After spending over a year wearing a mask, locked up in our homes, hoarding Clorox wipes, and not seeing family and friends, parts of the country have changed. On a recent vacation trip from California to Florida, I discovered that not all the world is under a mask siege with must follow regulations that we have grown to dislike.

This is my first travel experience since COVID-19 hit. I was a little apprehensive about what it would be like on a long plane flight wearing a mask and even walking through airport security.

It was everything I expected and more. As I checked in at the San Diego airport, there were employees quickly reminding us “masks are required in all airport areas.” Security was a multi-task area of placing your bags in a bin, taking off your shoes, going through the body scanner, and being reminded constantly to pull up your mask! By the time I made it to the terminal area I was ready to turn back due to stress. Little did I know this was only the beginning.

Boarding the plane required countless airline staff telling each passenger to keep their masks on. Upon arriving at my seat, the flight attendants kept explaining the same. The common flight announcements were changed to an explanation of why a mask is necessary the entire flight. After takeoff, the same attendants walk the aisle looking at each passenger to make sure masks are on, and quietly and politely reminding us that the mask must stay on unless you are eating or drinking.

However, even in first class, you are not sure whether you want to take off your mask to eat what is now offered. COVID regulations have provided passengers with food service in a pre-packed snack box of cheese, crackers, beef sticks, candy and nuts – all tightly wrapped. But there is light at the end of the tunnel my friends.

Upon arrival in Florida, where there is no mask mandate, the sunshine state is going wild with happiness! You see people’s actual smiling faces, have the ability to eat indoors at full capacity, and wander the streets and shop in stores with freedom. As we made our way from one end of South Florida to the Florida Keys, the lack of masks and even the memory of COVID diminish with every mile. It’s actually as if COVID never happened. The feeling of enjoying a vacation mask-free seemed so foreign. The first few days were filled with taking our masks everywhere. It had become our routine for over a year and now we were able to enjoy every activity without them.

Florida is seeing a resurgence of tourists and their economy. There are businesses that have chosen to have people wear masks and some that are optional. But the real difference you feel is the ability to wander about take a deep breath and relax. Gone is the anxiety of having your face covered and not being able to truly breathe. I even forgot to wipe my grocery cart handle multiple times before touching it.

This vacation and traveling has been an eye opening experience to what is hopefully coming for the rest of the world. Even though airline travel will probably provide less freedom for a while, your destination may open up a maskless nirvana that we deserve after a year of anxiety while doing even the simple things.

Stay positive Coronado, help is on the way for us. We will soon see our neighbor’s smiles, hug one another, and shake hands instead of touching elbows. This is our reward for the last year of masks, hand washing, sanitizing, vaccines and isolation. Our alternate and new universe is on the way – I have seen it and it is heavenly.

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