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Let’s Reconnect and Reminisce

“The only people who will understand what you’ve experienced in the last three months are the ones with you in this room.”

The director of my college study abroad program gave me and a group of fellow students one of the best observations I’ve ever heard. About a dozen of us spent a life-changing semester together in Mexico. (I know that’s a bit cliché, but it’s true — I probably wouldn’t have a career in tourism today if it weren’t for that incredible travel experience 20 years ago.) And after three months of traveling and studying together, we had all grown very close.

As the semester wound down and this Mexican professor prepared to send us off, he encouraged us to keep those friendships alive, meet from time to time and lean on each other as we transitioned from a magical experience abroad to a more mundane existence at home. His perspective struck a chord with me and proved to be incredibly wise. 

My friends and family were happy to see me when I got home and genuinely wanted to hear about my trip. But no matter how much I tried to tell them, I could never make them understand. The only people who could relate were those on the trip with me.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that advice over the past year and a half as the pandemic has subjected the tourism community to existential crisis. COVID has been hard on everyone, but few people or industries have been subjected to as much pain as we have. I have found myself frequently trying to explain to friends and family members the kinds of hardships that travel professionals have been enduring. But I can tell by the looks on their faces that they don’t get it.

And the truth is, they probably never will. Because the only people who can understand what we have experienced in the last 18 months are the ones who have gone through it with us.

In the year or so after returning from Mexico, my fellow students and I would meet for a dinner every few months to reconnect and reminisce. Maintaining those relationships and gathering in person was helpful and fulfilling for all of us.

We’re coming into a season of the year where the group travel industry usually gathers at a series of large conferences and events. And for the first time in a long time, most of those events will be in person. There will be business appointments as always. But there will also be a lot of hugs — perhaps more than usual. And, I’m willing to bet, a few tears.

Coming together again will feel great, but it won’t feel normal. Because we’re all different people than we were last time we met. And the world is a different place.

As we begin meeting again, let’s resist the temptation to let the divisions and fractiousness of our political era creep into our conversations. We don’t have to agree on everything. But we do need to be together. 

Because nobody else can appreciate where we’ve been — or help us get back to where we’re going — like the people with us in the room.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.