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Esmeralda Cabral is the author of How to Clean a Fish: And Other Adventures in Portugal.

I have never been to Paris. It used to be on my bucket list, but I no longer keep one. In fact, I have given up on the idea of seeing as much of the world as possible in my lifetime.

I still consider myself a traveller. I love adventure, different cultures, food and sunshine. I often feel the pull to visit my other “home,” the island paradise of São Miguel in the Azores, where I was born. I am always on high alert for special fares to Portugal. I dream of sunny destinations, so I count my pennies and add up my airline points. But I’ve decided I need to travel less, and differently. The years of COVID-19 restrictions caused me to reorient my priorities.

After my family immigrated to Canada, my parents saved for years before each of our longed-for vacations back home. In our first decade in our new country, I remember only two trips to the Azores.

These days, it is easy to jump on a plane and head somewhere, anywhere, without giving it much thought. So many of us are flying just because we can. Bucket lists, social media and our desire to obtain likes and followers have contributed to a travel frenzy that is unsustainable.

I took a pause from international travel during the heavy days of the pandemic. It wasn’t by choice. Many countries had imposed entry bans, quarantines and other restrictions to curb the spread of the virus.

Initially, I felt hard done by. I longed to return to São Miguel – the one place where I can easily access memories of my youth and where no one asks me how to spell my name. I wanted to be immersed in my culture and hear my language spoken around me. I wanted so much, but I would have to wait.

My husband and I are rule followers, and for three summers we abided by the recommendation of our health officials and stayed in British Columbia. We eased into a slower mode of travel – by car, by canoe and kayak, by foot. We paddled a remote chain of lakes, kayaked off the West Coast and tried salmon fishing for the first time. We saw whales, wolves, eagles and bears. Most of the time, though, we stayed close to home and strolled in the woods or walked our dog on the local beach. We waved at people we knew from two metres away. I came to enjoy the slower pace, and I liked the idea of letting the Earth breathe a bit.

I was aware of my privilege – I did not live alone, and I had a comfortable home. I was healthy and (relatively) fit. Still, I patted myself on the back for no longer feeling the intense need to get on a plane.

Thinking back to last summer when travel restrictions were eased, I can conjure up images of luggage pileups and long queues of stranded passengers in airports around the world. People were willing to travel again, big time – they were eager to make up for two years of lost vacations. A new term was even coined: revenge travel.

I resisted for a while, but by the fall, my husband and I had booked a flight to the Azores. It was a restorative trip. We swam in the sea and floated in the salty waves of the Atlantic; we visited with friends and family; we shared lunches of fresh fish and steamed potatoes; and we bathed in the thermal mineral-rich waters of Furnas. I was glad we went.

We all have our reasons for travelling – family, work, adventure. Over the years, I haven’t just travelled “back home.” I’ve visited family in Brazil, studied in Thailand and camped throughout Costa Rica. I’ve contributed more than my fair share of carbon emissions. But the pandemic made me realize that I don’t always have to be on the lookout for the next cheap flight.

International travel has become more accessible. It is no longer the sole purview of the rich, and that’s a good thing, but there are also costs. The threat of overtourism, when too many visitors “love” a place to death, is real.

This past spring, Lisbon residents took to the streets by the thousands to protest the loss of affordable housing. In the past few years, similar protests have erupted in Barcelona, Venice, Dubrovnik and elsewhere. Residents can no longer afford to live in their own cities and they’re not happy about it.

We must all share in the responsibility to travel more mindfully. It is not practical, nor desirable to stop travelling altogether. But we need to give more thought to our needs and wants.

Becoming a conscious traveller means thinking before we book that next flight. And then, we can choose destinations for reasons other than just striking them off our bucket list. We can avoid crowded, popular destinations and explore lesser-known regions. We can stay in hotels and hostels and locally owned campgrounds. We can eat in locally owned restaurants. We can contribute to the local economy instead of exploiting it.

I still hope to make it to Paris some time. But when I do, I won’t be crossing it off any list.

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