We’ve (somehow) made it to 2021. We are all, collectively, over it. We’re all feeling the tremendous weight of the year that has just passed. We’ve finished the Marie Kondo’ing of our homes, the DIY projects we’ve been putting off, and other stay-at-home activities. We’ve been cooped up for too long, yearning to travel again and appreciate the richness, experiences and growth that it brings.
But travel is first and foremost a tremendous privilege.
In light of mass get-togethers in recent weeks that have garnered significant attention, I wanted to weigh in with my thoughts about travel, the pandemic, and the current moment.
The decision to travel—particularly in large groups—while the virus rages on at its highest levels is blatantly irresponsible. Even though vaccine distribution is underway, the rate of rollout is sluggish at best. Decisions to travel display a general lack of humanity and consideration for others. But it also demonstrates a shameful disregard for under-resourced populations, communities of color, immunocompromised populations, and the elderly.
Now is not the time to take risks for a party, for the gram, or for your bucket list. Now is the time to travel with the safety of all people in mind. Think very carefully about the ramifications of your decisions, because this is not—and has never been—just about you.
Some argue that international communities are struggling economically and will “benefit” from increased visitation. But let’s be clear: no amount of economic activity could offset the devastation communities may face when travelers (especially travelers that do not quarantine, do not wear masks, and congregate at super spreader events) do not follow established guidelines prior to travel and upon arrival to a destination. Those communities do not benefit from the business of these travelers when their own hospitals are already at capacity. Recent super spreader events in Tulum and Puerto Vallarta (and countless others that preceded them) highlight this epidemic.
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And what about the return trips? What about those communities? At present, predominantly affluent white travelers are returning and spreading a disease that continues to devastate communities of color.
There’s a larger conversation about a failure in leadership and example-setting that has been present since the onset of the pandemic. This failure has eroded trust. Politicians from top to bottom and left to right cannot agree to take this virus seriously, causing their communities to face devastating repercussions.
All of that being said, no matter what the government does, we have a personal responsibility to look out for one another.
Many of us consider ourselves travelers. We do not lose that part of ourselves when we prioritize others and stay home. On the contrary, the defining characteristic of a traveler’s mindset is a willingness to bridge barriers; to reach across spatial and cultural divides towards an understanding that we are all human. Pandemic or not, there is no time or space in the travel community for believing your life and experiences are more important than someone else’s.
If your only response to current restrictions—restrictions that provide our only chance to save lives and slow this great global trauma—is to think about how to flout or avoid them in order to enjoy a “normal” experience, you risk nullifying all of the work that has been done to push back the spread of this virus.
Every day, we must wake up and reaffirm our identities in the face of a world that looks completely different.
We have collectively been cooped up for too long and many of us feel the need to scratch the travel itch. The question is how we do that.
What does mindful travel look like during the deadliest surge of the pandemic? How do we make calculated decisions that prioritize the safety of ourselves and others? How do we engage in safe (if limited) travel experiences, though they may differ from travel experiences we’ve had in the past?
Let’s consider how we can travel safely and prioritize travel in our own neighborhoods, states, or regions first. Practice contactless travel that is close to home. Opt for outdoor experiences whenever possible and minimize interactions through contact-free check-ins and delivery.
The following is by no means an affirmation of international travel at this moment, but if regional options have been exhausted and we are absolutely desperate for an international adventure, can we at least do it in such a way that follows protocols—in a way that protects the communities we will inevitably interact with?
The vaccine is going to take a long time to reach the most vulnerable populations and reach distribution levels that initiate herd immunity. I understand that you may be “over” the pandemic and that you may be tired, bored, or excited and ready for the next adventure. That said, our character cannot be measured by the number of international borders we cross, but can only be qualified by our capacity for self-betterment, compassion, and resilience.
There is a way to travel safely, but this is not the moment to be irresponsible and devastate communities that already lack critical resources.
If you choose to travel, do so as intelligently and safely, and encourage others to do the same. Now is not the time to take risks for a party, for the gram, or for your bucket list. Now is the time to travel with the safety of all people in mind. Think very carefully about the ramifications of your decisions, because this is not—and has never been—just about you.