After a year lost, travelling with a purpose is a 2021 resolution for many

For many, 2020 was a lost year in travel. For those with travel goals post-retirement, the urge to seize the day has gained urgency.
Every year, John Shackelford, 26, a bicycle messenger in New York City, takes what he calls a “tour,” or long-distance ride with friends. Following a summer of social unrest sparked by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans at the hands of police, the 2020 tour, he decided, would travel roughly 1,100 miles from Mobile, Alabama, to Washington, D.C., visiting places associated with Black history, including Civil Rights landmarks, history museums and memorials such as the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. The pandemic was an obstacle to visiting some sites, but not enough to hold back the ride.

It was both a personal mission and a demonstration of diversity, something Shackelford, who is Black, hoped to model for future generations of cyclists. From this kernel of an idea, a movement grew as a film crew signed on to document the trip named the Underground Railroad Ride, which took Shackelford and four fellow cyclists 18 days to complete in October; a sixth rider did half the route.

“With all the anger and animosity going on, I felt this was the time to bring something important to the surface and answer some questions I’ve always had in terms of history,” Shackelford said.

The crises of 2020 — particularly the pandemic and the killings of Black Americans — have caused many travellers to rethink how and where to travel. Rather than taking luxury spa trips or sun-and-fun cruises, many are seeking to put more meaning into their future travels, either through a personal challenge like long-distance cycling, exploring their heritage or realizing a life goal such as visiting all 50 states.

While this sort of planning is often spurred by personal milestones or New Year’s resolutions, the slow and sometimes anguished passage of time during the past year has galvanized some to resolve not to waste more time in pursuing their long-term goals or those newly hatched during the pandemic. The recent rollout of vaccines gives some hope that they may be able to enact their plans sometime in the next year or two.

Mission-driven trips also assert a heightened sense of self-awareness. In her book “Getting Away From It All: Vacations and Identity,” author and sociologist Karen Stein writes that “vacations reveal what people choose to do, rather than what they must do. They are opportunities for self-definition.”