Since the coronavirus disrupted everything from the way we shop to the way we date, we hoped for the arrival of a vaccine to return life back to normal.

After nearly a year of waiting, watching and hoping, the coronavirus vaccine has now reached more than 10.6 million Americans and counting. Unfortunately its arrival hasn’t been the quick fix most hoped for. We still have to practice standard coronavirus precautions, and the World Health Organization’s chief scientist has warned that herd immunity is unlikely this year.

Still, the vaccine has been an immense relief to those who’ve received it, and its rollout is making travel insiders feel optimistic about tourism’s comeback.

Most of those who have been vaccinated have been health-care workers. So we wanted to know how they feel now that they’re more protected from coronavirus and what their travel dreams are once it’s safe again.

“I just want to go back to a time where I can hug people and see people smiling on the street again.”

As soon as Madalyn Nguyen, 26, found out she was eligible to get the vaccine, she made her appointment. A first-year resident physician in New York City, she was eager to protect herself from the virus that caused immense pain for so many around her. Nguyen had seen residents her age pass away from covid-19.

On Dec. 21, she got her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, and her second on Jan. 11.

“It really did feel like a sigh of relief because … it felt like this year was a baptism by fire. It was awful,” Nguyen says. “Every single day I wasn’t [vaccinated], I would go into work wondering if this would be the day that I would get sick.”

Now that she has received the vaccine, Nguyen is feeling cautiously optimistic about traveling again. Although she describes herself as a huge traveler, it’s not a priority while the stakes are still high.

“My job and the science and my patients come first, so I likely won’t be returning to leisure travel for a while,” Nguyen says. “I am vaccinated, and I feel good about that, but as of right now, we don’t know whether or not people who are vaccinated can still be carriers of the virus and spread it.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, she had to cancel a three-month backpacking trip through Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines she planned to take before she started her residency. Once she knows it’s safe to do so again, she hopes to do an abridged version of that trip.

“I just want to go back to a time where I can hug people and see people smiling on the street again,” she says. “I would love to return to travel and return to a time where you get to see outside of your own four walls, literally and figuratively.”

“I was close to going to Japan before covid … as soon as that’s open and I’m able to go, I’m gonna go.”

Jim Sullivan, 44, a clinical pharmacist who manages patient therapy in San Diego, felt both excited and fortunate when he found out he could get the Pfizer vaccine. Sullivan, who is also a photographer, has seen the pandemic ravage both communities he works with: those at the hospital and those who work in the restaurants and bars he photographs.

Knowing the vaccine isn’t a miracle cure, Sullivan says he’s in the mind-set that he’ll have to continue living with coronavirus precautions for a long time. He’s prepared for a long road of wearing masks in public and washing his hands carefully.

For now, Sullivan is planning domestic trips, but his dream post-coronavirus trip is to Hokkaido, Japan, as well as South Korea and the Philippines.

“I was close to going to Japan before covid to work on a personal photography project, and as soon as that’s open and I’m able to go, I’m gonna go,” he says. “But I think in the meantime before anything happens, I’ll probably be just doing road trips up to Northern California or maybe to New Orleans.”

“Now that I’ve realized the freedom to travel can be taken away from you … those are definitely trips that will jump higher up onto my priority list.”

Flynn Robertson, 30, wakes up around 3 a.m. to drive from Portland, Ore., to Tualatin where he works as a patient care technician at a dialysis clinic. He preps the environment for patients who come in three days a week for treatment. Once they arrive, Robertson takes their vitals and connects them to the dialysis machines and monitors the process.

Robertson received the Moderna vaccine; however with the majority of the world still vulnerable to coronavirus, including his girlfriend, Shivon, not much has changed so far. Once they are both safe to travel, Robertson is hoping to spend more time exploring the United States.

“People tend to focus on visiting foreign destinations or somewhere unfamiliar and kind of gloss over the ridiculous beauty and awesomeness of things that are within a day’s drive,” he says. “For example, I can drive a day and be in Montana, which is one of the most spectacular places I’ve ever seen.”

Before the pandemic, he had remote places like Mongolia and Nepal on his bucket list. They felt like pipe dreams he could tackle later. Then coronavirus created a new sense of urgency.

“Now that I’ve realized the freedom to travel can be taken away from you, when we get it back those are definitely trips that will jump higher up onto my priority list of wanting to actually accomplish,” he says.

“We made a two-day stop in Paris, and for some reason since then, I’ve always wanted to go back.”

When a New Jersey coronavirus testing site needed more staff, physical therapy student Jill Thaker, 25, picked up the extra work on top of school and a physical therapy aid job. The side job put Thaker at a greater risk for getting the virus, but it also earned her a Pfizer vaccine.

“I felt extremely grateful to be one of the first ones to get it,” Thaker says. “I know it’s not a one-and-done type of fix, but it brings me peace of mind knowing that I have some sort of protection on top of all the PPE that we already wear.”

Although she has been unnerved knowing young and healthy health-care workers like herself have had serious covid-19 cases, Thaker has primarily feared passing the virus on to others. Until many more people get vaccinated, that anxiety will linger and keep her from traveling just yet.

Once the coast is clear, Thaker says she’d like to travel to see family who live around the United States and abroad. Her ultimate travel dream is to return to Paris, a city she fell in love with on a family trip in 2019.

“We made a two-day stop in Paris, and for some reason since then, I’ve always wanted to go back,” Thaker says. “I love the culture. I love the little cafes. It was just a very nice time.”

“It’s the kind of place I close my eyes and take myself to when I just need 10 seconds to take myself somewhere else.”

When Agustin Abdallah, 36, and his then-fiancee, Andrea, went to Argentina to see family in February 2020, they had plans to return to South America in October to get married. By the time the couple got home to Los Angeles in March, the world was starting to shut down. As the pandemic wore on, they realized a 2020 wedding reception was out of the question.

At a community health center’s urgent care and primary care clinics in East L.A., Abdallah deals with the trauma of coronavirus regularly as an internal medicine and pediatric specialist. When Abdallah learned he could get the Pfizer vaccine, his feelings of relief were mixed with frustration. About a year into the pandemic, the country is in worse shape, he said, despite being equipped with lifesaving information about coronavirus prevention.

“As recently as yesterday, I had a patient who was recovering from covid,” Abdallah says. “But she had given it to her mom and the mom died. … There’s going to be a long-term physical and emotional toll of all this as well.”

Abdallah says that once his wife is vaccinated, they’ll travel to Argentina to see their families in Buenos Aires, Córdoba and the province of San Luis. Until that day comes, Abdallah pictures the house they stay at in San Luis as a mental escape.

“It’s the kind of place I close my eyes and take myself to when I just need 10 seconds to take myself somewhere else,” he says.

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