Travel blogger Lesley Murphy is all about finding the silver linings, especially during the pandemic.
Author of The Road Les Traveled, Murphy’s “livelihood” has been threatened since the world was grounded by COVID-19. She’s been forced to pivot away from travel content and leading women’s retreats around the world to refocus on lifestyle and yoga, while using her platform to be a champion for Black Lives Matter and sharing resources.
“You have to adapt and evolve in this day and age, or the virus will just swallow you up,” Murphy, 32, said.
Murphy has spent her self-imposed quarantine with her fiancé in their Los Angeles home and it’s probably the longest she’s spent in one place since college. She’s using the opportunity to get acquainted with domestic activities like gardening and baking— which aren’t exactly conducive when living out of a suitcase— and turning them into lucrative partnerships.
Cashay caught up with Murphy to learn about her new yoga subscription content, why she thinks “van life” is about to have a major moment, and the one thing she still refuses to do on a plane.
[Author’s note: Interview has been edited for clarity and length]
You recently flew from California to your home state of Arkansas. What was it like getting on a plane?
Lesley Murphy: I had no idea what to expect that first time around, because I'm pretty sure I was the first person I knew to travel in the pandemic, and so I didn't have anybody to ask.
For the first time, driving to LAX, I had so many questions in my mind, whereas any other day, it would have been routine because it’s something I do every week. But this time around was very different. And I think once I got into the airport and saw how empty it was, it was just this really eerie feeling of: “Should I be doing this right now?”
It was all very strange and all the restaurants were shut down. The only people I saw were the people who were boarding my flight. So it was super, super quiet and everybody was on their best behavior, which I thought was great, because you watch the news and you hear the horror stories of this airline how to kick off this passenger for not complying with the mask rules. Everybody was really respectful on both flights.
What’s the short-term future of travel look like and when do you think people will feel comfortable with flying again?
LM: I think this summer is definitely all about domestic and closer-to-home travel, for sure.
Personally, I want to take this time and see more of the U.S. I think it's the perfect time to do that because we've all been cooped up at home. I think people are ready to dip their toes back and get out of the house, really. And if that’s your backyard or some places close to home, that’s great.
I think van life is going to have a moment and people reconnecting with nature and the outdoors. Biking, running, swimming, really anything outdoors can ensure social distancing.
I feel like this world needs to cool off for a hot second and over-tourism is definitely real. And so if we can just sit back, let the earth breathe, and explore our own surroundings right now I think that's a win for a lot of people.
Although in the same breath, so many businesses depend on travel. So all I can do is hope that it'll be back towards the end of the year.
I think a lot of people are super fearful of flying right now and I completely get that. I understand why that is after boarding a plane twice in the last two weeks.
I think now that I've done it once and I know that I'm a responsible traveler and I see other people being responsible, I'd like to be that voice to say: “Hey, this isn’t scary if we can do this together and we're all responsible.”
I don't think we’ll go back to how it was in January or February, but I just want people to know that it doesn't need to be a scary thing if you comply with everything. So many businesses rely on it — mine included.
Air travel saw a major shift post-9/11 with liquid restrictions and removing shoes during the security process. Do you think hygienic measures like temperature checks and face masks are here to stay?
LM: We adopted those into business and personal travel and they’re still around today. I do think that masks, hand sanitizers, and face shields will be around for the foreseeable future and into 2021.
I feel good about boarding planes because I honestly believe they're cleaner now than they were a few months ago. Even though I know that the tray tables are notoriously the dirtiest part of planes, I still won’t put my laptop on one.
You’re someone who famously lived out of her suitcase for years. What’s it like being at home and in one place for so long?
LM: It's been a challenge to be in the same place for so long. I've never spent this much time in one place since maybe college. And so it's definitely been a learning curve from a personal standpoint and a professional standpoint.
I've been learning how to bake and garden. From a personal standpoint, it's been nice to slow down. From a business standpoint, it's been really challenging because my business demands travel, and traveling is my livelihood. So, I have definitely had to pivot my content now that everything is grounded.
I have LimitLes, a retreat business where I take women all over the world for connection, community and service, and I've had to postpone all of those trips. So, I think you have to adapt and evolve in this day and age or the coronavirus will just swallow you up.
I've had to pivot into more lifestyle pieces with gardening, recipes, interior design, and yoga. But it's been nice because I've wanted to start this yoga subscription service for a few years and I'm not so sure that ever would have happened without the pandemic. I'm not sure that ever would have happened without me having to stay at home.
There's definitely a ton of silver linings, and I think you have to have that positive attitude, or you're just gonna wake up every day and feel so low and heavy.
How have your partnerships been impacted by the pandemic?
LM: I mentioned I’m growing my own vegetables and gardening, and a partnership with Miracle-Gro happened. It was very unexpected, because I've never grown anything in my life until now, and it's kind of amazing to see what you can attract when everything kind of shifts.
It's so funny because when my fiancé and I were trying to decide on where to rent late last year, I'm so glad we picked this house because it has this garden bed in the backyard. We never really paid any attention to it until March, of course, and now we have tomatoes and peppers and all these herbs and flowers. It's the coolest thing.
I certainly never expected a partnership to come out of a hobby that just began at the beginning of quarantine. And then, Miracle-Gro came knocking, and it was a beautiful partnership.
I got a partnership with Nike because people are running now more than ever because gyms are closed. We're seeing this shift amongst the influencer industry, and partly due to everybody's on social media and brands know that.
I think when the pandemic started, a lot of influencers and agencies were nervous because they didn't know how brands would respond or where the funds would be going. But I think the exact opposite happened because people spent more and more time on social media and the shoots weren't happening with more than, like, two people at a time. Brands began to start pouring those budgets into influencers because they were at home and they could create content.
What are some of your favorite U.S. destinations? Where are you headed next?
LM: I really love Arizona! In fact, there is a blog post on my site that continues to do well is a road trip I took from Zion, through the Grand Canyon, and ended in Sedona. There's so much to see over there.
Of course, road-tripping through California is amazing, too. The southern states are amazing, too.
I think you're going to have to look towards less popular parks and less popular spots because somewhere like Zion National Park or Yosemite are probably going to be pretty populated, right? I think if you want to ensure social distancing, you're going to have to maybe get a little creative and take the road less traveled.
What's next on my list is a month-long road trip from Los Angeles up through California, Oregon, Washington, over to Montana, and down through Idaho.
I think the challenging part of road trips right now is really not knowing what is open state by state. There was never a federal mandate for the pandemic, so everything is so varied depending on where you go.
I found just in the past week, going through a road trip in my home state of Arkansas, It was a challenge to find restaurants that were open and the places that we were able to stay at really didn't have a lot of other travelers staying there.
Read more information and tips in our Travel section