Many people bristle at the idea of anyone taking a trip at all, let alone traveling indefinitely at a time of immense suffering, when millions of people are just waiting for the opportunity to hug a loved one again. School and office closings weren’t meant to make it easier to see the world; they were intended to persuade us to stay home and slow the spread of a deadly virus. Families that have traveled extensively during this time have done so despite public health guidelines.
But these families insist that their “slow travel” methods — allowing for only rare encounters with other people indoors — are no more dangerous than if they had stayed home. Spend your time crisscrossing the country in a camper and staying in state parks, and you rarely encounter anyone outside your family, except to get food and gas. These families often argue that they’re safer now than they were at home — with no grandparents or friends nearby, there is no one to see.
“This pandemic has been so incredibly hard for everybody, and people are finding their ways of managing and getting through it,” said Ashish K. Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, adding that isolated activities, like sailing or camping, are not inherently risky. “We need to give people a break to do something differently.”
Until the pandemic, the Ryans weren’t sailors, nor had they ever planned to be. But they spent the lockdown watching YouTube videos about families that sail. By May, they had bought a boat with no idea how long they would be on it. “If it hadn’t been for Covid, there is no way this would have happened,” Ms. Ryan said.
And yet, their lives have become an endless voyage. Ms. Ryan gave up on trying to keep up with the girls’ virtual learning schedule, and now home schools them. The family hopes to extend the trip indefinitely. Mr. Ryan is currently based out of Miami, so when he returns to flying next month, he will be able to commute from the Caribbean. “Honestly, it’s kind of awesome,” Ms. Ryan said. “Nobody knows what the future holds.”
Other travelers set off because they simply hit a wall. There’s nothing like being stuck at home to make you realize you would rather be anywhere else. In Facebook groups like Travel off Path Community and Worldschoolers, members trade advice on how to cross borders, how to handle local quarantine rules, where to find Covid-19 tests abroad and how to home-school on the road. Lonely travelers use the groups, with thousands of members, to meet up with other people overseas.
As the Wisconsin winter set in, Ana Gomez realized that she couldn’t make it through one spent constantly at home with her children, who are 5 and 3. “We cannot be in a house for six months when it is so cold,” said Ms. Gomez, 41, who is originally from Colombia. “It was going to be bad for us and for our marriage.”