Zigs and Zags: The Best and Worst of February and March

Well.

I’m sure our lives are a good reflection of yours right now: Social distancing. Uncertainty. Lots of time watching Friends reruns and finally taking that online photography course we signed up for.

It feels a little inappropriate rewinding all the way to February and sharing highlights over the past couple months. But we did enjoy a fantastic February … and even the beginning of March was good. So, I’m still sharing the zigs and the zags of the past couple months. Because both are still part of who we are.

spices israel

Zigs

Transformational travel experiences

I know it seems weird to celebrate travel experiences right now, but I’m going to do it anyway.

So, here’s the thing: February is weird. We’ve just barely returned from winter holiday when our February holiday pops up.

Before traveling to Portugal in December, we made a snap decision to book a trip to Israel for February. I didn’t know much about Israel or its conflict with Palestine, so I read The Lemon Tree for a quick education. (I highly recommend this book, by the way.)

Admittedly, I was a bit nervous before we left. Why? I suppose the unknown. I’ve never been to the Middle East. The news media has portrayed this part of the world into a perpetual bloodbath. I just didn’t know what to expect.

I’m happy to report that our trip was one of the best we’ve ever taken. 

We took a tour with Intrepid Travel, who we traveled with to Morocco and will (hopefully) be traveling with to Russia this coming summer. Our guide, a secular Jew, was whip smart and accessible. The theme of the trip, “Dual Narratives,” included time in both the West Bank and Israel as well as time to speak with both Israelis and Palestinians about the ongoing conflict and daily life in this hotly contested part of the world.

One of the key takeaways for me after all these conversations and trips back and forth across Israel and Palestine is this: There is no easy answer. Everyone — and I mean everyone — has a different opinion about what should be done about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That’s one of the key problems that keeps any meaningful conversation from taking place.

Also, Western nations have done a bang-up job of making the situation worse. Why do rich nations always think they have the answers and meddle in other nations’ business? It is so frustrating.

The highlights of our week included:

  • Visiting the border wall in Bethlehem with a third-generation refugee.
  • Stepping inside the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth and admiring all of the artistic depictions of Mary from nations around the world.
  • Walking through the four distinct quarters of the old city of Jerusalem.
  • Seeing the Lebanese and Syrian borders right outside our bus windows, and feeling the incredible emotion that comes with realizing that we can build physical walls but ultimately we’re all human.
  • Thinking deeply and engaging in conversations about religion while observing faith-based travelers visit specific sites that fit their narrative, and being thankful I have the privilege and ability to be open-minded enough to listen to numerous perspectives in order to make informed spiritual choices. (I’m still an atheist.)
  • Chatting with an imam in a small mosque, who answered all of our questions about the Koran.
  • Eating vegan sushi in Jerusalem.
  • Enjoying a bottle of wine on the beach in Tel Aviv as we closed out the week with our travel companions.

The only major bummer of our week was one day of rain. This made our visit to Masada a fairly miserable experience. And, even more unfortunate, this was the day we were supposed to go floating in the Dead Sea, but waves were so rough that no one was allowed in the water. So, I stuck a toe in the Dead Sea, but I have yet to float in it!

We know a lot of people who have been to Israel, but we don’t know anyone else who has taken a tour. I wouldn’t visit any other way. The access and information we received by traveling with Intrepid Travel was absolutely priceless.

israel

Big work news!

Over the last six months I’ve been working hard to nudge my business forward. I stepped back from my editing role at the Adventure Travel Trade Association. Then I hired a business coach and launched Rooted.

At the end of February, I officially parted ways.

Starting my day without having to check in to ATTA has been a weight lifted off of my shoulders. In my three years on contract with the organization, I did a lot of work I am exceptionally proud of. But it occupied a disproportionate amount of mental space. I didn’t have the capacity to keep pushing my professional brand forward, and its taken a heavy toll on me over the past year.

Officially being out on my own again without any heavy anchor clients is both incredibly exhilarating and terrifying — especially with the travel and tourism industry in a tailspin. Back in the throes of the hustle, it’s scary not knowing exactly where the next paycheck is coming from.

