Travel shaming is so big right now, it made the New York Times. In an article titled “Shh, We’re Heading Off On Vacation”, the paper examined a growing phenomenon, where people are afraid to share their travel experiences online and on social media, for fear of backlash and hate.

As a travel blogger with a substantial audience, I’ve had more than my fair share in dealing with the increasingly polarized world we live in, and some of the cancel culture is misplaced.

Travel Isn’t Inherently Wrong Right Now

According to the New York Times, travel photos, once a staple of social media pride, are being tucked away into the lockbox, for fear of shaming in public. No more lovely sunset smiles, just fear of being bashed. The thing is, travel isn’t inherently wrong right now, but good luck telling that to some people.

Travel between two countries with robust health systems and preventive measures in place is not wrong right now, nor is it nearly as dangerous as people would have you believe. Covid-19 is yet another risk we all must face, and also do our part to mitigate.

Treatments and new insights into covid-19 are dramatically decreasing the rate of death, and the latest clusters aren’t reaching the grim tallies of the spring, at least for now.

That does not mean all travel is good though.

People must look further into the details of any destination before visiting, have the courtesy not to travel if any symptoms of being unwell arise, and out of respect to their own health and others, visit countries capable of handling rapidly shifting medical climates.

Risks Involved With Travel Versus Life

The chances of catching covid-19 through travel, like catching a flight, are nowhere near as high as someone would face taking many every day means of transit that people don’t think twice about. Nor is it more dangerous than working out sans face covering in a local gym, or drinking down at the local pub.

Travel between two places with similar levels of infection also presents very little change in risk, in terms of time on the ground in either location.

If the “R” in London is 5, and the “R” in Budapest is 5, you simply swapped places of equal risk. The time in transit may present more risk than staying at home, but lower risk than taking mass transit in any major city. For places where countries have slight variances in infection rates, but agree to allow travel, you can actually be improving your safety by traveling to a place of slightly lesser infection rate.

This is precisely why countries closed borders while infections were high and wildly unpredictable. Many of those same countries are now creating agreements with other countries, based on similar low risk levels and other factors, or based on robust testing procedures, to create more dependable borders.

Just yesterday, Iceland moved to only allow unrestricted travel within the country after two covid-19 tests have been taken, one on arrival, and another after 4-5 days of isolation. Only at that point will Iceland approve further movement. There are few places from where someone could be reading this, where that detailed level of risk management has been put in place.

“Human beings, we just are not good at estimating our own risk,”

Ken Kolosh, National Safety Council

People are quick to say that air travel is dangerous, and are understandably afraid about venturing back out. I’ve done what I can to share first hand accounts of what airports and destinations are like right now, and will continue to as responsibly as possible.

In reality though, the chances of dying in a plane crash are 1 in 34 million. Recent MIT studies suggest that worst case scenarios for catching covid-19 on a plane are between 1 in 4,000, and more likely closer to 1 in 7,700. That’s catching, not dying, not that you want either.

Yet, people don’t think twice about hopping in a car, which offers a circa 1 in 103 person chance of death in a lifetime, and therefore a higher probability that their actions could also impact or kill others. The same goes for pedestrian deaths, which are of course caused person to person, which stand a 1 in 556 person probability.

Do staycations make you exempt from the hate?

Unprecedented numbers of people who turn their nose up at air travel, or international borders are taking to RV’s or hopping in cars for road trip “staycations” which carry more risk than any other means of travel. In many cases, they’re also then flooding onto beaches without social distancing in place.

We put others at risk every time we swing a door open, get in a car and drive, leave our front door, go for a bike ride, or install an air conditioner without even leaving our front door. Covid-19 is yet another risk which must be mitigated by all logical measures.

Social distancing works, masks work, test and trace works, and for travel to recover, there is absolutely a responsibility to each person who embarks on a journey to do their utmost to mitigate spread by adhering to these measures. I see no problem with shaming a person for refusing to wear a mask in a confined space, but just for traveling? No.

