The New Pandemic Flash Point: Your Vacation


Michael Huxley has been getting called out a lot lately. His sin? Traveling during the coronavirus pandemic. Mr. Huxley flew to Spain from Liverpool a few weeks ago and has been on a handful of trips within Britain since the onset of the pandemic, upsetting friends, family and strangers, who say he should stay home in order to lessen the risk of contracting or spreading the virus.

“I’ve been getting criticism in my professional life and from people in my personal life,” said Mr. Huxley, who runs the blog Bemused Backpacker. “Some come at it from an ethical point of view and think I shouldn’t be traveling and spreading disease anywhere, and then others come from the emotional ‘you shouldn’t be traveling because you’ll kill my grandma’ point of view.”

The decision to travel or stay home has become a flash point this summer, with people defining what kind of travel, if any, is acceptable in different ways.

Some people say that people should only go on essential trips. Others say pleasure trips within driving distance are acceptable. Others, like Mr. Huxley, who is from Liverpool, say traveling is fine, as long as travelers follow rules like washing hands and maintaining a clean environment and keeping distance between themselves and others. The various delineations of what’s right and what’s not are causing fights between family members and creating fissures among friends.

“It was easier to ease my family, who know that I’m a qualified nurse, that I’ve traveled the world for 20 years and can look after myself,” Mr. Huxley said. “But communicating to acquaintances and people who don’t know me that I have weighed the risks, that I have worked the various ways I can reduce the risk for myself, and I am still choosing to travel was impossible.”

Mr. Huxley said that he traveled during other crises, including the SARS and MERS outbreaks, as well as in the period following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and he was in Egypt during the 2011 revolution.

“I don’t see this as any different from those events,” he said. “You do get outbreaks, pandemics, terrorist attacks, but life goes on. Travel still goes on.”

Erin Niimi Longhurst, a half-British, half-Japanese author and director at a digital agency in New York, received the silent treatment from her mother for weeks after she traveled to London from New York this spring — a rare thing for the mother and daughter, who are close and typically talk multiple times a day. Ms. Niimi Longhurst went to London to be with her partner and relatives, upsetting her mother, who lives in Hawaii and is not traveling. She stayed there for three months before returning to New York. Ms. Niimi Longhurst’s sister lives in New York and just had a child.

“My mother really wanted to go and be with my sister, but had made the decision not to,” Ms. Nimi Longhurst said. “Her mentality was, ‘why is it OK for you to go back? If everyone acted like you, we’d be in a worse situation.’ She was incredibly worried for me and she was pretty furious with me.”

Ms. Niimi Longhurst’s mother isn’t alone in her frustration. On Twitter and Instagram, people have been venting about family, friends and co-workers going on nonessential trips and causing friction in their relationships.

One woman wrote on Twitter that her mother was insisting on flying from Oakland, Calif., to Portland, Ore., to visit her, but would not be allowed into the house if she did so. “I told her, ‘absolutely not,’” she wrote. “We will not see you! I don’t care if she comes knocking on my door. She will not be allowed in.”

Another tweeted that she told her sister that she could not visit for vacation: “I said NO WAY! I told her I don’t want her to board a plane, pick up Covid and deposit it in my house. She mad, but I don’t care. I am HIGH risk and will not relent.”

And one woman wrote on Twitter that her stepson was coming to town with his girlfriend. “If it was MY kid I would say no but there would be drama if I suggested the step son delay the trip,” she wrote.

Jill Locke, a professor of political science at a college in Minnesota, and her younger sister, Jennifer, who lives in California and is the chief executive of a wine company, initially didn’t see eye to eye about visiting their parents, who are in their 80s, in Seattle this summer. The sisters exchanged text messages and phone calls, with the younger Ms. Locke pushing for the trip while her older sister couldn’t justify the prospect of traveling.

“We were coming at it from such different places,” the older Ms. Locke said. “For many reasons, for me, it felt like it was the wrong thing to do, even though I really wanted to see our parents, but she didn’t feel the same way.”

Before the pandemic, Ms. Locke planned to fly to Seattle from Minnesota with her husband and children, but as the coronavirus spread across the United States, she decided that she would rent an R.V. and drive there. She soon realized that the cost of the R.V. would be prohibitive, and felt that some states between Minnesota and Washington weren’t taking the virus seriously enough. In the end, both sisters decided to stay home.

“Weighing all these contingencies made me wonder what I would be bringing to my parents even if I traveled as responsibly as possible,” the older Ms. Locke said. “There have been a lot of texts between us, and we both got so worked up and frustrated.”

Ms. Locke’s sister said that she didn’t take the prospect of traveling lightly and has been following guidance to not travel during the pandemic. Nonetheless, she felt that it was important that she see her aging parents sooner rather than later.

“At the time, I felt like ‘if we don’t go see our parents now, then when will we?’” the younger Ms. Locke said. “That’s been the gutting thing: Not knowing the answer to that. It feels like time is being stolen from us.”

Lindsay Chambers, a writer and editor who lives in Nashville, said that she has been surprised by the ways people are justifying going on vacation this year, including saying that they can’t pass up cheap flights and those who would not reschedule bachelor and bachelorette parties. Ms. Chambers said she has barely left her home since February, but she has been following local news and seen images of people gathering at bars and popular tourist spots in downtown Nashville. These tourists, she said, are not being considerate of others. She was stunned to learn that her own friends were going on a beach trip this summer.

“I had to stop myself from shouting at friends who told us they’d be ‘quarantining at the beach,’” she said. “Traveling to another state and staying in a rented condo in the middle of a raging pandemic is not how quarantine works. At all.”

Ms. Chambers, 41, also described being confounded and upset by how some people manage to make her feel, like she’s overreacting by following the recommendations from doctors on health and safety. Other people have also said they experienced this when they stay home while their friends and family interpret the rules more loosely.

“Maybe there’s a degree of paranoia for me, and you couldn’t pay me to get on a plane right now, but is there really such a thing as being too careful in a pandemic?” Ms. Chambers asked. “I feel like it’s way, way, way better to come down on the side of caution.”


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