Tourism Organization estimated a loss of up to $1.2 trillion in international visitor spending in 2020, with some 120 million tourism jobs at risk. And with countries like Canada and the United Kingdom instituting new travel bans in the face of stronger variants of the virus, the travel landscape will remain a foreign one for most of us well into the next few years. 

But fear not: as vaccines are distributed throughout the world, and with enhanced testing and expanded safety protocols, travel will again be accessible and even enjoyable.

Proceeding with Caution

Many destinations have taken the lead in establishing “COVID-conscious zones” with strict protocols and procedures that allow tourism to continue, especially in places where international visitors account for much of the revenue and employment in a given area. 

Cabo San Lucas _ Image Credit Juan Garcia via Flickr
Cabo San Lucas. Image credit Juan Garcia via Flickr.

In Mexico, for instance, the Los Cabos Tourism Board worked in conjunction with the Baja California Sur state health department to ensure all service providers were clear on health and safety regulations, and that there was uniformity in enforcement to ensure that hotels, restaurants, and attractions in the beachside destination could remain open for business. Hotel and restaurant capacity has been capped at up to 50%, while COVID-19 testing facilities have been expanded and an English-language hotline has been established for travelers needing assistance, or to take the test required for re-entry into the United States and Canada. The area’s hotels and tour operators have also been generous with change policies and fee waivers, taking a customer-focused approach to the heightened uncertainties of travel during a pandemic.

Angkor Wat _ Cambodia _ Image Credit Anne and David via Flickr
Angkor Wat, Cambodia. Image credit Anne and David via Flickr.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Southeast Asian country of Cambodia is open to tourists from the U.S. but requires a $2,000 deposit upon arrival, which pays for a mandatory COVID-19 test and potential treatment should the test result be positive. In addition to a negative test taken no more than 72 hours prior to landing at the country’s main airport, visitors must pay for another test upon arrival, then quarantine for 14 days at a hotel officially designated by the Cambodian government. However strict these requirements may be, the country is still open for tourism, unlike two-thirds of the world’s nations.

The upside is that restrictions like Cambodia's tend to inspire more intentional, slower-paced travel than what many people were accustomed to prior to the pandemic, in addition to keeping the local population safe and the tourism economy afloat.

Go Before You Go

For those waiting for the green light to travel without tests, masks, and gallons of hand sanitizer, the options for armchair traveling have never been more diverse, particularly as immersive technologies have improved and expanded in the wake of the pandemic. The old standbys of international cuisines, foreign films, jaunty TV shows, and world music are still easily accessible ways of getting into a traveling mood, but new virtual experiences can bring would-be travelers into the action via their personal devices.

Shinjuku _ Tokyo _ Japan _ Image Credit sayo ts via Flickr
Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan. Image credit sayo ts via Flickr.

Museums around the world—including the Louvre in Paris, the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Seoul, and the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City—have developed virtual tours of their galleries, offering views of permanent collections as well as temporary exhibitions. For virtual outdoor adventures, safari companies such as Tswalu and &Beyond Connections provide interactive and real-time safari experiences from the savannas of Southern and Central Africa. And if the thrill of the big city calls, tour companies such as Arigato Japan can pair viewers with local guides who offer multimedia tours of their happening ‘hoods in the heart of Tokyo.

While the way we travel won’t ever be the same, the human desire to connect with each other and explore our home planet remains.

Editor's note: Ernest is too modest to mention it, but another way you can get your travel on from the safety of your couch is by watching his travel docu-series, which airs on both PBS and Create TV.

Ernest White II is a storyteller, explorer, executive producer, and host of television travel docu-series FLY BROTHER with Ernest White II, currently airing in the United States on Public Television Stations and Create TV nationwide. He is also founder and CEO of Presidio Pictures, a new film, television, and digital media studio centering BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and senior/elder narratives. Ernest’s writing includes fiction, literary essay, and travel narrative, having been featured in Time Out London, USA Today, Getaway, Ebony, The Manifest-Station, Sinking City, Lakeview Journal, Matador Network, National Geographic Traveler’s Brazil and Bradt’s Tajikistan guidebooks, and at TravelChannel.com. He is also senior editor at Panorama: The Journal of Intelligent Travel, former assistant editor at Time Out São Paulo, and founding editor of digital men’s magazine Abernathy.

