Just because we can, does it mean we should?

The ethics of traveling during COVID19 by the travel queen herself

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As we adjust to this new normal in a world none of us predicted, I’m starting to see whispers and hints of people planning travel during COVID19. My Instagram is full of pretty pictures of how to “safely” explore the world during times of a pandemic. It wasn’t long before influencers in stylish face masks began creeping into my feed. Have you noticed this?

I’m super curious to hear what you guys think about travel during COVID19. How do you feel about travel right now? My gut reaction is to be appalled. It just doesn’t sit well with me. I shared some words on Instagram a few days ago around this, which ignited quite the hot debate.

My honest opinion is that travel during a global pandemic is inherently selfish. I’ve tried to think of a better word for it, but I still come back to selfishness. Self-serving. Self-focused at best. Willfully disregarding others at the worst. 

But I’m open-minded too. I’m sure there are a lot of factors I haven’t considered. For this reason, I’m hoping to hear some different opinions on travel during COVID19.

travel during covid19

But first, hear me out. Here are my current thoughts tumbling around in my mind about travel during COVID19.

I’m an American living in New Zealand.

Our borders have been closed to all but citizens and permanent residents since March. There’s a mandatory two-week quarantine for everyone who arrives from abroad in a government facility i.e., a nice hotel. We’ve eliminated COVID19 in New Zealand, except for some people in said quarantines who’ve just arrived from overseas.

Life is mostly back to normal here, no masks, no gloves, no social distancing. Why? Because there is no community transmission of the virus in New Zealand. We can travel here safe in the knowledge that we can’t get the virus.

travel during covid19

Throughout our strict lockdowns over a couple of months, our badass Prime Minister asked us to be kind and to think of others. She asked us to imagine that we all were carrying the virus with the potential to spread it and to act accordingly. She asked us to think about our friends, our coworkers, our families.

There literally was a branded campaign here in New Zealand called Unite Against COVID19

Almost daily, we received briefings from Jacinda, reminding us to be kind and have empathy. She would join us from her couch in the evenings on Facebook Live, telling us it was going to be ok. We are a team of five million, and we need to look after each other.

In a lot of ways, it felt like we were at war with an invisible enemy. COVID was the enemy, and to defeat it, we had to unite. It sounds so foolish to write it, but hey, IT WORKED.

Believe me; I thank my lucky stars I get to live here. 

travel during covid19

Up to 80% of people could have COVID and not know they have it. We know how it spreads. 

Do you guys remember how different the news was around COVID19 and how much it has changed from January to now? First, it was just China. Then it was only adults. Don’t buy masks. Then it was respiratory. Masks are mandatory. You can be immune. Now it’s vascular. Not sure about the antibodies. On and on and on it goes.

I think it’s safe to say we are literally figuring out this as we go. However, one thing is painfully apparent and clear:

The virus spreads when people move. The virus stops when people stop. Travel spreads COVID. It’s pretty simple.

travel during covid19

I get it. I’m literally the queen of travel. It’s all I’ve known for the past decade. My work and income are dependent on tourism. It brings me immense joy. Travel is my heart and soul. For me, travel is freedom.

And in one fell swoop, it was taken away from me. The life I built was *POOF* changed in an instant, by circumstances far out of my hands. What do I do? 

Then on Easter, the things you dread most as an expat happened to me. The man who was virtually my father passed away unexpectedly back in the US, shattering my world. Grief consumed me, and it still does. I’m still coming terms with the loss, and the pure helplessness of not being able to return to where I grew up to be with my mom and family in this dark time. Guilt eats away at me daily. I’m learning to live with it. 

travel during covid19

You see, I probably could have traveled home to the US, but I didn’t. I have a lot of reasons, but perhaps the major one is responsibility. Would it have been the responsible choice to travel across the world in a pandemic? Unequivaquably NO.

This isn’t about me at all.

What if I contracted the virus and spread it? I can’t bear to imagine being part of the problem. I couldn’t bear to potentially burden our healthcare workers. I thought, first of the essential workers. Deep down, this wasn’t essential. I can wait. My mom will wait for me. We are making the best of it.

In a lot of ways, this is a war. Would you travel during a war? Probably not. 

Ask anyone, and they will tell you how much COVID19 has sucked for them.

We are all in the same boat. You’re apart from your partner – so are tens of thousands of people. You miss your family. Newsflash, so do we all. You lost your job. Your world changed. Certainty has all but disappeared. That’s the same for literally EVERYONE EVERYWHERE. We’re all fucked together.

Survive. Adapt. Grow. Roll with it. That’s what makes us human.

travel during covid19

Someone I love once told me that all Americans are selfish.

