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Images bring back fond memories of travel before coronavirus

The Google Photos app gives me visual reminders of a simpler and happier time, when travel was limited only by budget, imagination and vacation time.

Curse you, Google Photos. Or is it thank you.

As the deadly pandemic mercilessly ravages the world, the phone app’s Memories, visual reminders of a simpler time, have brought much-needed escape. I look longingly and fondly at the pictures that chronicle where I was and what I was doing two years ago, three years ago, a lifetime ago: swimming with turtles in Barbados, soaking in a mud bath in St. Lucia, savoring a Carib beer and conch fritters at ShipWreck Beach Bar & Grill in St. Kitts while monkeys ate sugarcane nearby, lounging at the Aria pool in Las Vegas — and that was just one May. Shot by shot, I am transported, and it’s hard not to smile and be grateful.

But these photos of happy days have also served as a stark reminder that something that has brought so many of us so much joy, something we always looked forward to — travel — is out of reach for the foreseeable future, and likely changed forever.

Hideaway Island in Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu, has a fun claim to fame: an underwater post office. Simply buy a waterproof postcard at the gift shop, write a note with one of the pencils, don your snorkel gear, swim several dozen yards from shore, hold your breath and dive down a few feet to deposit your mail. Bonus? Clownfish nearby. (I was a bit dubious, but my postcard did make it to me, and it's a one-of-a-kind souvenir.) [ DAWN CATE | Times ]

All at once a world that was so big has become so small.

It seems trivial to lament the loss of a luxury like travel, when people have lost jobs and, more tragically, loved ones.

But it is a loss.

Mystery Island, which is part of Vanuatu, has no inhabitants, but it does have an airport and a grass landing strip. Unknowing visitors were shooed off the runway before this plane arrived. [ DAWN CATE | Times ]

Travel has been a big part of my life since 2013, the year my marriage unraveled and my mother died. I made a conscious decision to embrace life fully. Tomorrow isn’t promised, so why put off that trip to Italy? Travel has become a part of who I am. I’m the employee who has every vacation day mapped out, the person with several trips booked simultaneously.

Like so many businesses at this unprecedented time, Norwegian, the airline that was my cheap gateway to Europe, has struggled. Those trans-Atlantic trips are likely a thing of the past. And will I ever get to use those 50,000 frequent-flier miles on American, enough for a flight to and from Rome off-season? Will American survive?

To help pass time on a flight last year, I jotted down the places I've been fortunate enough to visit and those still on my to-see list. [ DAWN CATE | Times ]

Looking for a little solace, I lose myself in the list I scratched out on a plane to somewhere that catalogs the countries I’ve been lucky enough to visit — from Austria and Cuba to Ireland and Poland. Off to the right is a column of places I’d like to go: Greece, the Maldives, Croatia.

The last big trip I was supposed to take was to London, on Leap Day. Unexpected surgery made that an impossibility right before the coronavirus could. Instead, my daughters and I took a road trip through Georgia and South Carolina, picking up a few bottles of hand sanitizer along the way.

The last big trip I had on my schedule, for July, was a cruise out of Sydney. I canceled it. Several days later the cruise line canceled it — for everyone.

The Sydney Opera House is the crown jewel in New South Wales in Australia. [ DAWN CATE | Times ]

It seems fitting that the last big trip I actually made was to Sydney. My dad and I took a South Pacific cruise from there in late August. It felt then like a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. I hope it wasn’t.

It’s too soon for the official one-year Google Photos Memories reminder of that glorious trip Down Under, but I’m revisiting the images and warm memories now — to lift my spirits and to tide me over. I’ll probably flip through my passport, too. I’ve forgotten what the Australia stamp looks like.

Carved statues are sold in a market in Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu, on Efate island. [ DAWN CATE | Times ]

I’m trying to be optimistic about the world opening up again. I’ve even booked a cruise for January, primarily because it includes a stop on the island of Bonaire, which is in the places-I’d-like-to-go column on my list.

I know moving forward that things won’t be like they were before, but a girl with a wicked case of wanderlust can dream.

A scene from Lifou, an island that's part of New Caledonia. [ DAWN CATE | Times ]