By now, most of us have picked up and discarded at least one pandemic hobby (yes, Netflix binges count). The more time you’ve spent inside your house, the more likely it is that you’ve explored crafting, discovered romance novels, reorganized your spice rack, or learned to bake. But there’s a seemingly less common pandemic hobby trend afoot: People who haven’t been able to go anywhere (and don’t intend to) are making elaborate imaginary travel plans. Maybe you’re among those who have spent hours researching locations, browsing Airbnb listings, ordering your imaginary vacation wardrobe, and cataloging potential excursions—even though you’re not actually planning to travel.
It turns out that you aren’t alone. A quick scroll through Twitter reveals this isn’t an uncommon coping strategy. People who seem to be adhering to public safety recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are still planning trips they don’t intend to book. Others are optimistically making travel plans they might eventually have to cancel. And, when I suddenly found myself indulging in an imaginary girls’ trip to Joshua Tree, I wondered whether this was a healthy distraction.
“It’s an escapist fantasy,” Regine Galanti, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist and founder of Long Island Behavioral, tells SELF, adding that there’s nothing inherently wrong with escapism during a global pandemic.
On the one hand, distractions are often beneficial right now. We are a full year into living with COVID-19 as a pandemic, and that means you’ve probably had to navigate a range of emotions like grief, discomfort, sadness, or even boredom. Things like lockdowns and financial loss have probably complicated your typical coping strategies (which may or may not have included travel). So any hobby that doesn’t harm anyone or endanger your well-being is probably a worthy pursuit.
When is trip planning less than healthy? It depends on a few things. First, you should think about how it really feels to plan elaborate vacations right now. When you spend hours dropping Airbnb links into a massive Google spreadsheet, are you happy? Are you relaxed? If so, then trip planning isn’t a terrible way to spend some downtime. If, however, scrolling through hotel reviews makes you feel sad, stressed, or any other unpleasant emotion, then it’s probably not the coping mechanism you think it is. And if you find yourself saying, I will be crushed if I can’t take this trip in June 2021, then you might be setting yourself up for disappointment, Dr. Galanti says.
Even if vacation planning is your happy place, Dr. Galanti suggests you “actually think about what you’re trying to achieve.” Why? It could turn out that your fun little pandemic hobby is telling you something useful that you can address. “Maybe what you’re saying is, I need a vacation from work,” Dr. Galanti explains. “Then take three days off even if you are not going anywhere.” When you figure out precisely what you’re looking for, you might be able to find a small socially distanced adventure in your backyard, city, or a drive away. Maybe the need to look at beautiful pictures from far-off places will encourage you to check out the online offerings in museums and cultural institutions worldwide. Vacation planning is a good way to spend some time, but there might be an even better way to get what you’re craving.
Ultimately, when joy is fleeting and uncertainty is all around us, finding escapist moments and creating things to look forward to aren’t terrible ideas. And when things are safer, you’ll have all your plans in place.