Pumpkin installation by Yayoi Kusama on the “art island” of Naoshima (with the addition of a slightly burdened revenge traveller).
Pumpkin installation by Yayoi Kusama on the “art island” of Naoshima (with the addition of a slightly burdened revenge traveller).
Image: Supplied

Two years of accumulated cabin fever have unleashed the desire for “revenge” travel. Of late, my Facebook feed has started to resemble the Travel Channel. One friend is eating her way through the best restaurants in Abu Dhabi, another is dipping her toes in the turquoise waters of the Italian Riviera, from a yacht, while yet another has taken her family to the small French seaside town of Arcachon (this, after a pilgrimage to the Zapotec ruins in Mexico).Much to the delight of the editor, I’m submitting this piece ahead of deadline because some friends have rented a villa in Corfu and have invited my hubby and me to join them. It would have been bad form to decline.

Corfu, Greece.
Corfu, Greece.

Revenge travel is in full swing. The term — and trend — was spawned when there were signs that the pandemic was finally abating, and travel restrictions were being eased. It created a surge of travel bookings from people suffering from cabin fever and aching to travel. Making up for the time and experiences we’ve all lost out on during lockdown has become an uncontrollable urge. Whether revenge travellers have the means to travel matters not. It’s a post-pandemic, YOLO (you only live once) attitude. Dealing with credit-card damage can be handled so much better when you have a new stamp in your passport.

The travel gods, however, have a cruel sense of humour. Travellers in the northern hemisphere, who kick-started the first wave of revenge travel in June, were met with chaos. No one expected another pandemic-related trend — the Great Resignation — to collide with their escape to elsewhere.

The travel industry was one of the hardest hit by lockdowns: workers were either retrenched or furloughed, while others simply quit the sector for better-paid jobs in completely different industries. This, like the tsunami of revenge travellers, was not factored in when borders reopened. Exposure to a surge of travellers, with Covid-19 still in circulation, resulted in the existing air crew and ground staff falling ill and being forced to isolate, increasing the shortage of workers. This felt very much like the pandemic’s swan song: almost gone but not quite. The result? Unheard-of check-in queues at airports around the world, cancelled flights, airports placing daily caps on passenger numbers, and mountains of lost luggage owing to a shortage of bag-gage handlers. The added stress on the remaining workers proved to be too much, sparking a new wave of resignations.

Revenge travel for many was far from sweet. I’m hoping that as I head for Greece, out of peak season, the travel chaos will have abated, although there are on-going warning bells, such as British Airways’ announcement of cancelling another 10 000 flights until March 2023. The aviation industry’s recalibration, it seems, will take a while. But that’s not going to deter me and the hordes of other travellers from fulfilling their revenge-travel pledge. Advice and some clever hacks have been shared by travellers who had flown into the travel-chaos storm. Fly direct if possible or avoid connecting flights with short layovers. If you can, travel with hand luggage only, and if you can’t, throw an Apple AirTag into your suitcase so you can track it if it goes missing. Get to the airport early — much earlier than you think is safe. And when you do run into trouble, be nice to frontline workers. They are bearing the brunt, not only of revenge-travel chaos but also the two years of accumulated “worry burnout” we’re all carrying. A refresher course in “re-entry etiquette” would not go amiss.

Revenge travel is also touching a nerve with people who previously didn’t prioritise travel.

So why, despite the potential risks of travelling now, are we so determined to unleash our wanderlust? Mark Twain’s thoughts on how travel can change your perspective are what regular travellers know inherently. He wrote: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the Earth all one’s lifetime.” It’s a sentiment that’s always driven my wanderlust, but not everyone has the opportunity to travel — opportunity and desire to travel are two different things.

Revenge travel is also touching a nerve with people who previously didn’t prioritise travel. So, what’s changed? I call it the “lockdown life audit”: introspection and the re-evaluation of our priorities during the pandemic. Whether you lost loved ones to the pandemic or battled with anticipatory grief, we’ve all come to realise that we’ve been taking this precious and fragile thing called life for granted.

On Instagram I follow the account @beautifuldestinations (naturally) and they posted these wise words: “Let this be your reminder that money comes back, but time does not, so when your circumstances and resources allow you to, make sure to spend your precious time doing things that you love, like traveling to places you’ve been dreaming of.” One place I have been dreaming of is Japan’s lesser-known “art islands”, which are filled with surreal art installations, amazing museums, and architectural gems. In Mark Lawrence’s book, Prince of Thorns, his main character asks, “Is revenge a science, or an art?” Best I book a trip to Japan to find out.

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