ErnestWhiteII_headshot-590x590

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The 'COVID Cabana' Might Just Save Us All

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We outfitted our 'COVID Cabana' space with old lawn furniture, a tiki bar from a friend, and an area rug. All photos by Sue Frause.

By Sue Frause

When the COVID-19 pandemic made its way to the United States in January of 2020, my husband and I were mildly concerned. But even more so when the first confirmed case in the U.S. was diagnosed in our home state of Washington. That patient was being treated at Providence Medical Center in Everett, less than an hour away from our home on Whidbey Island. It was a little too close for comfort. In March 2020, Gov. Jay Inslee initiated a Stay Home, Stay Healthy order in our state to fight the virus. And since then we’ve been adhering to the basic guidelines of wearing masks, washing hands, and staying six feet apart. Plus a whole lot more. 

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Kids to the rescue again, donating a BAR sign they didn't have room for. Farmer Bob outfitted it with lights.

Summer was easy, as we spent a lot of time outdoors, occasionally gathering with family and friends at our home or theirs. But when the cool, wet weather of autumn arrived, all that changed. It was the season to hunker on down indoors. Which for us, meant not having friends or family over for in-house gatherings, and not going to theirs. It was going to be a long winter.  

Gas Fire
Our son and his wife gave us their never-been-used gas fire pit to cozy up the space. S'mores, anyone?

 Here on Whidbey Island and beyond, along with the proliferation of alfresco dining options, people were creating outdoor spaces where gatherings would be much safer than in their homes. That’s when I realized we had the perfect space to put together a venue where we could invite folks over to share a glass of wine or two. Our Covid Cabana was born! 

Barn
Farmer Bob's barn was built in 2005 with the help of friends and relatives. Our Covid Cabana may be seen in the forefront before it was transformed.

Its location was ideal - a 7 x 14 ft. covered area off the side of our barn. When we built the barn in 2005, the original plan was for the space to house our chickens. But my husband, aka Farmer Bob, soon realized it wouldn’t be such a great spot for a flock of egg-laying hens. So over the years, it has morphed from a carport to a storage area for picnic tables, lawn furniture, and our tiki bar. A loft above it housed even more outdoor goods. 

Wine Room
Farmer Bob created this temperature-controlled wine room located inside the barn, just steps away from our Covid Cabana.

 But in November, all that changed when we transformed the catch-all space into a cozy Covid Cabana. The best part of the process was being able to use everything we had - we spent zero dollars in creating a comfortable space for up to six people. Here’s what we recycled:

  • Two teak benches that seat four, with a matching coffee table
  • Two outdoor chairs
  • Area rug
  • Tiki bar with two stools 
  • Bar sign
  • Strings of lights on a dimmer
  • Gas fire pit 
  • Grapevine wreath

When summer arrives in June of this year, Farmer Bob plans to build and install six barn doors on the two open sides -- making it an all-season, indoor/outdoor space. And I’m hopeful that sooner than later, we can change its name from Covid Cabana to … Cozy Cabana!

H-l-about

Sue Frause is a prolific, long-time journalist and photographer whose work has appeared in print and online in the U.S. and abroad. For 15 years, she wrote an award-winning column for The South Whidbey Record. She currently writes not one, not two, but three blogs: Eat|Play|Sleep, Closet Canuck, and married to martha. She is also a regular on Around the World Radio. In her many travels, she's visited all seven continents, but her favorite place in the world is right there on Whidbey Island.

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Cat in the Flock's Top 5 Posts of 2020. No. 1 Is for the Birds!

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Milkweed seed pod on a rose bush.