Because travel was less comfortable for many people prior to covid-19, it’s an easier target to ostracize and polarize. The movement of people may play a part in covid-19, but recent case spikes in many parts of the world have been linked to lax behavior from locals on the ground.

Recent spikes in Greece, Croatia, Germany and France were simply attributed to local areas throwing late night parties and losing their inhibitions. If travel was the problem, it would be very hard to explain how Florida, cut off from virtually the entire outside world for months, managed to spread the virus so heavily.

After months of lockdown, people are making up for lost time, singing, dancing and chatting to friends in close proximity, and often indoors. I share equal frustration for people who stay at home and do this without proper safety consideration, as I do for people who travel and do this.

Cancel Culture Commentary

Because travel is also seen as a privilege, which of course it is, people like to attack the sheer mention of it, rather than the underlying causes of why travel is a privilege. Hint: it’s rarely travel bloggers who set economic and social justice policies. Adding fear to the equation via covid-19 has created a molotov cocktail of angst.

Seeing comment sections every day, and social media postings, it’s incredible just how predictable comments along the lines of “wow, you’re talking about airline wine when there’s (insert ongoing world issue) going on in XYZ”, rather than just moving along to read an article about ongoing social issue in XYZ, at a good resource which regularly discusses things of that nature, rather than a blog focused on travel, points, and stuff like that.

The comment often says more about the commenter than the subject itself, as the commenter fails to consider the actions, contributions or support of the very causes they are championing, by the person who wrote the article. Worse, the commenter assumes they are the one who gets to play God in what subjects in life may, and may not be discussed.

I hate the New York Rangers, but I certainly don’t spend my days on blogs devoted to the New York Rangers inciting hate and stirring the pot. If you don’t want to talk about travel, or any subject right now, that’s fine, there’s absolutely no obligation. It just doesn’t mean you get to deride others who choose to.

For people who are curious about travel, first hand reports and “what to expect” style resources can alleviate huge fears, and actually make travel safer. Travel stories aren’t meant to replace fantastic investigative reporting and documentary making on the many challenges the world faces. They never were.

Travel Is Vital And Always Will Be

In reality, over 300 million people around the globe directly rely on tourism to survive, and cancelling travel could potentially bring hardship, or even death for many. Without opportunity, the world rarely shines.

There’s absolutely no pressure for anyone to travel right now at all. If it’s not for you, no one is going to give you a hard time about it. But at some point, whether it’s next week, next month, or next decade, you will call upon travel once again, and you’ll want to know what it’s like.

Covid-19 is yet another fear we all must live with, and for some more ‘at risk’ travellers it means sitting things out for a while. It’s not fair, and it makes me sad for many who would like to travel to catch up with loved ones, but cannot afford any additional risk.

With any hope, rapid covid-19 testing prior to flight and increased learning to help mitigate covid-19 risks all around the world will make many elements of life “more” fair. A vaccine might not hurt either. View From The Wing makes eloquent arguments in regards to the challenges travel faces without undue, or unjustified shaming aside, and I suggest the piece as essential weekend reading.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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29 Comments

  1. I haven’t always agreed with your observations in past articles, but this one is totally spot-on. It’s a sign of failed educational policies everywhere that people are unable to evaluate, assess, understand and compare risk. Compound that with the inculcation of newspeak by elements of modern society and what you have is a toxic orthodoxy that essentially marginalises inspection, heterogeneous commentary and true diversity.

  2. “Travel between two places with similar levels of infection also presents very little change in risk, in terms of time on the ground in either location.”

    NO.

    You assume static human behavior. It is true only if a traveler is as active or inactive as the ordinary person in the destination country is. I’ve been relatively quarantined – only going to the highly distanced outside pool and to the grocery store here inside the DC beltway, and the likelihood of being infected reflects that level of risk. Were I to visit a location with similar levels of transmission, I would surely change my behaviors – dining out, going to museums, and other riskier activities that justify the baseline expense of undertaking the trip.

    I am not the “same” risk at home as I would be on vacation in a location with similar levels of transmission. And I expect others are as well.

