There's an aeroplane-shaped hole in my heart that just won't heal.
We all knew the warnings and risks, we knew it was a case of 'flyer beware'. But this isn't a story about being stranded in lockdown or having to cancel travel plans. This is about identity and purpose.
When you work in travel, announcements like today's about an eight-week pause to the transtasman bubble are another depressing blow to your identity, and threat to your career. While this halt appears necessary to protect New Zealand's Covid-free status, it's yet another set-back to the path of normality.
The reactions are always the same when people ask me what I do for a living.
"I'm a travel writer," I say, then wait for the response.
"Oh!" they initially reply with excitement. It's often followed by a pause, then their eyes widen, and a more subdued, "oh" as the cogs turn to realise a profession once considered a dream job by many is not so dreamy in the current climate. Their faces then transform into a grimace like the GIF of a cringing Steve Carroll from The Office.
Inevitably, the next questions go along the lines of: "So, what do you actually write about now? Aren't you sick of writing about New Zealand?"
When such a significant part of your job description is taken away from you or significantly reduced, it's easy to spiral into a feeling of having no purpose. How do you provide new content when you don't have anything new to write about? How do you keep a travel publication afloat?
It's not just for us as travel writers, but all those who work or have worked in the industry. Since New Zealand closed its borders, thousands of Kiwis lost their travel careers. A Tourism Industry Aotearoa survey which came out in May revealed four of every 10 tourism jobs had been lost in the year prior. Not everyone has regained a sense of purpose in their new jobs; not everyone has even found replacement work at all.
The travel industry is unique and special. It's full of strong social connections and events and mingling with like-minded people who have a passion for discovering new adventures and deepening their connections to the world. When you lose your job, or the key functions that make up your industry, there's a profound loss of connection that comes alongside it. Not only a loss of connection to the people, but also to the passion that motivated you to enter the industry in the first place. Travel can represent freedom and escapism. So how do you begin to even replace that?
When I look back to January last year, I remember waking on New Year's Day in Queenstown to a red sky. The tragic and deadly Australian bushfires had sent ash clouds across the Tasman. Thinking the bushfires would be the worst thing to happen that year, in hindsight, it now seems like that was an ominous warning of the times that lay ahead.
I have completed one Australian trip since the bubble opened. I was fortunate to fly to Sydney to report on the first bubble flight out of Auckland in April. Families were finally being reunited, airline and tourism staff regained a sense of purpose. A new age after the relentless pain of death, sickness and separation that had been blanketing the world for more than a year. It provided us with hope.
But hope is a roller coaster. Hopes are dashed, then rebuilt, dashed again. The constant ups and downs are a little tiring. Extended, long-term uncertainty takes a toll. The struggle to make a living in this industry is a financial strain for many.
I have to remind myself of the responsibility I have to help promote domestic travel. Our tourism industry - as well as the Cook Islands - still needs our help to recover. There are always new places to discover and new experiences to be had, and it's always important to have dreams for the future. One day that little aeroplane-shaped hole in my heart will be filled again. And in the meantime, it will be in the shape of a kiwi, and I'll remind myself how lucky I am to be able to explore at home.