By Lisa Brunette

Two-oh-two-oh was a surprising year for Cat in the Flock, as between the extensive lockdowns and social distancing measures and our decision to forgo social media, Anthony and I found ourselves with more time to write. While our day jobs at Brunette Games never ceased, as its already established remote-work structure allowed us to continue working without fail, we saw family and friends less often, and most interesting activities outside the home were either canceled outright or made less attractive due to the requirement to wear masks and social distance. So, we opted to stay in. We published more on this blog in 2020 than anticipated, with a total of 52 posts, or an average of one per week!

What's most exciting about the past year at Cat in the Flock is that I saw the blog grow beyond me. The responsibility for those 52 posts was shared across 7 different authors. Notably, Anthony joined the fray, and his write-up on our bamboo squash tunnel was one of the most popular of the year. Besides the Anthony-and-Lisa duo here at Cat in the Flock, we also published posts from a former wildlife biologist, two award-winning travel writers, an acupuncturist, and a certified herbalist. One of these also made the top five.

All of our most popular articles share gardening as a theme, and with the combination of our own passions for the subject and a surge in interest due to stay-at-home mandates, it's not surprising to see why. Here are the top five posts judging by total number of page views, starting with fifth on the list and working our way to the top.

No. 5 - Native Plants As the Stars of the Show

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Quercus shumardii, or native Shumard oak, in fall color.

The very first post of 2020 was also our fifth most-viewed: Garden Stars of the Year: How to Win with Native Plants. It's basically a native plant gardening 'how to,' with suggestions for how to go about populating your garden with plants that have evolved to your geographic location's unique ecosystem rather than filling it with a lot of exotics. What can we say? We're still drinking the native plant Kool-Aid. Exotics are harder to care for, and they don't feed native pollinators, birds, or animals anywhere near as well as the plants our native fauna have evolved to consume. To us, going native is a no-brainer.

No. 4 - More Mushroom Mania

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Image courtesy Missouri Department of Conservation.

If you hadn't noticed, we're a bit obsessed with mushrooms here at Cat in the Flock, and our fourth most popular post reflects that. "Mushrooms Become Less Mysterious - with the Right Field Guide" is pretty much a love letter to both our stellar Missouri Department of Conservation and the mushroom guide it publishes, Missouri's Wild Mushrooms, by fellow St. Louis writer Maxine Stone. If you're anywhere in the Midwest, I highly recommend the guide.

New to the whole mushroom foraging idea? Check out this great piece by guest blogger Ellen King Rice that breaks down everything you need to know. And for funsies, you might also read our further account of mushroom foraging right here in the back 40 for the delicious and plentiful 'shroom known as reddening lepiota.

No. 3 - Farmer Bob's Jam

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Bob Frause in the garden. Photo by Sue Frause.

Over Sue Frause's long, award-winning career as a travel and lifestyle feature writer, she's amassed quite a following, which partly explains the popularity of the post coming in at the No. 3 spot, On Whidbey Island with 'Farmer Bob' and His Inspiration Garden. But I also think that asking a travel writer who's written about places hither and yon to turn inward toward her own backyard yielded just a truly wonderful piece about gardening, family, and what it means to call a place home. She mentioned to me how surprised she was by the response, and I believe her readers were hungry for this self-made profile.

The Frause's Whidbey Island garden is a very special place, just perfect for our regular 'inspiration garden' feature. It's inspired me ever since I had the pleasure of staying there back in 2008, and it continues to remind me of what's possible. 

No. 2 - Long Live the Squash Tunnel!

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Anthony and the freshly made bamboo tunnel.

As I mentioned above, Anthony's bamboo squash tunnel piece received quite a bit of attention, boosting it to second place for the year. It's possible that in a gardening-focused time of high unemployment, the prospect of a free bamboo tunnel for veggies was too strong to resist. 

Tragically, the squash tunnel fell victim to one of our dramatic Midwestern summer storms, but for a time, the arch anchored the garden, supporting cucumbers and, of course, squash, as well as providing birds with an interesting place to roost. Besides, it just looked so cool.

