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Here’s Something Else to Worry About When You Travel

PHOTO: Ibrahim Rifath/Unsplash

Not everyone is going to agree with your decisions.

Like it or not, select society is recently and increasingly open to outside visitors now. After six months of cabin fever caused by quarantine, tourists are understandably heading on both domestic and international vacations now, according to the latest data.

What’s more, many governments, health departments, hotels, and restaurants have lifted some of the most restrictive measures previously placed on travelers. Although their numbers are nowhere near pre-coronavirus levels, the “welcome” signs are getting cleaned, and itchy-footed people are starting to venture out again.

However, there is a loud and noticeable number of travel shamers who vehemently deride others for vacationing (and even traveling for work) during a pandemic. In fact, dozens of travelers I spoke to for this story, including several doctors, reported receiving angry messages or passive-aggressive comments from strangers, family members, and friends alike. Some are even leaving “go back home” notes on cars with out-of-state license plates.

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Although travel is legal in most areas now, many of these unofficial “vacation police” are taking their arguments online and sometimes in-person in an attempt to pressure those who are more willing to accept the risks of traveling right now.

“Travel shaming is spiking, and we shouldn’t be surprised,” says Dr. Giuseppe Aragona, a GP. “It mostly comes from a place of fear and not wanting the virus to spread. But it’s important to remember that each person will be coming out of lockdown at their own speed, and it will be difficult to push them any further than they are ready to go.”

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A Brand New Problem

Before continuing, it must be noted that although both real and annoying, being travel shamed will likely never cause job loss, inequality, or serious harm. But it can bring unwanted stress. “Travel shaming may cause unnecessary stress and tension, which is the exact opposite of what any of us need right now,” says Dr. Nadeen White, who is both a physician and travel blogger.

That’s largely because travel shaming is uncharted territory. “Travel shaming has changed in [the] pandemic,” observes Dr. Don Rice, an urgent care physician from Nebraska. “It used to be shaming a person who chooses not to travel, but now it appears to be the other way around.”

For example, after recently booking a trip to French Polynesia, which is open to international tourists, Laura Peters, a travel blogger from Minnesota, says that she and her husband were immediately shamed for even toying with the idea of venturing out on vacation. “We were told by several readers that our plans were irresponsible and insensitive because we were putting others at risk. Luckily, more readers were supportive than not, but being berated was not a fun experience.”

Mona Molayem, a travel blogger who recently worked with a U.S. city that is welcoming tourists again, was insulted for doing her job. “Even though I was promoting safe travel by outlining the measures the city has in place, I was shamed by some people on social media, particularly upset locals who called me crazy for promoting travel during a pandemic, even though their city officials supported it.”

And another: “I recently returned from Greece and Turkey and received a lot of online shaming,” says Andrew D’Amours, co-founder of Flytrippers. “It’s as if traveling internationally is magically more dangerous now, against all available evidence and facts.”

Dr. Rice corroborates some of those facts. “According to a recent study out of Japan, you are far safer aboard an airplane than at a local bar where people are not socially distancing or wearing masks,” he says. That being the case, Dr. Rice recently traveled with family to vacation in Montana for some much-needed relaxation. “As a doctor who has no fear of travel, people certainly looked at me suspiciously as I was packing my bags. But I had no concerns as I was responsible and considerate throughout the entirety of my trip.”

What Can Be Done?

While some travelers I spoke to tried (but usually failed) to justify their actions, Dr. Aragona says it’s best to ignore travel shamers altogether. “What you shouldn’t do is get into an argument, as it’s one you will not win,” he says. “Many people are so scared of the idea of traveling, that even explaining your safety precautions won’t make them feel better.”

Dr. Rice agrees. “Bullying someone to not travel without knowing the person’s circumstances is just that—bullying,” he says. Although he’s OK with gentle encouragement from people you know, he recommends against travel shaming and encourages people to do what they feel comfortable within this changing world.

When it comes to dealing with travel shamers, Dr. White takes a more conditional approach. “I think it is up to the person being shamed,” she says. “I felt comfortable enough addressing the negative comments and setting the record straight after my recent vacation. But for others, I think it is fine to ignore the shamers and even delete their comments.”

To that end, many who have been shamed sounded off. “I think shamers are just scared, probably a little jealous, and don’t know how to handle their frustration or anger,” says travel blogger Kristin Addis. “The only way to handle it is to be OK with disagreeing. Shaming won’t fix anything. It won’t help communities that depend on tourism, and it won’t stop people from traveling either.”

Bryan Towey, who’s legally traveled to eight different countries in quarantine, says the same. “Travel shamers should not be commenting on the schedules of other people,” he says. “Everyone can make their own choice on whether or not they choose to travel, and if they don’t feel comfortable, they have the right to stay home.”

All in all, the only opinion that really matters is the overall position of the people you’re visiting. One man I spoke to recently traveled to the Middle East and was warmly welcomed by the locals, while at the same time being shamed by his fellow Americans back home. “The opinion of my host is the only one I care about,” he concluded.

michellesarubbi1472 September 27, 2020

Hi... I have said to friends - after reading local publications written by locals who did NOT want tourists yet - that travelling there might not be the best option.  I am NOT jealous - I have the money/time/desire to travel... but after reading more than just one publication - and not just from one place.... I knew it wasn't the best option.  And no, I am not scared... I volunteer at a hospital in patient rooms, I volunteer putting penguin packs on a cancer patient in a hospital... so no... not fear. 

Its RESPECT for locals.  A government may want people to "return" to normal - but the locals may not be prepared for that.  Its RESPECT for my friends in one country who said - we love you but please don't come right now... you are from America and you obviously can't control covid 19 there.  

I do agree with the opinion of the host local people - not the host government - if they are ok... then go.  And if you go...follow the rules.  And if you decide to go somewhere - just be safe - follow the countries protocols - not shaming.

Being aware that just because I might WANT to travel... I personnally do not NEED to work/no family emergencies... and if there is no specific need - I can wait.... 

Namaste all!

billgracey2468 September 23, 2020

it interesting how everyone is now up in everyone else's business!  if you are afraid of getting sick, stay home, never go out and leave everyone else alone! We don't need your opinions or your bully tactics!  Life has risks, if you dont want any risk, stay home and sleep on the floor and never eat any solid food!  let the rest of us live our lives!  I dont do dangerous things like any kind of diving or bungee jumping, but if I want to go somewhere, I'm going to go, dammit!  I dont care what you think or how you "feel"!  

rdunham1 September 23, 2020

Describing flying and vactioning as safer than being in a crowded bar where nobody is wearing a mask is similar to comparing running across a busy street against the walk light with your eyes open and running across a busy street with a blindfold on.  Flying now is still both taking personal risk and imposing risk on others.  A silly comparison does not make it safer or "right."  I understand some people might feel a high need to fly right now for a family emergency, etc. but that is different than choosing to fly for pleasure and thus choosing to put self and others at risk because of a want.

Ivor September 21, 2020

As an avid traveller myself I have no particular issues with anyone travelling abroad right now.

As long, that is, as you take full responisblity for your actions and not expect to be rescued (financially or otherwise) by your government from some grim quarantine accommodation or grounded flights in the affected country you decided to visit.

I wouldn't do it myself for the situation is just too unpredictable at the moment.