A couple of months back, the UK unveiled its plan to ease out of lockdown, casting a bright light at the end of a very long tunnel.
As the warm weather hits, and some countries are easing lockdown and travel restrictions, many are already hitting up AirBnB to plan their summer vacation. But high global death rates and new variants mean travel isn’t a guarantee.
The increase in vaccinations, airlines pushing “safe and clean” services, and governments ratcheting up tourism marketing has left a lot of people feeling conflicted over making travel plans.
So how will we know it’s safe to travel — both for ourselves, and for the economies and health systems of the destination? Here are a few things to consider.
‘Legal’ doesn’t always mean right
If there’s anyone as excited as us to lift travel restrictions, it’s governments. Back in February, the EU Council announced they’d be publishing a weekly map designed by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control to help European countries make decisions about Covid-19 travel measures.
Several countries have recently been added to the UK’s ‘green list’, and the NHS app has now become a vaccine passport for travel. Other countries are also considering vaccine passports, to controversial reception.
Months back, experts warned of the potential discrimination these kinds of ‘vaccine passports’ could cause against people who are young, pregnant, or can’t get the vaccine for medical reasons. They also warn we should have more info about how long immunity lasts, especially in light of new variants, before we start packing our bags.
It’s important to remember that governments are balancing multiple interests, across politics, health, and the economy. Countries are interested in kickstarting tourism efforts to inject money into local economies — but this means governments sometimes make decisions against expert warnings. Beware of this dynamic, and try to keep the health and safety not only of yourself, but of your destination, in mind.
Can a travel bug justify a trip?
This year has been incredibly difficult for mental health. Not only have we lost the shot of serotonin that travel gives us, but it’s also been an incredibly long time since many people have seen friends, family, and partners.
It doesn’t help that media platforms are already publishing lists of ‘destinations abroad you may be able to visit this summer’ and ‘destinations already open to UK tourists.’ But can a travel bug, a desire to see loved ones, or a change in travel policy justify a trip?
Let’s look at the numbers. The Organisation for economic Co-operation and Development reported the global tourism economy is expected to shrink by 80% when all 2020 data is accounted for. But what does this mean for people?
Prior to Covid-19, one out of every 10 jobs around the world were in tourism. For countries relying heavily on tourism, the economic effects were devastating — Macau’s G.D.P. contracted by more than 50% in 2020.
The New York Times recently published ‘The Year in Travel’ report, which looked at Covid-19’s impact on tourism-dependent countries’ economies and travel workers. It painted a portrait of how tourism workers from Hoi An, Vietnam to Skagway, Norway are scraping by.
“I was working as a housekeeper at two resorts in March when the borders shut down and immediately our managers sent us home. Since then, I have had no income or assistance and it is impossible to find any work,” Marcia Simpson, a hotel housekeeper in Jamaica, told NYT.
But returning to tourism too soon could mean a deadlier and financially worse impact. A recent study showed that travel was a “significant contributor” to the second Covid-19 wave back in July, when travel restrictions were temporarily lifted. Three further studies published in the fall of 2020 show that Covid-19’s initial spread was linked to international flights. Many experts and politicians now hail the UK’s decision to not shut down borders quick enough as a "serious mistake” — a mistake that, if handled differently, could have saved thousands of lives.
As travel restrictions ease, do your research into not only the Covid-19 situation in the destination — think: am I adding unnecessary pressure on public resources by being there? — but also how you behave when you arrive. Make sure to follow all mandatory quarantine and mask restrictions, and keep in mind that fully vaccinated people could still not only get Covid-19, but spread it to others.
When deciding whether or not to travel once restrictions have lifted, remember that this is your decision to make — another person may have their own reasons, which may not be obvious from an Instagram post.
Judging each other is on the rise, and spying on each other has become the new “national hobby” — and it’s kind of human nature. We’ve psychologically evolved as a tribe, and any actions deviating from this are seen as a threat, especially when it comes to our collective health.
“We are motivated by fear at the moment to remain in line,” psychotherapist Jane Caro, who runs the Mental Health Foundation’s programmes for families and children, told Harper’s Bazaar. “There is a sense of wanting to police each other and make sure that people are doing as a society what we need them to be doing.”
We’ve all fallen prey to quietly questioning our friends’, families’, roommates’ and even Instagram strangers’ choices during this time, and an argument rages on as to whether the blame should fall on governments who didn’t act quickly enough or individuals who aren’t acting in a personally responsible way.
Now more than ever, what we do directly affects the health of those around us — but it’s gotten to the point where people are lying about where they’re going and what they’re doing to avoid shame.
If you find yourself stressing over others’ choices and finding it difficult to practice compassion, psychologists recommend recognising that others have different levels of comfort, and reminding ourselves not to make assumptions.
Thinking of moving abroad to wait out the pandemic? Consider this
The pandemic has seen a rise in people moving abroad for the long haul — bunkering down and waiting out mandatory quarantines so they can enjoy warmer weather or a cheaper lifestyle for the pandemic’s duration.
While some people still have to travel for work, most commonly, and unsurprisingly, this movement of travel is people from wealthier countries moving to underdeveloped countries. An example of this is the recent surge in Americans moving to Mexico to escape tighter restrictions in the states: over half a million Americans travelled to Mexico in November, 2020, and, according to blogger and Mexico City-based expat Lauren Cocking, “seem to treat Mexico like some kind of lawless adventure land, where they can escape the need to wear masks or stay indoors.”
Mexico and the U.S. have long held an asymmetrical power dynamic. Just consider the visa situation: Americans can take advantage of a six-month tourist visa, which can be easily obtained on arrival. Mexicans travelling to the U.S. need to first apply for a US B1/B2 visa, for which they need to apply in person at an embassy and undergo an interview process. Another example: American college students regularly take advantage of Cancun’s beaches for spring break, while hundreds of unaccompanied South and Central American children are still currently being detained at the border.
While some say the economic boost from tourism is welcome, many Mexicans see the pandemic surge in American tourists as irresponsible and harmful: “If it was less attractive, fewer people would come,” Xavier Tello, a Mexico City health policy analyst, told the NYT. “But what we’re creating is a vicious cycle, where we’re receiving more people, who are potentially infectious or infected from elsewhere, and they keep mixing with people that are potentially infectious or infected here in Mexico City.”
People considering working abroad for long periods during the pandemic should consider how their movements are putting pressure on underdeveloped economies, even if they do travel carefully.
We can’t recommend travel currently, even if it’s legal where you are. We’re using this downtime to already dreaming of our next destination, and thinking about how we can rebuild a post-pandemic tourist economy in a mindful and responsible way.
Dreaming ahead of road trips, hiking trails and local bars is an unsatisfactory replacement, we know, but it helps make time move forward. Where are you planning on travelling first?