No. 1 - This One's for the Birds

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A surprise search-engine darling for us this year is Easy DIY Bird Baths for Your Stay-at-Home Pleasure. It regularly brings in readers in the same vein as the squash tunnel piece, as a highly thrifty way to get out in the garden and do something ecologically minded. 

I think what consistently puts this one ahead is that it's about a good, original idea: to use leftover tempered glass pot lids as reservoirs for bird baths. I've never seen anyone do this before, and it's surprising because it works so well. I still have four variations of them in the garden this winter, and the birds continue to use them on a daily basis. They're easy to clean and care for, and the tempered glass ensures they stand up to the extremes of winter and summer weather.

There you have it. I'm not sure we'll be able to keep up the once-per-week pace in 2021, especially since Cat in the Flock still doesn't earn any income for us. On that note, if you're a fan of our content, consider popping a few into our tip jar - and tell your friends about us. The more the merrier in this flock!

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Get 20% Off Lindsey's 'Food Medicine' Videos - Expires Nov. 1

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Lindsey Thompson, demonstrating how to make congee.

By Lisa Brunette

It's cold, overcast fall day here in the River City, and we've got congee slow-cooking in the crockpot. The recipe for this gentle, satisfying Asian rice porridge comes from my sister-in-law's awesome video series on Chinese food therapy. It was great to stumble across Lindsey's recipe for congee; I've been a fan ever since trying it for the first time years ago in a restaurant in Seattle's International District. It's just one of many excellent "food medicine" cooking demonstrations in Lindsey's series on Chinese medicine food therapy.

Congee is part of her course on autumn food medicine, along with chicken soup and an Asian-inspired pork bowl. Congee fits well with autumn because white foods correspond to this season in Chinese medicine. It might feel strange at first to associate food color with the seasons, but if you think about the vibrant orange and yellow hues of the squashes you harvest in late summer, you're already part of the way there, as those colors correspond to the season known as late summer. 

For me, it's very similar to the ancient herbalist tradition's "doctrine of signatures," which argues that what a plant looks like is an indication of its use. For example, I've written previously about the doctrine of signatures when I made a heart-healthy tea combining rose petals and the heart-shaped leaves of our violet ground cover. (It works really well to check the heart palpitations I often get with MCAS.) So it made sense to me when Lindsey wrote here on the blog last spring about how to counteract a depressed, sinking condition with baby greens for an uplifting mood shift, as those greens are the first to push up out of the newly thawed earth in springtime, and their color is vibrant against the muted hues of dead, rotting plant matter. Nature communicates its wisdom without words.

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Photo courtesy Lindsey Thompson.

Meant to help keep your body strong and healthy each season, Lindsey's offering her six-part nutrition video series at a 20% discount exclusively to Cat in the Flock readers. The series - comprising more than four hours of content - will show you how to incorporate this ancient, time-tested theory into food choices and cooking styles for each season. It will teach you how to listen to your own body in order to recognize the subtle signs that our bodies use to tell us we are drifting away from optimal health. It will then teach you how to use real food, common kitchen herbs, vegetables, fruit, spices, and proteins to bring your body back to optimal health.

I've personally gained a tremendous benefit from the series. In late summer here when things felt out-of-whack, we began eating roasted root vegetables in those lovely colors of bright yellow and pumpkin orange, and it really helped us reset. I bought a set of microplaners on Lindsey's suggestion in the series - what a great kitchen tool! And I can't wait to explore more black-hued foods this winter. I highly recommend the series, and not just because Lindsey's family. I'd buy this excellent, high-quality video series even if I didn't already know what an awesome person the star of the show is!

CITF DISCOUNT: Use coupon code "The Flock" to get a 20% discount at checkout, good until midnight Nov 1.

