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Smiles in the Time of the Coronavirus

man with mask traveling

David Hunter Bishop is an award-winning senior adventure traveler and retired journalist from Hawaii. He’s been on the road as a solo traveler since August 2016. He’s now under lockdown in Mérida, Mexico, however. He has been an active community member of The Nomadic Network events throughout this pandemic. You can view his travel adventures at

What’s more contagious than COVID-19?

A simple smile.

I learned early on in my travels how a ready smile can open doors to friendships and opportunities.

Guatemala was the first country I visited as a newly minted solo world traveler, and everyone there seemed so glum. I thought maybe they were still carrying the emotional weight of the country’s recent sad history of civil war and violence.

I was determined to smile anyway and was wonderfully surprised. Greeting even the most dour-faced guatemaltecos on the street with a nod and a smile startled them for a moment, but most smiled back broadly with a warm “Buenos días.”

Aha! It is contagious, I concluded, and I continued greeting strangers that way in my travels ever since. Until the pandemic, that is.

With our faces now mostly covered by masks in public places, the chance that our bright pearly whites will transmit good feelings is now less likely.

A smile, once a friendly greeting, now raises the specter of highly contagious aerosols and icky droplets, airborne and coming your way, from sneezers and coughers or lying in wait on doorknobs and counter surfaces.

Consider a typical trip today to the supermarket. Masked and sanitized, everyone’s in a hurry to get in and get out while also watching their distance. Even an innocently mumbled thought from behind a mask about the ripeness of tomatoes elicits wide-eyed surprise and another shot of sanitizer.

COVID-19 has made once-modern dating practices quaint relics of the past. Who really wants a Tinder match these days? The New York City Health Department advised in public notices, “you are your safest sex partner.” Just make sure you wash your hands.

I’m finding that fewer people you pass on the street even want to look at your masked face, much less exchange a nod of recognition. A glint in the eye alone falls far short of conveying a person’s feelings if you can’t also show a little upturn of the mouth and dimpled cheeks.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand and believe in the importance of wearing masks in public and encourage their use if only in the belief that it’s a gesture of respect for others, or that indeed masks are effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

But what can be done about this pandemic of face-mask depression that so many of us are suffering?

Well, I think that when the travel gods gave us COVID-19, they first made sure we also had Zoom!

Millions of us who have otherwise been shut down behind our masks and four walls are still smiling, learning, and laughing through the days with mask-free, virtual social distancing thanks to the growing popularity of the audiovisual conferencing platform.

You can take advantage of travel’s shift to interactive web applications, where virtual tours and online travel discussions eliminate masks. You meet people face to face (virtually) and see them smile — and you’re still protected. Social distancing is not a concern.

While I’m still frustrated about the lack of real travel, I’m being uplifted through this phase of life’s journey by the virtual travel experiences I’m finding on The Nomad Network and other online sites.

TNN invites informative guests for interactive travel events on Zoom twice a week on various topics related to travel, blogging, storytelling, sustainability, writing, etc. They cover all sorts of topics like:

Another great resource is a Facebook group called Every Passport Stamp, run by Stefan Krasowski, who features guest travelers several times a week for lively interactive presentations, focusing on various aspects of the guests’ pursuit of visiting all 193 countries recognized by the United Nations. Stefan is a gifted interviewer and awesome traveler himself, having already been to every one of those countries.

And there’s much more online for sheltered travelers with just a few keyword searches. If we just rise above the gloom and make the best of what’s available to us, we can prepare for real travel again with smiles on our faces for our journeys to come.

David Hunter Bishop is an award-winning senior adventure traveler and retired journalist from Hawaii. He’s been on the road as a solo traveler since August 2016 and was featured on The Nomadic Network website forum in 2018. You can view his website at


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