The whole world may be in lockdown, but I travel somewhere new every day. I’ll tell you my secret. It goes like this: Shortly after I wake up and make my morning coffee, I log into a system no one sees with a secret password no one knows. With a jolt not unlike a jetplane landing, I’m sent to a new place, destination unknown. There, I’m left to fend for myself, figuring out where I am with a series of clues, and leaving behind just a bit more information than I arrived with, so the next traveler isn’t quite so blind.
Call it the 21st-century version of that shot in old movies when the hero spins the globe, slams his finger down on a spot, and a moment later you see an image of a plane shooting across a map. Or just call it the internet. I work for one of EVG’s largest travel clients to shape the way a map looks so that others can see a place more clearly.
Our projects are set up so at least a few people on each team are “local experts” who have lived in or are deeply familiar with some part of the world. For me, as a former Berlin expat, that means Germany, most of Northern Europe, and a good chunk of France and Italy.
Personal knowledge can help, but the work also involves quite a lot of research, which is inevitably the part I like most. Every day I’ll visit countless “official” websites like government pages, tourism boards, or the homepage of a specific museum. I’ll gather information and figure out how to rephrase it, kneading it and shaping it and punching it down until it fits into the confines of the project, within the perfect character count and style parameters.
For me, this used to be research for future trips – a way to let my wanderlust run wild while also making money. But now, with my country’s Covid count still high and nations around the world still in lockdown, about to hunker down for another winter that may bring a dreaded second wave, it’s become the only way to travel.
Thanks to my team members, it’s also become a crucial lifeline between me and the rest of the world. We all work remotely, but over many years and many projects together, we’ve become a tightknit group that sometimes feels closer than an actual office. Aside from a few in-person meetings on both sides of the Atlantic, we’ve never sat in a room together. For years my colleagues have been mainly words on a page and, occasionally, talking heads on a computer screen when we all have a training session. But I feel like I know them quite well; know their pets, know their quirks. From my perch in New York City, I feel connected to people in Italy, Argentina, Canada, England, and Austria. Cultivating a camaraderie like this isn’t easy, but the payoff is high: I have friends all over the world now (some have even offered up their couches, should I be passing through). That means I have access to untold amounts of knowledge, but also emotional support: I’m never working in isolation, even in this isolating time.
Some people might see the work we do as tedious, or trivial. After all, messing around on the internet all day is what many of us have done for years to avoid working, and looking up marginalia for a tiny village, a remote ravine, or a quirky museum we may never visit could be cause for frustration. To that I’d answer: we’re a group that loves that we do, otherwise we wouldn’t do it so well. We share tips and tricks across time zones, along with memes, 80s music videos, and a story or two. Each of us is enthused enough by language to want to spend extra time coming up with synonyms for words like “futuristic” or “waterfall,” and each of us loves to be contrarian, to interrogate every assumption, and to complain about the annoyances of US vs. UK spelling.
Doing this kind of work is the best part of my day: it can be a welcome respite from my other journalistic projects, which include reporting on how Covid is affecting people’s finances, lifestyle choices, and college applications. It can be a way to daydream, and it can be a reminder that other people are going about their daily lives in other parts of the world I can hardly imagine. The Hindu shrine or Islamic mosque in India I write about is receiving (masked) worshippers as we speak. The museum in Spain is managing its socially distanced visitors, while the concert hall in France is planning a grand reopening once there’s a vaccine. The mountain in Japan I’d never heard of until two minutes ago is being overwhelmed by foot traffic. I can’t travel there to see it all right now, but life is continuing on as I write about it from my armchair, my kitchen table, my bed.
In a strange way, my work over the past years (I’ve been working with EVG since about 2014) has prepared me well for this moment. My projects with them have always been about traveling remotely, collecting information on faraway lands while staving off the inevitable daydreams that come with such delicious internet voyeurism.
I used to deal with it by actually, physically being elsewhere while I did the work – I lived in Berlin, which was significantly “other” from my childhood and early adulthood in New York City that it felt like I was always traveling. Or I took my work with me and did it from a hotel room in Paris, a remote lodge in Corsica, a friend’s beachside condo in California.
Now as we sit at home, waiting for the all clear that will allow our lives to begin again, I think back on those years and wonder at how lucky I was, but how lucky I still am. I may not have a world to explore right now, but my work with EVG keeps the world at my (rapidly typing) fingertips.
Giulia Pines – Writer & Editor