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Lindsey Thompson holds a master's in acupuncture and East Asian medicine from the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine (OCOM) in Portland, OR, with extra training in the Dr. Shen Pulse Analysis system, an 18-month internship in Five Element Acupuncture, and advanced cupping training from the International Cupping Therapy Association. After graduating from OCOM in 2012, Lindsey volunteered with the Acupuncture Relief Project in Nepal to hone her clinical skills at their high-volume clinic in rural Nepal. She now owns Thompson Acupuncture Clinic in Walla Walla, Wash.

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Around the World with Ernest and Friends - 'Fly Brother' Airs on Public TV, Create TV

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Ernest White II in Mongolia.

 

Editor's note: You know it's a thrill when a friend makes it to the big time. I've known Ernest White since the two of us were in grad school together for creative writing, both trying to turn our lives into art. We've stayed in touch ever since - across multiple time zones, career changes, and major life events. I've loved watching him evolve from writer to multimedia storyteller. I'm over-the-moon excited to bring you this announcement about his debut public TV series, Fly Brother. Here's Ernest.

By Ernest White II

It may seem odd to launch a new travel television program in a year when travelers are grounded with canceled and postponed plans to traipse around the planet. For my TV debut, the timing may not have been perfect, but it did give a new sense of meaning to my work. 

Fly Brother with Ernest White II is a new travel docu-series available in the United States on Public Television Stations and Create TV nationwide. The show follows my travels around the globe meeting with real-life friends and getting a local’s perspective as they show me around their home cities. In each episode, I visit their favorite hotels, restaurants, social haunts, and more. Throughout the season, we see festivities, food, and fun, but also the friendship that proves the whole world is our tribe.

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Ernest and friends Michael Childress and Ana Ayala.

Season one takes viewers to Brazil, Canada, Georgia, Namibia, Sweden, Ethiopia, India, Tajikistan, South Africa, Colombia, and Morocco. My friends and I chase sunsets in Cape Town, twirl to the samba beats of São Paulo, explore the jazzy side of Stockholm, and much more. As the world begins to reopen to tourism, I'm also making plans to (safely) film a second season filled with even more unique experiences. 

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In the Northern Flatlands of Namibia.

Beyond allowing viewers to ease the pangs of wanderlust, the show focuses on the power of connection and friendship through travel. As a gay, Black American man, I left the U.S. for a decade in search of adventure and community. I've circumnavigated the globe six times, befriending people of all walks of life along the way. It was during those travels that I realized that everyone—myself included—wants the same things in life: to be seen, empowered, and loved. It’s my life mission to express this love and sense of community through storytelling. As the world reckons with its problematic past and present, making an effort to build a better future, this unique message of interconnectedness is needed now more than ever.

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Hong Kong.

The series first started airing on Public Television Stations this past spring and then made its national cable debut on Create TV in August. The show airs on Mondays at 10:30 a.m., 5:30 p.m., and 10:30 p.m. EDT. But don’t worry if you’ve already missed out on a few episodes. Create TV will re-air each episode of season one October 19th, so you can be a part of all the fun from the beginning, starting with one of my favorite cities and my former home for several years: São Paulo, Brazil. 

Sao Paulo by Rodrigo Soldon
São Paulo. Image credit: Rodrigo Soldon via Flickr.

For more information on the show, including how you can catch the latest episode in your area, sign up for the Flight List at flybrother.net

About Ernest White II

Ernest is a storyteller, explorer, executive producer, and host of television travel docu-series FLY BROTHER with Ernest White II, currently airing in the United States on Public Television Stations and Create TV nationwide. He is also founder and CEO of Presidio Pictures, a new film, television, and digital media studio centering BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and senior/elder narratives. Ernest’s writing includes fiction, literary essay, and travel narrative, having been featured in Time Out London, USA Today, Getaway, Ebony, The Manifest-Station, Sinking City, Lakeview Journal, Matador Network, National Geographic Traveler’s Brazil and Bradt’s Tajikistan guidebooks, and at TravelChannel.com. He is also senior editor at Panorama: The Journal of Intelligent Travel, former assistant editor at Time Out São Paulo, and founding editor of digital men’s magazine Abernathy.

ErnestWhiteII_headshot-590x590

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