Some Americans are rushing to splurge on summer trips, embracing the idea of “revenge travel” to make up for lost time. But the threat of a new variant lurks, and fear of the virus isn’t so easily discarded after two years of rapidly changing public health advice around travel. Part of “living with the virus” is figuring out boundaries when the responsible way to act is up for debate.
“We’re just kind of in this weird, unsure period about how we should be traveling, if we should be traveling and where are you traveling,” said Charlie Crespo, a travel writer based in Miami.
This “reentry anxiety” is rooted in the risk travel might pose to their health and the health of those they love, especially for those who are high-risk or immunocompromised. While concerns about contracting or spreading the coronavirus still weigh on the minds of some travelers, many others see an opening as the coronavirus gradually becomes endemic.
“People who had trips planned for 2020 and 2021, they’re rebooked. They put it off,” said Kathy McCabe, the host of the travel show “Dream of Italy” on PBS. “My friends who are travel planners and travel agents say they cannot book trips for this summer fast enough.”
For solo travel adviser and blogger Abigail Akinyemi, going from jet-setting every month to staying home for over a year was a significant adjustment. So in the summer of 2021, when the availability of vaccines led to lifting travel restrictions, she eagerly reached for her passport.
“The last half of , I went on maybe two trips,” she said. “But I’ve fully ramped up now, which is pretty fun.”
Amanda Dillard, an associate professor in psychology at Grand Valley State University, said vaccinations have eased the sense of worry and anxiety many people had about traveling at the height of the pandemic. With protection from serious illness, those who are not at high risk for a serious covid infection have the feeling that they’re “back in the driver’s seat” and can return to activities they loved pre-pandemic, she said.
Jen Ruiz, a travel blogger based in Puerto Rico, is following that path. “I’m pretty confident it’s just a matter of time before travel returns and that it will come back stronger than ever,” she said.
Ruiz has traveled to four U.S. states, Mexico and Jordan since deciding to travel again. She also took cruises to Honduras and the Bahamas. The months of travel she lost have only made her more motivated to check destinations off her bucket list.
Akinyemi and Ruiz said they keep to mostly outdoor, socially distanced activities on their trips. They have also seen the toll the pandemic has taken on the travel industry, and they are eager to help support struggling businesses.
“It’s hard to make a decision that you can stand by within a week, much less two months out.”
— Travel writer Charlie Crespo
Crespo and his wife have also taken trips since getting their vaccinations — but with much more hesitancy. As newlyweds who had saved up vacation days, the couple had high hopes of venturing abroad in early 2020. But like many others, they put their plans for foreign travel on hold.
Despite loosening restrictions, Crespo said, he and his wife are unwilling to leave the country. In recent weeks, they have felt the itch to travel further afield — to London, perhaps — but have yet to act on the impulse.
He said the sometimes-conflicting, seemingly ever-changing advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other expert sources is holding him back.
“It’s hard to make a decision that you can stand by within a week, much less two months out,” he said.
For would-be travelers with compromised immune systems or other health challenges, the risks of contracting the virus come with a higher cost to consider.
Before the pandemic, Rachel Romu used to leave their home in Toronto several times a year. Romu traveled just once for work during the pandemic, in the summer of 2020. That was an era of tight travel restrictions, meticulous sanitization and HEPA filters. But even now, they said, they are not planning any leisure trips abroad soon.
“With the restrictions changing, I see myself perhaps even more hesitant to travel,” Romu said. “It is and will always be the most vulnerable populations that are affected.”
Illness has loomed over Romu’s life for the past decade: First, a spinal tumor that made them temporarily immunocompromised, and now Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which affects their connective tissue.
Romu longs to travel to Finland, where they have family, and live in Europe for a while. But they’re keenly aware of the vulnerable position they could put themselves — and others — in with potential transmission of the virus. Romu said they wish that more people took stock of risks their actions could impose on others, specifically people in the disabled community who are disproportionately impacted as restrictions fall away.
“I’m doing everything I can to not have an acute illness after spending so long struggling and navigating the health-care system with a chronic condition,” Romu said. “And additionally, I think it would be really destabilizing to find that I was somebody that brought something back [and someone got sick].”
In Miami, Robert Rexach and his wife have also limited their lifestyles because of lowered restrictions. This month, when Disney announced it was dropping the mask requirement for vaccinated guests, the couple decided to let their annual passes lapse.
Rexach’s wife is immunocompromised, and before Disney’s announcement, they felt safe visiting the parks several times a month. Now, he said, “not so much.”
Rexach has the passes until this summer. Without masking and physical distancing, however, he is unsure if he and his wife will return to even the outdoor areas of Disney’s parks.
Despite the concerns of people who feel a threat to their personal health or ethics, Dillard, the psychology professor, said she believes that most Americans will be fairly quick to adapt back to pre-pandemic travel.
“The pandemic has been with us for two years, and people have a lot of experience coping with it now,” Dillard said. “I think people may have a little bit of hesitation, but at this point, maybe some of their excitement overwhelms the hesitation that they had.”