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I love seeing friends’ lives on social media. I love seeing friends who are completely unrelated to each other share the same memes.

  • One might be a blogger in Florida sharing something an AFS friend living in Vermont has shared, or when the AFS friend in Vermont says something about the snow or mud or something that unconnected blogger Vermont friends have also referenced.
  • When the aforementioned blogger and my school friend from Waimate both see a rocket launch in Florida, and I can imagine them as neighbours.
  • When a friend in the UK shares something that was also shared by an unrelated friend I haven’t seen since 1981 at Bangkok’s Don Muang airport.
  • When nieces from different sides of the family who have never met comment on the same post, and start talking to each other.
  • I love getting the grammar comments or memes from a UK social worker friend, the AFS Vermont friend, and blogger friends in Vermont and Florida.
  • Or when a cousin I’ve seen only once or twice in 20-30 years shares something that I know a horsey friend in Leicestershire would love.
  • Etcetera.
  • I love seeing friends from different walks of life in NZ tramping* in our beautiful country, and it makes me stop for a minute and figure out if they know each other, because I know they’d like each other! Maybe they do? After all, NZ is a very small country.

I just love it when our lives collide. This for me is one of the gifts of social media. It’s less of a collision, and more of a like-minded merging. It makes the world seem a much smaller place. A place where our differences are so much smaller than we might think. A better, kinder, more welcoming place.

* hiking

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There is a lot said about the evil that results from social media. We are acutely aware of this in New Zealand, after the gunman who killed over 50 people at mosques in Christchurch last year live-streamed his insane attack on Fbk. There’s a great deal of hatred on social media sites. But unless you go to public sites and get involved in public discussions, or make your posts public with hashtags, you can avoid the worst. I don’t actually understand why you would seek this out. It’s very much a case of reader/writer beware! I never comment on public posts, only join very specific groups, and don’t get involved in Twitter for precisely that reason – it is all too public.

But there is much I can do as a result of social media sites, and it is all about relationships.

Recently, I have loved being able to:

  • See the first few weeks of the life of my newest great-nephew, and enjoy the happiness of my niece, in Australia.
  • Get photos of another niece and slightly older great-nephews (after two generations of girls, the next generation is all boys!) who live in Western Australia in a place we may never visit. They may not know me, but I know them.
  • Stay in touch with my friends from my student exchange 40 years ago, chat with them, laugh and cry with them, and support them through cancer journeys. It is a delight.
  • Equally, keep in touch with Thai student exchange sisters. We would struggle to write letters or email on a regular basis, but I love being able to observe their lives from afar.
  • Maintain relationships with women I met online, whether through ectopic losses, infertility blogging, or fellow writing enthusiasts.
  • See friends from completely separate walks of life “liking” the same articles, or sharing the same jokes. However I met them, it confirms that my friends are generally intelligent, caring, and funny people.
  • Share in the travels of friends. Of course, at this time of year there aren’t too many travels to share in. But a trip domestically can still be amazing, and I love seeing where others go, and what they enjoy doing. Soak in some beauty. Friends share sunsets. I’m in a Fbk group of photographers in my city, and I can only dream of taking pictures as good as the ones that are show-cased there. But it is inspiring.
  • Insta is great fun too – focused on photos, and much of it is just joy and beauty. That is my experience anyway, because I’m not someone who wants to take selfies, or compete over the number of likes, and just love being able to see beautiful images of amazing or even really ordinary places. And share a few of my own.

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Anyone who knows me knows that my favourite thing to do is to travel. Right now, of course, there is no chance of travelling internationally. When the COVID-19 crisis hit, I immediately told myself that I wouldn’t be travelling until the rest of the year, and made my peace with that. Not long afterwards, that got extended by about a year, and so since then I have been hoping for travel in 2022. But I am not relying on that, and I know there is no guarantee, especially as I see cases skyrocket overseas in developing countries that will struggle to contain the virus. Worse, I see the cases still skyrocketing in developed countries with educated citizens that should know better. So there is considerable uncertainty as to if, not when, this situation will ever resolve.

Ironically, the EU and other countries would welcome New Zealand tourists right now – Fbk was advertising Greece to me today (ads I’d never seen before). But the reality is that most Kiwis will not be risking travel, as to get to Europe or many other places we have to take at least two long haul flights, sharing planes with passengers from countries that have not contained COVID19 as we have.

So, the reality of the situation is settling in, and I am starting to feel a little trapped. We’re here at the bottom of the world in the little dinghy lifeboat, with a few other little dinghy lifeboats in pockets around the world. And together those of us in the tiny lucky lifeboats are watching the rest of the world go down with the COVID-19 ship. This analogy is not mine, but courtesy of a cartoon I saw recently. (I’ve been trying to find it online to give credit to the cartoonist, but I can’t.)