    1. But that’s making large assumptions of changed behaviour. To counter your thought, I’m going to Greece next week. Here in London, I go out to my coffee shop every day, jog around the park, play tennis, pick up take out and have small outdoor social gatherings with a few friends, like a BBQ. In Greece, I will quite literally be isolating in a rented villa, with no other guests. I’ll be in far lesser contact on this trip than my daily life here. This is why…

      I wrote about how villa holidays will surge…

      https://www.godsavethepoints.com/why-villa-holidays-could-surge-post-covid-19/

      And how using points and miles can actually help unlock greater travel safety.

      https://www.godsavethepoints.com/points-miles-social-distancing-luxury-travel/

      As mentioned in the article, it’s all about where you’re traveling and the responsible, sensible measures being taken to mitigate risks. It’s not inherently wrong, or dangerous.

  3. Great points and very well written. People can certainly do what they feel is best for them but shouldn’t force their views on others provided people understand the risks and take reasonable precautions (masks, distancing,etc) as most do.

    The NY Times article also brought up the view that talking about travel (or posting photos) is considered by many as inappropriate not due to COVID specifically but because so many are out of work, may lose their home, etc and can’t afford to travel. Maybe this is more of an issue in the US than rest of the world. Personally I don’t understand that view either since there are always those in a better economic situation. Also most people share info w friends that are likely in a similar economic situation. For some it is almost like “survivors guilt” and they are the ones hesitant to talk about their travel. Again I don’t go around bragging but am not ashamed of my travel.

    I’ll be glad when all this is behind us. It may be next summer but that day will eventually come.

    1. AC,

      Good shout.

      I do think that some levels of respect, and sensitivity to others should exist (this survivor type guilt), but I’d also argue that for people with any class, that’s always been an important balance and pursuit. I think there are quite a few, or rather just one, travel blogger who lost a lot of relativity with fans when they started flying private most of the time, and talking about charging PJ rides to their Amex Black Card. Nothing wrong with success, but there’s a balance to it all, and how you share it with others.

      I think people have lost touch with the notion that travel can be incredibly positive for mental health, and can actually help people recover from traumas, stress and other issues we’ve all collectively faced during covid-19. It’s difficult, and responsibility (as you mention) must be at the forefront now, more than ever.

      But like the Rangers, if I don’t like a comedian, I just switch the channel. I don’t then go and try to get them fired, get the network shut down, etc. Ricky Gervais recently covered this brilliantly. I think Obama also has extremely powerful words on cancel culture as well.

  4. I actually fully support the shaming and do believe that anyone who is selfish enough to be traveling for leisure purposes should most definitely be called out on it. The MIT study focuses on the plane itself which is only one small aspect of a trip. I absolutely love to travel and enjoy the experience. But I do know that now is not the right time.

    Now, forgetting about that, let’s look at a couple of other things. I have already cancelled many trips this year and will be finalizing the last round of cancellations shortly. I have a hard time justifying dealing with an airport with most amenities closed, an airplane that has zero amenities, flying for 8-10 hours with nothing on board (perhaps a single bottle of water), masked the entire time, then getting to a hotel with no housekeeping, no restaurant or room-service, no breakfast and basically all amenities closed off, to be in a city with few attractions open and even those requiring reservations ahead of time with cafes closed to the inside and limited offerings throughout. All for the same price as I’d have paid last year. Look at Disney for example. The parks are open half days. There are no shows or parades. Some attractions are closed. There is no park hopping. And you have to be masked in the 95 degree heat all day. Again, for the same cost as last year. Where is the joy in that? For me personally, I’d rather hold off and do the financially smart thing. I have a hard time justifying the cost for such limited experiences. There is an added bonus as it is the socially more acceptable thing at this time as well.

    Now keep up your great blog so we stay inspired to travel again after this is all over. Cheers!

    1. Chad, Thanks for your interesting perspectives here. I’d say my only issue with your comments is in the absolutes.

      In some parts of the world, airports are closed, nothing is open and service is nil. In London, virtually every restaurant at the airport is open again, people drinking pints at restaurants, etc.

