Fight or Flight?

Article Written by Kelly Choy
Illustration by Therese Tan
Posted 10 June 2021

We either love or hate the hustle and bustle of traveling. Rushing from counter-to-counter, stressing out over the long lines, and being pushed around by crowds of people — it’s easy to understand why many of us have a love-hate relationship with traveling. But if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that airports and airplanes are germ and virus hotspots. Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, airports and airplanes have always served as a breeding ground for bacteria. Proper sanitation had never been a priority during our flights to our destinations; we already had enough to worry about.

That all changed when the COVID-19 outbreak occurred. Constant and excessive sanitation became a priority, adding to the stress and turmoil we experience during traveling. From cleansing our hands every few minutes to constantly adjusting our masks and face shields, these sanitation procedures have contributed to the physical toils of traveling. Moreover, the persistent fear and anxiety of contracting the virus engulf our minds, denying us peaceful travels to our destinations. Not only has the pandemic made traveling much more unappealing, but it has also changed our perspective on airport and airplane cleanliness. As a result, the traveling sector has been hit the hardest in the pandemic. In an effort to stimulate economic recovery, many countries have implemented ‘travel bubbles’, which are temporary travel arrangements from country-to-country.

Various pre- and post-travel guidelines have been implemented due to COVID-19, making the overall travel experience a hassle. These strict guidelines, imposed by the CDC, vary for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. Generally, all travelers need to have negative COVID tests, abide by mask and social distancing rules, and self-quarantine after arriving at their destinations. Depending on the country, these self-quarantine durations may vary from 7 to 20 days. 

In addition to following these guidelines, international travelers need to check their destination’s Office of Foreign Affairs or Ministry of Health sites for entry requirements and restrictions. Health records are commonly required upon entry, and acquiring these documents may endanger travelers’ lives. Often or not, licensed medical professionals require their patients to be physically present to collect these records, forcing them to visit hospitals or clinics tainted with the virus. Despite these protocols, the risk of contracting or spreading variants of the virus is still a possibility. International travel is especially risky, as travelers may unknowingly transmit various COVID-19 variants from one country to another. 

Moreover, the likelihood of contracting the virus during international traveling is higher than average. Ironically, the virus does not spread easily on airplanes due to the way air is being circulated and filtered. What increases the probability of spreading COVID-19 is the frequent and prolonged exposure to other travelers and frequently touched surfaces. Social distancing may not be possible on some flights, resulting in passengers being near each other for hours. This exposure increases the risk of contracting the virus.

With all that said, it’s hard to imagine a future wherein we can comfortably enjoy ourselves during international travels once more. Even when we aren’t in public spaces, the majority of us have developed the habit of constant sanitation to protect ourselves from the virus. Airplanes may be stigmatized as well, for being cramped in a small space with other individuals is enough to cause panic and anxiety. Due to the constant fear of being exposed to multiple strains of the virus in these public spaces, it will be difficult to have any form of peace of mind. Add these stressors to the labor and rush of traveling, and most individuals would surely rather stay home than risk their lives to travel from country to country. 

The “New Normal” for international traveling today has a heavier toll on travelers. I would not be surprised if everyone would eventually be donning head-to-toe protective gear and spraying everything in their midst with disinfectants. The pandemic may be drawing to a close in a few years, but it will take more than a decade for us to mentally and physiologically recover from its damages. The pandemic has instilled in us a fear of public spaces and other individuals; we certainly will not be able to travel safely and peacefully for years.

While it is difficult to gauge when international traveling will be “normal” once again, experts believe that recovery will be uneven. Some countries will have better access to COVID vaccinations, allowing them to be much more lax when traveling. However, countries with limited access to these vaccines will continue to experience the economic strain the lack of tourism will bring. Others argue that fully vaccinated individuals can safely travel internationally without being afraid of contracting the virus so long as they wear protective equipment such as masks. While professionals’ opinions may vary, they all agree that international traveling becoming “normal” once more still has a long way to go.

For us to better cope with international traveling, I suggest thoroughly familiarizing ourselves with both our country’s and our destination’s travel guidelines and restrictions. Book flights preferably in the early morning to increase the likelihood of booking an emptier flight. Sanitize your seat and in-flight table before touching them, and maintain social distancing. If feasible, avoid international flights all together to avoid putting yourself at risk of contracting and spreading the virus. 

The irrevocable habits and anxiety the pandemic instilled into us will haunt us long after it has ended. Nonetheless, we should not rush to travel internationally once the pandemic ends. Instead, we should first recover from the mental damage the pandemic has wrought on us. Travel when you are ready, not when you are anxious. Many of us may attempt to travel internationally once the pandemic ends, but is the anxiety, stress, and constant worrying really worth it? While it will be difficult for us to readjust our lives to how they were before, we will be able to do so eventually. We will learn to not let fear dictate our travels — it is by then that we will be able to travel internationally at peace once more.


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