Even reading those words right now makes me bristle. I don’t like that. I didn’t like to hear that then, and I don’t like to hear that now. Of course, I don’t believe in sweeping generalizations, and it’s something I actively work towards removing from my language. But deep down, part of me is beginning to understand it, and it makes me ashamed.

America was founded for freedom and independence. The land of opportunity gave rise to the power of the individual. Family and community were replaced by success, growth, and unchecked capitalism. The goalpost shifted from a vocabulary of “us” to “me.” The US is very much now an economy of “me first,” and it’s never been more evident than during this global crisis.

It’s also nothing new. It’s the same attitude that disregards free healthcare for all. Of ICE and putting children in cages. Of police brutality and institutionalized racism. Of incredible gun violence and mass shootings. And now, the freedom to infect others. The US is the mecca of “me versus them.”

travel during covid19

As the bodies pile up and science is ignored in favor of “economy,” it seems that our humanity, our empathy is stripped away.

To me, it seems that a lot of people and a lot of governments are more concerned with money than health, with economics than life. My opinion is that’s pretty fucking selfish, and it breaks my heart. Every name on those death charts was a person who had a family. Who had friends. Who had dreams and hopes and potential. And it’s gone, leaving grief and suffering in its wake. 

Perhaps you haven’t felt this pain. Maybe you don’t love someone who is at risk or is immuno-comprised. But have people truly lost that ability for compassion? Is it so hard now to put aside our egos and consider putting others before ourselves?

Is that sacrifice too big of an ask? Is being inconvenienced worth those little freedoms?

I have to believe that we haven’t forgotten how to be human.

travel during covid19

Meanwhile, I would also like to take this opportunity for my fellow influencers to kindly shut the fuck up with your “travel safely during coronavirus” tips and tricks. I’m saying this in the most respectful way possible. 

Above all, we are at war. We are in the middle of a global pandemic that, according to experts, is only getting worse. One of my biggest pet peeves are people pretending to be experts in things they’re not. Amplify the experts, not politicians. Spread science and facts, not your agenda. In most places, travel during COVID19 isn’t safe. 

To clarify, we all wish we were traveling now. We all wish we were “back to normal.” Just because you’re tired of lockdown and over quarantines and your feet are itchy for an adventure isn’t an excuse. We don’t get to decide when COVID19 is over.

But pretending and encouraging people to be neglectful of the most significant public health crisis our generation has ever known is NOT GOOD. VERY BAD. ALL CAPS. 

travel during covid19

I believe in my responsibility in what I share, and I know I’m not going to pretend travel during COVID19 is fine when it isn’t.

We all have control over our choices and our actions, and I hope that people begin to sit with this idea of collective responsibility. Let’s make less selfish choices then! Travel during COVID19 is complicated.

We’re lucky here in New Zealand to have a leader who gets it, and who made seemingly all the right choices. A lot of places don’t have that. This is why it’s never been more important to look at the bigger picture and understand that we are all making personal sacrifices in the hopes of controlling the virus and saving people’s lives.

travel during covid19

In short, this all brings me back to my original point – just because we can, does it mean we should?

We do have the internet. We do have access to the WHO and to see what places like New Zealand have done to eliminate COVID19. Even if there aren’t mandatory quarantines, it’s doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do them. Also, if your home is opening back up, what to scientists say? Remember Jacinda’s words – be kind, be considerate, think of others, and stay at home.

We will travel again.

This all will pass someday, but for now, try and do the right thing for the world as a whole. Good luck, I’m right there struggling with you!

How do you feel about the ethics of travel during COVID19? Spill!

travel during covid19

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25 Comments on “Just because we can, does it mean we should?

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  1. I’ve read and re-read this piece many times since you’ve written it, as well as gone through the comments on your related Instagram post, and I just can’t understand some people’s selfishness. It seems ever since summer hit common sense when it comes to COVID has been thrown out in favor of “I’ve been in lockdown for months, I deserve this”, like you said, so have all of us. I get that many travel influencers need income, and some don’t have full time residences to stay in indefinitely (*raises hand*), it’s just really hard to stomach those traveling internationally right now, when like you said, deep down it’s not essential. I know this is a HUGE comment ramble, just a lengthy way of saying thank you for always being the most brutally honest, no-shits-given and above all, ethical travel blogger out there. I’m honored to be a part of this community. <3

  2. […] It’s not the gap year that I, or any of my fellow travellers or friends with scheduled sabbaticals, had planned. And while I haven’t given up on the idea of continuing my slow journey around the world, for now it seems at best unwise and at worst dangerous, to go abroad. An antithesis of the Pinterest graphics which set me off on my journey to begin with, the phrase “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” springs to mind (Liz Carlson has argued compellingly about this here). […]

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