A Guide for the Travelling Pandemic Tourist this Divali

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This October, tourists are visiting Trinidad and Tobago for the festival of Divali. To date the country has waived the pandemic requirements for proof of antigen test results but are keeping the mask mandate for arriving passengers. The demographic that comprises the incoming travel group includes the diaspora that returns to celebrate with family and friends, return tourists who are active players in the business of the festival such as proprietors in food, fashion, home and entertainment, tourists eager to experience the booming gastronomy of Indo-Trinidadian fusion food and the spiritual pilgrims who join the practicing Hindus in the ceremonial traditions of the festival. Regardless of tourist profiling, they all share the human experience of being grounded in isolation for the last two years. As if this were not enough, their ongoing mental, physical health and overall wellbeing have become more than mere thoughts for review and reconsideration. The way in which the tourist experiences travel has changed forever.

We can expect that the incoming visitors experience anxiety; a complex cocktail of unhealed trauma, a dash of pandemic phobia garnished with a sprig of travel worry. The new normal for tourists resembles their mirrored image of trauma, the circus act of managing diet and lifestyle disease abroad, fear of losing luggage, missing flights, delayed travel, getting sick in a foreign destination and the ever popular angst over not being physically present in the event that everything goes awry in the home country.

Alternative to this is the recognition by pandemic travellers that something is amiss in their lives and that they can take action by confronting their anxiety. According to neuroscientist, anxiety physician and MD Russell Kennedy, it is key to investigate strategies that not only help but heal anxiety. He believes in identifying the root cause of the anxiety pain, its repressed location in the body and focusing on connecting the trauma and associated alarm of the patient’s past. (The anxiety doctor treats anxiety with a combination of EMDR, hypnosis, mindfulness and CBT in addressing anxiety. Find him here for more information  https://www.instagram.com/theanxietymd/ )

The road to recovery is one that prioritizes progress over perfection. It will take longer than a 3 hour flight to and from Trinidad, even all the time spent the night before departure (trying to pack and fit all the Divali sweets, roti, murtani, colourful bangles and lehengas whilst desperately trying to close the suitcase and hoping that everything arrives safely to your return destination).  Not even an overnight layover can account for the quantification of time in healing from anxiety. In the interim, research and preparation for destination travel secures a travel pass for the travelling pandemic tourist.

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Here’s a guide to help you with your destination travel to Trinidad for Divali celebrated on the 24th October 2022.
Official festival activities at the Divali Nagar site take place from 15th - 23rd October 2022.

1.Before arriving create a packing list. Try to pack at least 3 days in advance include your prescriptions, travel and allergy meds, tech gear, clothing etc.

2. Create a list of all the things you need to get done before you leave like arranging a house/pet/plant sitter. Don’t forget to include activities such as locking up, unplugging electric devices and freezing or sharing perishable food.

3. Inform the necessary persons like your employer, family and friends that you will not be around and leave a copy of travel itinerary and emergency contact with someone you trust.

4. Sort travel documents including travel, medical insurance and coverage during your trip.

5. Arrange for foreign exchange and budget your expenditure for the trip.

6. Research shopping in the destination to find local Indian fusion wear designers and support local.

7. Clear the bills to be paid in advance and arrange for a hold on your mail or have someone you trust keep it until your return.

8. Create a checklist and research Trinidad before arriving for festivity. Learn about the Divali Nagar, UNESCO World Heritage Site where the festival is held for the public. For instance, it is located on the Narsaloo Ramaya Marg Road Endeavor Chaguanas in Central Trinidad. There are major commercial centers for shopping in the surrounding area.

9. Keep abreast of the calendar of events so you know which activities will interest you. Find out the peak traffic times if traffic and crowds make you uneasy so you can visit the site and feel more comfortable to participate in the festivities.

10. Before arriving download, a weather app to track the weather forecast so you can be clothed appropriately when arriving, departing and during your days out (unless you want to throw caution to the wind and be a Bollywood prince/princess and dance in the rain throughout your stay, then power to you).

11. Discover the foods that are traditionally served during the festival and those that are sold especially if you are managing a lifestyle disease such as diabetes. Although there is a tremendous amount of deep fried gluten on the menu to satisfy your insatiable appetite, balance is key so know your limits and try not to put yourself in harm’s way. Identify food apps and locations for food that suits your diet such as organic and gluten free shops that provide for enjoying the festival on a diet like Moy’s Gluten Free, she sells gluten free roti that can be pre-ordered for pick up.

12. Research the health and safety protocols of the destination and also set your own boundaries for health and safety. Lighting of oil lamps also known as deyas are the custom for Diwali night as well as firecrackers so the night has the potential to get loud for tourists who are introverted.

13. Motion sickness and anxiety or force of habit may prevent you from eating before travel. Manage this by scheduling a light workout session to get those feel good  hormones active and fuel this with an equally light but healthy meal before you travel. It is useful to try to book accommodation with gym facilities or close proximity to fitness centers or be disciplined in your workout during your stay to keep motivated, to help you to feel your best and to be fully present to enjoy your experience.

14. Writing about your experience in the destination by keeping a journal can help you to channel your feelings and practice mindfulness everyday. By being kind to your mind and expressing yourself you escape your fear and worry for the future by being conscious of the present moment, activity, experience and interaction.

15. Check in with your trusted friends or family at home as this will help to ground you.

16. Set up activities for you to do during your transit and stay which will give you a sense of comfort and make you feel safe such as your music playlist, favorite movies, meditation apps, podcasts, art and craft, snacks and favourite sweater.

17. Research driver apps available if you need to get around the country and account for this expenditure in your budget.

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Last but certainly not least, whilst you can prepare and organize all you want the universe tends to give you experiences that you need rather than those that you want. You can try to control, influence, limit and manage expectations for the trip of a lifetime but travel is a capricious journey of ebb and flow. You owe it to yourself  to know when to own the pilot's seat and when to return to the passenger's. Be open to new experiences and say yes to new adventures because when you step out of your travel bubble only then will you truly discover how to travel deeper.