Why Are People Still Traveling?
The last time I traveled was January 2020.
I’m grateful I had the opportunity to do so. It was a wonderful trip to the west coast of Mexico. I drank lots of tequila and ziplined through the mountains and swam in blue pools. I walked by the ocean and reminded myself of how I am but a speck of dust in the vastness of this earth. It was sobering, and energizing, and beautiful.
And I yearn to do it again.
In fact, I was supposed to go back to Mexico this winter, in late December. I vowed to myself to save my money, to scrape by, if it meant I could get another ticket there and restore my soul once again. But in the summer, my friends and I made the decision to cancel it. We were cutting it too close with COVID. Airports were pretty empty, and airplanes were well-ventilated, but travel was just not a good idea. It still isn't.
So why are people still traveling during a pandemic?
Disclaimer: this doesn’t apply to people who are essential travelers, whether that be for college or for work or for a family member’s funeral. These are instances where there is sometimes no other option. I’m not talking about these people. I’m talking about completely voluntary, completely unnecessary, recreational travel.
I can’t tell you how many pictures I’ve seen of celebrities bathing in outdoor jacuzzis on tropical islands. As we speak, Charli and Dixie D’Amelio are out in the Bahamas with a giant group of friends, living it up. They can do it because they have the means. But should they? Absolutely not.
Old friends of mine are traveling, too. Two girls made a video about how they ditched their family’s Christmas and bought two tickets to Florida to party on the beach for a few days. Florida, a hotspot for the coronavirus.
Despite warnings by public health officials, thousands — even millions — of people still left their states, or even their country, to celebrate the holidays. Some of them left just to get a reprieve from this mess and enjoy a nice vacation. But that’s the thing. Many Americans don’t have the privilege of going on a “vacation.” Healthcare workers, for one, have jobs to do, crowded hospitals to work in, patients to care for. Middle- and lower- class Americans also have jobs to do, families to support, and many can’t afford to travel with the risk of contracting a serious virus that could leave them ill or even dead, with exorbitant medical bills that they never anticipated. And then there are the Americans that do have the means to travel, and the money, and maybe even the free time in their schedule — but they don’t because they know what it means for the rest of us.
Because here’s the thing: we can’t afford for people to travel. And I’m not talking about the money. I’m talking about humanity.
If people travel, they could bring it back to their home areas and increase community spread.
This is Scenario One. Someone contracts COVID on a trip, whether out-of-state or international, and brings it back home. Community spread increases. People all around them are getting it. Because, let’s be honest, the CDC tells you to quarantine after travel, but most people aren’t doing it. They get their temperatures taken at the airport and they feel fine after they get home. Maybe they quarantine for a day or two, but for a majority of people, if they’re careless enough to travel during a pandemic, they’re careless enough to skip the quarantine, too.
Hospitals are already strained; any more cases could send them into crisis.
I say this as if hospitals aren’t already in crisis; they are. Healthcare workers are working around the clock to ensure patients are cared for. Hospital beds are being filled to the brim. Sure, some hospitals are less full than others, but in places like Los Angeles and other big metropolitan areas, the truth is that they are full. No more beds are left. Patients either need to wait or be transported somewhere else. Waiting rooms, parking garages, even tents are serving as places for people to put beds. We can’t afford this. As a country, we simply cannot. People have already died, and that is without the hospitals being as colossally overwhelmed as they are now. Traveling during a pandemic — and increasing the risk of spreading it throughout vulnerable communities — will only send us into a desperate chaos.
You could spread it to the country you’re traveling to — and some of those countries don’t have the resources to combat it.
Some people are traveling to countries that lack the resources to fully combat and address the coronavirus. These countries may get a lot of tourism, but some of them are still developing and do not have strong medical systems or pandemic response plans. If coronavirus spread increases in these countries — which it inevitably will, if people keep traveling to them — there is no hope. There is no safety net for them, no line of healthcare workers waiting in the wings to help out, no emergency beds to fill, no safety fund of money to dip into to take care of all of the expenses of gathering these resources. Forget the government; some of the citizens live in poverty and, if they fell ill with COVID, they would not be able to afford going to a hospital or getting medical care. Thus, they would suffer, and, worst-case scenario, they would die. Another life lost at the hands of someone selfish. Another tragedy that could have been preventable, had someone only been careful enough to choose safety over recreation.
People are dying. When will people realize that? When will they start to care?
No, it’s not a hoax. Yes, it has an incredibly high survival rate. But the long-term effects are still unknown. The strain that this virus is putting on hospitals is not worth a tropical vacation. And regardless of survival rates, do people realize that even a 2% survival rate means millions of people will die? We are now losing more Americans per day than we did in the whole terrorist attack of 9/11. That day shocked the United States, sent us into panic, mourning, as it well should have. But equally as many lives are being lost now. Why have we suddenly decided to turn a blind eye? Since when did our pleasure and fun and privilege become a legitimate reason to sacrifice lives? We have it all wrong.
“But lockdowns didn’t work,” many people argue. Lockdowns didn’t work because people still didn’t follow them — same as they are doing now. People still went out, hung out with friends, claimed they had an excuse not to wear a mask in the grocery store. We never really locked down because not enough people complied.
“But the CDC says it’s fine to travel, if you do it safely,” other people say. But how? There is no “safe” way to travel during a pandemic. And the CDC does not condone traveling — in fact, on their website, they stress the importance of postponing or even canceling non-essential travel. They preach staying home as the best way to prevent the spread of this virus. The CDC provides a long list of Stage 3 and 4 countries not to travel to because of the dangers of COVID, and even attaches another list of countries that have forbidden travelers from the USA solely because of our poor response to the pandemic.
“But we just want to live our lives and get back to normal.”
Listen, we all do. Do you think the people staying inside their homes actually want to be there? Do you think we do it because it’s fun or because we would prefer that to our normal lives? Absolutely not. We do it because we care. We care about essential workers, hospitals, humanity. We do it because we know that someone else’s life is well worth our time in quarantine. We don’t do it because it’s enjoyable or preferable. We do it because we know that we are doing the right thing. And everyone should be following that sentiment.
Thankfully, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are already being administered worldwide, and we finally have a place to look for hope, a sense of clarity about what’s to come. But we can’t let the illusion of normalcy trick us into believing that we are out of the woods yet. In fact, we’re still in the thick of it.
So I beg of you, if you are a traveler, and you are considering traveling during this pandemic, please don’t. Even if you test negative for two weeks beforehand. Even if you test and quarantine when you get back. Even if your mental health is suffering (all of our mental health is suffering, but there are better ways to cope than putting someone else in danger). Even if that trip looms ahead like a beacon of light, please, please realize the damage.
It is not worth the damage. It never has been.