What is there to say about 2023? On so many levels, it could have been a great year, especially for travel. So many of us were relieved that Covid was over (although, with the latest rise in infections, not time to put away our masks yet) that we began planning our travels again. Friends, acquaintances, and our own research gave us destination recommendations: Portugal, Flores, and Ireland, just being three. Japan was a favourite one because it suddenly felt affordable.

But it hasn’t been easy. Airfares became crazily expensive, at least double what they were pre-COVID-19, if not more. As a result, we took advantage of any bargains we could find, whether at the travel fairs or special packages or by converting as many frequent flier points we could find. Some of us who may have gotten used to (and spoilt by) a higher class of air travel have had to downgrade to a lower class (though some airlines have been smart enough to note this and provide in-between classes such as Premium Economy). A few have decided that flying is not the only way to travel, instead opting for trains, boats and cycling, all of which also had the worthwhile benefit of not contributing to climate change.

Image by Briana Tozour.

For those of us whose bones can only cope with flying, it’s driven home to us that it is even less glamorous than ever if it ever was. I don’t know how many friends of mine have had to endure the agony of flight delays and cancellations, most notoriously by one familiar airline, and the rippling effect those have on travel plans. Long journeys are exhausting enough without also having to suffer the hassle of finding another flight or somewhere to stay. What causes this, nobody will say. I would hazard that it means someone somewhere sitting in a nice corporate office who probably always flies by private jet or First Class doesn’t really care what happens to the poor traveller at the back of the plane as long as his job is protected.

Additionally, there aren’t very many cheap places to go to as the travel industry tries to pick itself up after the two desolate pandemic years. Hotels and even Airbnbs cost a lot more, so your best bet is a friend’s spare room or sofa, which is fine for the young but not necessarily for the older traveller. I once went to visit a young couple in London. They’d just had a baby, and one set of grandparents had travelled to visit them. All of them slept in the couple’s tiny room and shared the bathroom with the other students in the apartment. Very sweet, but I guess Grandpa and Grandma went home with aching joints.

Left: Me at Padar Island, Flores, Indonesia. Right: View of Union Hall Bay, County West Cork, Ireland.

The choice of destination has also been determined by other factors. Weather is one. Some countries have experienced such severe heat that they have become unpleasant. Last year, I happened to be in London when it hit 40 degrees Celcius. I refused to go out except to run to the bus stop and get on the bus (un-air-conditioned) to the nearest mall. It seemed like half the city had had the same idea. In parts of London, houses caught fire, so unused were they to such heat.

This year, I was there again in November. Winter had begun, but I don’t remember that it was extremely cold in the past until January or February. I had to brave the one-degree Celcius weather (and sometimes rain) to go out to see the Christmas lights. As someone once said to me, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.”. I took her advice and piled on the thermal wear.

With my friends at the protest against the Palestinian genocide, Trafalgar Square, London.

And then there’s politics—or, more specifically, war. October saw the beginning of the worst genocide possibly in living history, not least because we can watch it almost live on TV and our computers and phones. The effect is dispiriting, a true damper on any holiday that we might want to embark on. My social media feeds now have less on travel and more news, specifically on Gaza, and it’s not easy to turn your eyes away to stop doom scrolling. And to feel helpless. I’ve only managed to assuage some of the grief by donating whatever I can to humanitarian efforts and, wherever I can, to attend protest rallies just to be with the lots and lots of people all over the world who feel the same horror and outrage that nobody is doing anything to stop the violence. Somehow, when I feel that so many leaders have lost their humanity, these gatherings have boosted my faith in the conscience of ordinary people, that they will not let this go through in silence.

But it’s not all gloomy. Reading the predictions by some travel industry professionals, they made it clear that in 2024, while AI is now the buzzword for everything, what it cannot replace is genuine human interaction face-to-face. If you have a problem when you’re travelling, the last thing you want is to talk to a robot that can only give you standard answers. You want a kindly human being who can empathise with you and make you feel that someone cares that your bags are missing or you don’t have a bed to sleep in that night. You also travel to meet other humans, preferably those who are different from you, so that you can learn something new. And, as we at Zafigo always stress, when you can travel successfully and smoothly and have positive travel experiences, your view of yourself is enhanced and empowered. The confidence you gain in being able to literally navigate the world (with our help, of course) will hopefully also assist you in navigating other parts of your life just as well.

I end the year with a wish for a very simple yet difficult thing, that is for peace and stability in the world. It might not be the easiest thing to achieve, and so much is out of our control, but I do think that we have no choice but to believe in the power of optimism and hope to counter the destructive force of despair.

Merry Christmas and a very happy 2024, everyone!

All images courtesy of author unless stated otherwise.