But this was absolutely the right thing for my career, and I am moving upward and onward! Just in the last couple months, I’ve started completely redoing my website and bringing Rooted “in house,” so to say. I’ve applied for a couple fellowships and been asked to contribute a chapter to a book.

Since we’ve entered the self-isolation period, I’ve also started outlining and scribbling down notes for a book. I’m also trying to figure out how best to get the good news and awesome solutions from the industry out in front of the world.

At long last, I have finally launched a mastermind — I am very excited about this! I’ve snagged a handful of article commissions to start diversifying my portfolio again. And I have so many other projects simmering in the background.

I am replanting my flag. Reclaiming my voice. Dedicating myself to my work again. 

And I couldn’t be happier.

Heading back to school

Well, not really. But, sort of.

For several years, I’ve taken open-source classes and signed up for various professional trainings. I often lose interest in these eventually because there’s no accountability or reason to invest the time.

The truth is I love learning. I know there’s so much more I don’t know. I want to be well-rounded and knowledgeable about not just the beat I work in but tangential areas as well. But the financial cost of getting a master’s degree has just never seemed like a smart investment.

So, this year — the year of investing in my career — I’m making targeted decisions about continuing education starting with a certification program in social entrepreneurship through the Columbia Business School. I can’t wait to apply what I learn to my work!

Zags

Don’t sneeze on me!

Well, now let’s talk about the elephant in the room, shall we?

How quickly COVID-19 spun out of control.

We had our temperatures taken when we stepped off the plane from Israel, and we made it back just in time!

As it stands, Cory is officially teaching virtually now — until nearly the end of April. I was hoping to make it back to the United States for a few projects and in-person trainings this spring, but life here, like everywhere else has completely come to a halt. Just a couple weeks ago I wrote about what it’s like to live in Ukraine during the pandemic. Since then, all non-essential businesses have closed, public transportation stopped running, and we’re limiting our trips out of the apartment to only twice per week. We’re not convinced other people are taking this as seriously as they should, so we’re self-isolated in large part for our own protection.

Looking for the silver lining in things, I appreciate that I’ve worked from a home office for more than a decade. There really is no change in my daily routine. And, quite frankly, it helps us to keep a routine. We set up our balcony so we have another sitting area in the house, and we’re trying to settle in and enjoy the gift of time that we’ve been given.

Luckily for us, we didn’t make any plans for our April break. It’s only a summer trip (mid-July) that we’re looking toward now, and we’ll just need to see how things play out.

The heartbreaking plunge of the tourism industry

One of the worst parts of watching the COVID-19 pandemic unfold is seeing the industry I love and have worked in my whole life take a catastrophic plunge. I have many friends and colleagues who have lost jobs in the last couple weeks. Lots of business owners I know will need to close their doors. This truly is a devastating time for those working in travel and tourism.

On the bright side — and, yes, I am looking for the silver lining here again — I really hope this time can a wake-up call for the industry. Despite the work so many of us have been doing to push the industry to become more “sustainable,” there was an increasing amount of friction between the industry and the climate crisis. I sincerely hope this current crisis can and will be used to re-evaluate how the travel and tourism industry can truly move forward in a more mindful and meaningful manner.

This is a huge opportunity. I hope we use it wisely.

2 Responses to “Zigs and Zags: The Best and Worst of February and March”

  1. Alex Joseph

    Thanks for a very interesting post JoAnna! I have been reading your posts ever since 2012. (I think I started with something I needed to know about the Grand Canyon, your information was the best I got! And it was spot on.)
    I went to Israel in 2008, (conducted tour, a “religious tour”, organised by relatives in India). It was great! Don’t miss floating on the Dead Sea next time you go. It is unbelievable! You have to experience it, to believe how good it is!
    By the way, I live in Australia (originally from India, but migrated to OZ in 1983). Traveled quite a bit all over the world. Not to Ukraine, though. Hence your posts from Ukraine are super interesting and informative! On my bucket list.

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      Hi Alex ~

      Thanks for reading! We wanted to spend time on the Dead Sea, but the day we went the weather was so bad and the water so rough, no one could swim. It gives us a great excuse to go to Jordan, actually, which is a place we’re really interested in visiting. Thanks for the recommendation.

      Reply

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