Why You Should Definitely Travel During COVID-19
My December 2020 trip to Mexico was revitalizing, and virus-free
Life has been strange for everyone this year, and mine is no exception. I got back from finishing my degree abroad at the end of last year, and since then I’ve been home — no school, no job, no (real-world) social life — for a full year. So without implying that I understand what anybody else is going through, I’ll just say that this year has beaten me into a pulp, mentally speaking.
With this as context, it’s easy to understand why I may have felt the need to travel at the earliest opportunity.
Over the past few months, I’d been seeing plenty of travel bloggers and Instagrammers all posting from Mexico, and I felt a sort of gravitational pull. Not only is it one of the few countries still open to Americans, but it also happens to be pretty close by, and not to mention, a place I’ve never been before. To me, it was clear: I’d go to Mexico, take a mental break, and come back refreshed. But to some, my decision seemed less clear, or even irresponsible.
But are they right? Is traveling right now irresponsible, or privileged? Personally, I don’t think so.
First of all, the COVID numbers in Mexico are significantly lower than in my home country. So by being there vs. in the States, I’m actually reducing my risk of contracting the virus on any given day.
Sure, but you also have to consider other factors, like the flight to get there and back.
I won’t write out the entire list of policies Jetblue has for minimizing risk on flights, but I will say this: if flying were so dangerous, the people in the industry who know better than you and me — cabin crew, airport staff, and pilots — would be the first ones to stay home. They’re the ones being exposed to any number of passengers on a daily basis.
But the fact is, those people are working, and the flights are available. So I think the privileged thing to do in this case is to tell people not to travel, because that’s discounting all the effort and work of those people who are taking the risk to let us travel for the sake of their livelihood. The same can be said about people working in resorts, hotels, and tourist sites.
I met a tour guide outside the Tulum ruins, and he told me he’s freelancing — standing outside the entrance, waiting for potential clients all day — because his agency let him go earlier this year. He’d cut his rate by more than half, just to compensate for the fewer number of tourists as compared to previous years.
But by traveling, you’re moving around more and coming into contact with more people at your destination, right? How do you justify that?
The simple answer is: rules and regulations. Follow them. Mexico has several measures in place to allow people to go about their lives relatively normally while also minimizing the risk of spreading the virus. Everybody complies, nobody complains, and at the same time, people are not locking themselves in their homes, paralyzed by fear. And it’s working.
In Mexico, people wear masks properly, and they wear the real ones, not bandanas or pieces of fabric that, for whatever reason, many Americans believe are effective.
In Tulum, most shops and restaurants have sanitizers at the entrance for you to use upon entering.
In Valladolid, each shop has a designated entrance and exit, and they enforce sanitizer upon entry almost everywhere.
At bus stations and other gathering places, a temperature check is done upon entry, and seating is spaced out.
But beyond all that, and probably the most crucial point: in Mexico, almost everything happens outdoors. I did not have a single meal indoors that wasn’t a 7-eleven burrito in my hotel room at midnight. And as a tourist, you spend each day sightseeing, exploring ruins, walking along beaches, or even sitting around the hotel pool.
Now sure, the fact that more people are moving around, going out eating, drinking, having fun, means more vectors for transmission, in theory at least. But that just goes to show that in Mexico, people would rather trust the regulations put in place rather than taking it upon themselves to scrutinize, research, and overwhelm themselves with a barrage of conflicting recommendations, claims, and statistics. And again, the numbers speak for themselves. In no way does this mean the chances of contracting COVID-19 are zero in Mexico, but the chances are lower due to a less divisive political atmosphere and a higher level of trust in authority. That goes a long way: the politicization of the epidemic is the main differentiator between countries that have managed the outbreak well vs. those who didn’t.
So, yes, there’s still a chance of getting infected, just as there is when you go to the supermarket back home. But if it means that during your day-to-day life, you’re able to live more freely, without having to deal with social stigma and political attacks, then it’s a risk I think many would be willing to take. I know I’m not alone in saying that the fear, depression, and anxiety that many of us have been subjected to this year is much more severe than the potential health effects of actually having the virus. I’m aware that that’s only possible for me to say this because I’m young and healthy. And depending on your situation — where you work, where you live, who you live with — this could be a careless choice, so I trust you to decide based on your own situation just as I did.
I’m now home, back in my room indefinitely. I didn’t get sick, but it’s not as if I have anywhere to go, voluntary quarantine or not. So I might as well reflect on my trip and encourage others to do what’s right for them. I went to Mexico and came back refreshed. My bouts of crippling depression (which I’d previously have about one day a week) are nowhere to be seen. Furthermore, my sense of purpose has been restored. As someone whose life has practically revolved around travel for the past five years, this was not a luxury for me; it was medicine.
If you are young, healthy, and don’t live with or interact with people who are at risk, then go travel. It’ll do you good, mentally, spiritually, and, in most cases, physically. You may even find yourself able to lighten the mood within your social circles when you come back. Because happiness is one of those contagious things that most people aren’t afraid of.