      Airline by airline, service varies massively. For example, Lufthansa is offering a full first class service, caviar and fine china, glassware included, whereas BA is offering a boxed meal with plastic cups. In economy, many airlines still serve hot meals, albeit sealed first, while others don’t offer anything beyond water.

      For destinations, it’s the same. Some are very compromised experiences, others aren’t worth it, while others are better than ever. Venice is stunning right now with hardly any tourists, wide open outdoor seating and incredible end of summer sunsets.

      People just get too much into what they see directly in front of them, and forget that just an hour or two on a plane away, a completely different world might exist. It’s precisely why I find travel wonderful.

      It may not be the right time in some places, or for some people, but not the right time as a generalization is too much of an absolute for me.

      Respectfully,

      Gilbert

  5. I agree here about traveling to places that are partially or mostly closed, places that are charging extra fees for health insurance or Covid fees, places that are demanding certain tests that are either not readily available or tests that you cannot get results of in time to travel, places that demand quarantining upon arrival until your test comes back negative, places that are considering using geo fencing bracelets to track visitors and confine them to their resorts, places that will not allow car rental unless you present a negative Covid test, and the list goes on. We love to travel and we use it as a means to reconnect with each other and explore. But that time is not now unfortunately and money is tight due to all the refinements necessary during lock down! Groceries have risen almost 100% since March and our weekly bill has doubled! So we would be happy to travel responsibly now, but the places we want to explore have made it nearly impossible! So we wait. But great article and keep them going to keep us thinking for next year.

  6. “If travel was the problem, it would be very hard to explain how Florida, cut off from virtually the entire outside world for months, managed to spread the virus so heavily.”
    Your comment is disingenuous. First of all, when all of this started, Florida got tons pf people from NY and NJ escaping the draconian measures that their states imposed, bringing tons of people infected to this state. Also, Florida was never on true lockdown(except some counties in SOFLA) hence the reason we had so many people flock here. Especially for “staycations”, which we still do see. Once the most strictes measure were lifted people forgot social distancing and began throwing parties. The same thing you are seeing in Greece and Spain with spikes, it is the same thing that happened to Florida. Just like Spain and Greece, Florida is a hot spot for tourism.
    The rest of your article I do agree with. I’ve been seeing more and more comments travel shaming people on my travel groups.
    An American who posted that had traveled to London, quarantined for 14 days and then traveled to other countries in the EU was called “irresponsible”.
    Personally I don’t care.

  7. Hi Gilbert. I am going to surprise you now. I agree with virtually everything you say in your article.
    We love travelling and have already travelled to several parts of the UK for a few nights each after the cancellation of Norway (June) and India (September).
    We have not yet ventured on a flight, largely because my husband is 87 and in remission from cancer. But it is only a matter of time. Milan sounds good to me as a good first time overseas trip, especially in BA Business. Officially our trip to Thailand in November is still on, but the Thai Government seems very reluctant to open up to tourists. Fortunately it is with Qatar which has a very generous rebooking policy.
    So to travel with precaution and due regard to the citizens of the country you are visiting is perfectly OK. If I was American or living in America, maybe at this time I would have a slightly different view.
    As others have said, please keep your reports coming. Whether I personally agree with every word you say is not relevant.

      1. I haven’t flown since March but I have no issue telling family I stayed at a hotel while visiting beaches since then. It might help that they know how much hand sanitizer and Lysol wipes I used pre-pandemic so they don’t worry 😉

  8. It only bothers you if you let it! These posters are nothing more than attention seeking narcissistic bullies such as what you might see on the playground. The best thing to do is ignore them and post post post any and all of your experiences. I will not let these idiots effect me in any way.

  9. I could not care less what the Karens think about me traveling, if they want to live out their days in fear, let them ,But do NOT try to control my family’s life or when and where we travel ,this scamdemic has gone way too far ,everything in life carries a risk, I am convinced this whole thing is being perpetuated for political reasons and enough is enough, if you want to shame someone ,shame them for being overweight and inactive, both of which increases your chance of catching and or complications from covid, but we don’t hear about that everyday now do we?

