Cedric Wood and Shakeemah Smith just returned to the USA from Mexico and Antigua, respectively, and they’re planning their next getaway. Fellow American Jonathan Curry is still enjoying Mexico on a one-way ticket.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, taking a trip to your local grocery store seems risky enough, let alone hopping on a plane with potentially hundreds of passengers to go explore a foreign country.
The U.S. Department of State issued its highest global travel warning in March, advising U.S. citizens to avoid international travel – which is still in effect – and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention presents travelers (domestic and international) with a list of questions to consider that’ll turn anyone into an anxious flyer. Although many travelers have canceled or postponed trips abroad, Curry called his trip the “best decision I’ve made.”
For Curry, booking a one-way ticket to Tulum in Mexico was a way to escape what he called the trauma of being Black in America.
Aside from the emotional toll the coronavirus pandemic has taken on Americans, Black Americans face a separate pandemic: racism.
As COVID-19 ravaged on, disproportionately affecting Black communities, Americans watched as George Floyd, a Black man, was killed May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes. Floyd’s death came on the heels of Ahmaud Arbery’s and Breonna Taylor’s – both were Black and killed by white people. Nationwide protests calling for racial equity erupted after Floyd’s death.
“What about mental health? If you’ve been locked up in the house for three months, four months, haven’t been able to see friends … and then you witness all the trauma that’s happening in the media and the racial tension with being a Black man in America, for me this was a no-brainer,” Curry said.
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Despite the travel advisories, Curry decided to do his own risk-versus-reward assessment and decided that spending an extended time in Tulum would be safer than staying in Atlanta, where COVID-19 cases were on the rise. He’s using his time abroad as a “retreat” of sorts to work on refining his travel business and figure out a plan for his future.
“COVID is not going anywhere as it pertains to the U.S. … I’d rather get COVID in Bali than in Baltimore,” Curry joked. “I could get it at the grocery store, I could get it on the plane, I could get it in Mexico, I could get it riding the elevator up to my apartment.”
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Feeling safer abroad
Smith said she felt Antigua, which along with Barbuda had 82 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Sunday, according to Johns Hopkins data, was doing more to keep people safe from the coronavirus than the United States, which has more than 4 million cases. She said she felt more comfortable abroad than in her home state of New Jersey, which has more than 179,000 cases.
“I actually feel safer exiting America and going to these places,” Smith said.
She said traveling and staying safe during a pandemic require a lot of research into the precautions other countries are taking to protect citizens and tourists.
“When you would go to the supermarket, you have to wash your hands first at one of the mobile sinks, and there’s security out there making sure you do it, and when you come out, you have to do it again. Even when you go to get breakfast, even if it’s just a coffee, they tell you, ‘Excuse me, can you please wash your hands outside?’ ” Smith said. “I took pictures of it, too, because I couldn’t believe it. I wish America would do this.”
Is traveling even enjoyable?
Exploring a country during the COVID-19 pandemic may prove difficult for some as opening dates for attractions are in flux. Wood said he had an enjoyable time in Tulum; it just took a lot of research and a flexible mindset.
“The reason why it’s so difficult is because so many places are closed, so you basically don’t know what’s open, and you don’t know what to expect,” Wood said. “It requires you reaching out a lot … I knew Tulum was open, and I knew the requirements to (get into the country). Even though it wasn’t fully planned out, I was just going to play it by ear.”
Wood said he wasn’t nervous about COVID-19 while traveling to Tulum because Mexico’s Quintana Roo state had a much lower number of confirmed cases than the USA. He said Tulum felt empty, which made social distancing in public a lot easier.
Smith said she had a great time in Antigua and was able to do everything she wanted.
“I went to the beach all day … going to the beach bars, going on excursions, horseback riding on the beach, hanging out with the locals at English Harbor,” Smith said. “I had a great time; I was able to do everything, just everything closed by 11 p.m.”
What about the haters and vacation shamers?
Wood said he travels because it brings him peace of mind, and he wants those criticizing travel as risky to be just as vocal about the risks of simply being in the USA. He said some U.S. businesses don’t require people to wear face masks, and his city of Atlanta still allows gatherings at bars and clubs.
“For a lot of people, traveling is basically what saves them,” Wood said. “Traveling for a lot of people is a requirement for them. It’s for their well-being, it’s for their mental health.”
Smith said she takes precautions such as wearing a mask and face shield while traveling, disinfecting high-touch surfaces on planes and doing enough research to make travel safe enough for her.
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“Although I feel like people have been shaming travel, for me it’s a matter of facts, numbers,” Smith said. “So that’s why for me, I decided to resume travel but really focus on countries that were least impacted by the virus.”
The trauma of the news cycle pushed Curry to get away, though he said people don’t have to explain their reasoning for doing what they need to.
“Sometimes you need a mental break. Going abroad may not be for everyone, but I do encourage people to find whatever that thing is that will bring you joy,” Curry said. “Don’t feel like you’re obliged to explain to people the steps you’ve taken for your mental health.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus travel: Trips abroad help mental health, safety, some say