So, for the time being, we are socially distancing from the rest of the world here in NZ, yet with full freedom of movement and the comfort that – almost certainly – there is no COVID-19 out in the community. That means that we can travel domestically, so our only travel options are here, on the islands of New Zealand. (There is talk of opening up a “bubble” with other countries that are effectively COVID free, but these seem a long way off.)

I remember a NZ Tourism promotion in the 1980s, exhorting us to travel in New Zealand before we took off to see the world.

Now of course, we don’t have any other option. New Zealand is a relatively small island country – bigger than the UK, but slightly smaller than Japan or Italy. The advantage of New Zealand though is that we have very different terrain (and therefore, experiences). This is not true of many other places we have been. The US might share tropical islands and volcanoes and deserts and mountains, but not as close together as in NZ. Switzerland or Norway are both stunningly beautiful, but they don’t really vary. Yet here we can drive through rain forests with glaciers followed by lush farmland, cross desert plateaus or mountain passes,  visit vineyards, and end the day in lakes surrounded by snowy mountains. Nowhere is more than a few hours from the coast. You can see an example of this in my Favourite Road Trip post about a particular route driving around the South Island here. Even in winter, the north has mild temperatures barely requiring a coat, and the south (or the mountains and plateau in the north) has snow and freezing temperatures. This gives us a great choice of destinations and things to do.

But our landscape’s variety means that it is easy to drive past some wonderful areas that are worthy of exploration – especially if we have time constraints. The road trip I wrote about could take months if you stopped at each place to truly investigate it and enjoy what it had to offer. So although I’ve driven past a lot of places in the past, I now have the opportunity to explore destinations in more depth. I can simply relax in different environments, or take trips that are usually dominated by overseas tourists, and support our local, suffering, tourist industry. Right now it is winter, which means I won’t be sitting out in vineyards sipping on wine, but maybe I’ll be inside enjoying a glass beside a roaring fire. I’m not a skier, though I’d love to be, but maybe I can take advantage of the temperatures to travel to the mountains to enjoy some snow for a change.

Whilst some people might suggest that NZers are smug about our country (as a British rugby writer recently pointed out – out of jealousy, if you ask me!), there has always been a tendency amongst us of “cultural cringe” or thinking that “real life happens in other places.” Despite our distance from the rest of the world, Kiwis travel a lot. Many of us are having to put international plans on hold, and look inwards. Perhaps for this reason, some internal destinations have begun advertising themselves to NZers as if they are international destinations, knowing that we are all having to refocus our travel aspirations for the rest of the year (at a minimum). Dunedin, for example, is one of our main cities, and sits in the south of the South Island. It is known for its Scottish heritage, beautiful surroundings, and university-town vibe. It has come up with a slogan, “Not a Bad Plan D.” Its tongue-in-cheek humour compares its hills with the pyramids, its beaches with Bali (“but with a wetsuit”) and its buildings with Edinburgh (“It’s not exactly Edinburgh, but it sort of is”). Another region only four hours north of Wellington is taking a similar stance. Hawke’s Bay, one of our largest wine regions, compares its offerings with wine regions around the world, including Sonoma (California), Barossa (South Australia) and Tuscany, and urges us all to take a Baycation. I like all these regions, but I have to say that my favourite parts of this country are uniquely New Zealand, and that’s what I love the most.

School holidays start in about a week, so we’re staying at home for most of July, both because Charlie and parents are coming to visit, and to avoid crowds. But in August or September, we intend hitting the road and enjoying our fabulous country. We can’t go away for too long at any one time, because of elderly parent care. But that is the joy of not having to fly across the world to our destination. We can come and go to different destinations much more easily here.

In the meantime, I’m going to continue going somewhere when I am actually going nowhere. There are lots of ways I can do this. As I write this, I have a video going beside me of one of the safari drives I’ve already talked about. And over the lockdown, I’ve taken some YouTube trips on some great rail journeys (courtesy of Mel’s blog here), and (also thanks to Mel and Google street view) have “walked” around one of my favourite towns in Italy reminiscing about my visit seven years ago. I haven’t visited the dozens of online museums yet, or got into planning future trips (as they feel a little too distant right now), but they are all options for me to travel when I’m going nowhere. Of course, visiting international blogs and talking to friends on social media exposes me to other countries and people and makes me still feel connected to the world. The wonderful aforementioned Mel also introduced me this morning to WindowSwap, and that makes me feel like I’m somewhere else. I can almost smell the flowers, and feel the heat from the northern windows. And I haven’t yet mentioned reminiscing. That’s always a good way to transport myself to other times and places, when I can remember the sights and sounds and smells and tastes of exotic destinations.

The great thing about travel is that it is all about opening your mind to possibilities and experiences. And that’s the way I’m going to travel during this pandemic – both domestically in person AND internationally, thanks to photos and technology. For the rest of the year, at least.

 

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