  10. You’re right that traveling between two places with similar infection rates while exercising every recommended precaution and everyone else does the same makes it pretty damn unlikely for you to get sick. Problem is, that’s a long list of ifs to go right. If you do catch the virus you get to figure what to do if you get sick abroad, between level of medical care, accommodations, quarantine restrictions, work, possible linguistic complications and insurance. On the insurance front, I don’t imagine that travel insurance companies are too agreeable on selling primary COVID coverage. If there are companies that do so I would think the price would be extremely high. Do you know of any?
    Then you hit the social issues. Some people will say childish trite quips like “haters gotta hate” but surely you realize that posting Instagram pictures of your 10 day Maldives vacation when a thousand people a day are dying in the US looks pretty awful? Another factor is that it’s primarily rich people who are doing the international traveling right now and the optics of going to Bali next month while poor people are disproportionately dying in order to simply provide basic services is likewise ghastly.
    Bottom line, other countries than the US have shown that they can handle things while the US has pretty much been the perfect example of what not to do. I’m much less concerned about any travel stigma than trying to keep case numbers down. The best way to illustrate that is through personal example. From your personal perspective it sounds like you’re being fairly sensible about things and I hope you enjoy Greece.

  11. I live in a small town near a popular national park. Our infection and hospitalization rates have started to spike since travel opened up again. The only concern is NOT that the traveler might get sick, but that the traveler who flies through 2+ airports or drives through 10+ states, stopping and interacting along the way, might cheerfully spread the virus as they go. Thanks a lot, world, for bringing Covid to my end of the planet!

  12. As I mentioned on Twitter a couple of days ago when this was posted, Upon my recent return from Spain I was absolutely flamed by my immediate manager. He couldn’t believe that I was so irresponsible to travel abroad at this time. I was slapped with a travel ban from him.

    He’s mentioned many times that he doesn’t understand my hobby and that I should get a real interest instead.

    I went to his manager to get clarification. He’s much more enthusiastic about my travelling and said theres no way any travel ban could be enforced by the company.

    The current situation is giving the anti-travellers more leverage to shout out their views. And boy are they taking advantage.

  13. As with the entire cancel culture and ‘reeeeeeee brigade’y approach for travel remains the same as it does for any other stranger telling me how I should and shouldn’t live my life because they feel they are right and somehow have agency over me.

    I’m an adult, I’m capable of making risk assessments ( in fact I do it for a living), and I’ll do me-you do you.

    Any further shouting then said people get silenced via the mute/ defriend/block button on whatever platform said person is screaming on.

  14. Ella; COVID 19 is everywhere and what proof if any do you have as to the transmission of COVID in your area. Recent studies have shown that if you travel safely your risk of getting it exposing others to COVID is very low. You have a much better chance of contracting it at your local bar. Stop blaming others and educate yourself.

  15. Great article, we just returned from the USVI and as living in NY, we have to quarantine but it was worth the trip plus we are all well not feeling any symptoms. And last month we took a RV trip across country for almost 3 weeks and had a fantastic trip. During both trips, as different as they were, we did everything to keep safe wearing masks and keeping or distancing. It isn’t the easiest, especially with a 6 yr old but after awhile it becomes habit. Travel can happen and can be safe, just a little more effort needs to be put into it to ensure everyone’s safety and health.
    I will say I had delayed some postings for concerns of comments during our RV trip but that didn’t last very long, especially during our last USVI trip.
    BTW thought the NYR comment was what it was and agree with you, #LGI

  16. Ahhhhh was in the Virgin Islands 3 weeks ago, great time! Currently scheduled to return Aug 31st for 10 days, but with the current closing have to postpone… No problem, I’ll go visit Vegas and then Orlando and wherever else I please… I give no f’s about cancel culture nonsense hate hate hate all ya want… I’m now looking extra forward to posting and hash’tagging wonderful pics and videos of my adventures! Travelers Unite!!! Excelsior!

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