The new year has begun for quite a while now so it’s about time we talked about what this year will have to offer. Of course, in times of Covid-19, few certainties remain so we can’t exactly guarantee what the future will bring. But now that vaccination campaigns have started it seems only right to dream about a world post-corona, a world in which we will be able to travel freely again. Maybe not as careless as before the pandemic yet still a giant improvement compared to the fears we had to face in 2020.
During the lockdowns most of us suddenly had more time to spare and therefore it isn’t surprising that, at least in our imagination, we started to plan our future adventures. Nothing like being stuck inside to make you want to pack your bags and jump on the first plane that will take you on, right? And while everyone has a different view on how they like to spend their holidays, according to Doctor Heather Warfield from the Antioch University, there’s one way of travel which will be booming over the next year: the pilgrimage. And no, that’s not a joke. And yes, that’s true even if you’re not religious.
1. What’s a pilgrimage?
First of all, let’s talk a bit about the concept of pilgrimages. In the Western world, they’re often linked to medieval times, during which people for example embarked on a journey to Santiago de Compostela if they were looking to clear their conscience. Sometimes this was voluntary, sometimes they were actually forced by the lawmakers because they had done something wrong. Whatever the reason, a religious undertone was always present. And still today, Christians are embarking on pilgrimages, small or big. However, pilgrimages are not at all exclusive to the Christian belief. They do exist in most religions, from Buddhism over Judaism to Zoroastrianism. And let’s not forget the Hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. All in all, a pilgrimage is a journey during which a person searches for a new or expanded meaning about their self, others, nature, or a higher good, through the experience.
And that means the concept of pilgrimage doesn’t have to be bound to religion at all. Everyone can undertake a journey in search of themselves or some bigger kind of meaning in life. A bit of contemplation is of course advised but that’s about it. The rest is totally up to you and only you can decide what it is you’re looking for, how you want to proceed and when you’re finished.
2. Meaningful travel
According to Heather Warfield, that’s exactly what we will do once the Covid-19-crisis has come to an end. And she’s not saying that out of the blue – she’s actually the editor of a book series called ‘Pilgrimage Studies’. “We have been forced inside, both literally and figuratively, where people have been disconnected. So people have had the opportunity to think about what’s important and have slowed down. We’re thinking about our values and what we want to pursue once we are out of this quarantine state. So I think post-COVID travel is going to include scenarios where people will want to have an experience that is more focused on meaning as opposed to travel as a commodity”, Warfield told Travel + Leisure. “Also, the mental health toll that COVID has taken is pretty significant; we’re seeing a lot of increased depression, anxiety, and isolation. People are going to want to seek out meaningful connections with other people and one way to do this can be a pilgrimage. Finally, many travel indicators show that people will be more engaged in the natural world — and since there are so many sacred sites located in nature, people will be engaging in a new way with places such as mountains, trees, lakes, and natural trails.”
3. Not to forget
If all of this appeals to you, there are a few things to keep in mind though. First of all, it’s good to be prepared. This won’t be your typical all-included holiday so you have to figure out beforehand which places you want to visit, how you will be travelling and where you will be sleeping. There are a whole lot of popular pilgrimage routes which you can follow, from the Camino de Santiago in Europe to the Kumano Kodō in Japan, so do some research and find out which one suits you best. Of course, if you just want to disconnect from daily life and immerse yourself in nature, you could also choose to just pack your backpack and start walking – that’s up to you.
And of course there’s the matter of who you’re taking with you. Are you doing this alone in order to find yourself? In that case, are you prepared to be on your own for most of your journey? And if you’re taking someone with you, is that person really the one you want for this experience? Only if the setting is good, you’ll be able to benefit from your so-called pilgrimages.
Last but not least, be prepared to feel different afterwards. This seems logical as you embarked on your pilgrimage in order to get to know yourself and the principles you stand for but it’s important to look at the bigger picture. Maybe, once you’ve returned, you’ll feel you’re no longer right for your job. Maybe, some of your friends won’t be right for you anymore. Maybe, you’ll want to change your entire life. That’s certainly not a bad thing but definitely something to be aware of.
2021 promises to be interesting, that’s for sure.