This autumn, with COVID-19 cases at a steady low and a permanent residency card in hand, I decided to visit family members and my long-time boyfriend in São Paulo, Brazil. The holiday break seemed like an incredible opportunity to book a trip to my home country. Everything was settled in October, and the very thought of the trip brightened my spirit, as I hadn’t seen many of my loved ones since my family moved to Canada in 2019.
All was well until the week before my trip, when the Government of Canada started advising Canadians to avoid non-essential travel. My mind and heart were suddenly in constant commotion while I tried to decide how I would carry on if more restrictions were placed in my way.
Fast-forward to Dec. 23, and I followed through with my travel plans, despite a series of challenges. From almost being denied boarding even though I tested negative for COVID-19 to waiting two hours on board due to technical difficulties in Toronto, I almost felt like it was karma (even though I don’t believe in it) that I made it to Brazil on Christmas Eve.
Little did I know that returning to the place I grew up would be an essential endeavor. Hugging my aunt, uncles and grandparents in the first few days was not only tear-jerking but also fundamental in cementing the connections we had maintained by chatting on WhatsApp for more than two years.
They needed to know I was fine, and that my parents and brother in Canada had been healthy and happy since we moved abroad. In exchange, I needed to know they were okay despite the hardships inflicted by the pandemic.
Some family members had lost their parents. Others had financial struggles and had to renounce their possessions in order to provide for their households. Although I wasn’t there when the wounds were fresh, I could be there now to listen to them share about these traumas and see how they were healing.
I also hadn’t seen my boyfriend in a year and nine months. When he pulled over next to my grandma’s sidewalk and left the car, it was like I was 16 again and nothing had changed between us. The special moments we spent together over this short trip were incomparable and inspired us to take the next step in our relationship and get engaged. Despite my brief stay, it is formative decisions like these that make travelling during the pandemic worthwhile.
After saying goodbye to everyone again, packing my bags and returning to my normal routine, I was immensely grateful that I had finally been able to see my family again after so many years apart.
These important, in-person family connections were critical in order to feel strong for any new restrictions or turnaround that may come with this next wave of COVID-19. A deemed non-essential trip was essential for me, bringing comfort, emotional reprieve and exciting new beginnings into my life.
As I jump into 2022, I have begun to understand that sometimes caring for your mental health can be just as important as caring for your physical self, and that, after getting tested multiple times and adhering to protocols, travel can be both life-giving and safe.
Isabella Soares is an arts and culture reporter for The Uniter. During her downtime, she loves writing about movies and TV shows for Collider and reading romance novels.
Published in Volume 76, Number 14 of The Uniter (January 20, 2022)