I Haven’t Stepped a Toe Past City Limits in 15 Months. How Do I Feel?

I haven’t left the City and County of San Francisco since February 2020. I haven’t been to anywhere other than San Francisco or Alameda County since October 2019. 47 square miles / 121 square kilometers has been the limit of my physical world.

How do I feel? Surprisingly, I feel fine.

As soon as pandemic restrictions became serious, people complained about cabin fever and how much they want to ‘get out’ and travel far from home. Even now, over a year later, I… still don’t relate.

My life is such that I rarely have an ‘essential’ reason to leave city limits. Among people in my physical social circle, I’m unusual in not having crossed city limits at all since the first stay-at-home order. Many people I know have essential reasons to cross city limits, but I also get the sense that they are surprised by how seriously I’ve taken the ‘no nonessential travel’ thing.

I’ve been lucky to have already done quite a bit of travel in my life, and even before the pandemic, I felt I was getting diminishing returns from additional travel. For me, personally, staying in San Francisco city limits for over a year wasn’t bad.

Maybe saying this is ugly, but when people talk about how desperate they are to travel, I wonder if that means they’re so lucky that the pandemic has done nothing worse to them than cancel their nonessential travel plans. Or maybe some people want to travel precisely because the pandemic messed with their lives, maybe even inflicted trauma. I shouldn’t judge.

All else being equal, no, I don’t want travel restrictions. However, at this point in the pandemic, with new variants popping up in many places, I’m still opposed to long-distance nonessential travel. What do I mean by long-distance? Maybe distances over 500km / 300 miles? (Those number popped off the top of my head and are not based on reason.) From San Francisco, that would take me to about Eureka in the north, Santa Barbara in the south, and Lovelock, Nevada in the east. Notably, that distance excludes travel between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Realistically, I won’t object to intra-California travel, even it breaks my spur-of-the-moment 500km/300 mile rule, but I think nonessential travel between, say, San Francisco and New York is premature, even among vaccinated people. Telling people to give up on weekend getaways for over a year is unrealistic, but must they go over a thousand kilometers? Can’t everyone find nice ‘getaways’ within 500 km of their homes?

This month, I am planning to finally leave San Francisco for a short time. Is it essential travel? Nope. But I will remain within 500 km of San Francisco. My vaccine is fresh, most Californians’ vaccinations are fresh. If California has another major covid spike in a few months due to vaccine fadeout or variants which escape vaccines, then it may be a long time before I can leave in relative safety. If the pandemic is, in fact, no longer a significant danger in California, then all the more reason not to hesitate.

Has being stuck in the city for over a year helped me appreciate San Francisco better? Not really. I’ve already lived here for decades, I don’t think I experienced San Francisco more intensely than if I hadn’t been here for 15 months without a break. If anything, I’m more oblivious to San Francisco, like a fish forgetting about water. If I’m always in San Francisco, with no chance to compare it to somewhere else, it feels like The Way the World Is. (maybe this is why traveling once in a while is good for me.)

What does travel give me? Fun? I have much easier ways to have fun. The biggest benefit is experiencing somewhere different from home so I can better understand both the wider world and my home. However, other things can do that too. Books are the obvious way, but I can also try different activities which connect me to other places (such as drinking imported tea), talk to people from other places, talk to people IN other places, etc.

The biggest takeaway I’ve taken is confirmation of the feeling I had in late 2019 that maybe I should travel less. It’s been fine. Better that what I would have predicted if you told me in February 2020 that I wouldn’t leave city limits for over a year. Maybe it’s better if, for the rest of my life, I travel less than I did in my 20s.

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