We are approaching our third year of life with COVID-19. This pandemic has drastically altered the world and the ways we interact with one another. Vaccines, masks, and tests are often pre-requisites not only for going out to dinner or seeing a concert, but for maintaining friendships or seeing family. However, even if two people agree on getting vaccinated, wearing masks and getting tested regularly, the ways in which they carry out these practices can vary drastically.
Herein lies the point of this post. COVID has required us to reflect on how we are around other people: whether we respect their personal space, how much import we place on their wishes over our own, and how to reconcile what’s best for ourselves while also considering what’s best for the world. Joan and I are really excited about the trips we have planned, but we also know that everything we do and write is in light of COVID. That being said, I want to reflect on some courtesies I have developed while traveling during COVID.
I do a master’s degree in the UK which makes international flying a bigger part of my life than I would have liked. Flying internationally during COVID is stressful, complicated, unstable and anger-inducing at times, but it can be manageable. While wearing a mask and abiding by all up-to-date governmental guidance is taken for granted, I will provide some tips I’ve thought about and used during all of this travel.
Always think about what the most vulnerable person in your close contacts would want. Even if you are flying alone, the people you will see on either end will basically have flown with you if you are living with them after flying; your exposure becomes their exposure. If all of your close contacts have the same vulnerability status as you, then do what you wish (within reason)! But if that’s not the case, keep the vulnerable people in your life in mind as you move through the airport and the plane.
Don’t be afraid to ask people to be more COVID safe. I know I have experienced times when someone around me doesn’t have their mask over their nose, or isn’t wearing one at all and it has made me supremely uncomfortable. Maybe that discomfort isn’t warranted, but looking out for yourself is important. On my most recent flight back to the USA, I was sitting next to someone who wasn’t wearing a mask. I mulled for about 20 minutes before I got up the courage to ask him to put a mask on. He said that he has asthma and medically cannot wear a mask, but that he’s been vaccinated and tested. Knowing this information made me much more comfortable with the situation and allowed me to have a much more relaxing flight. (We also ended up having a nice conversation about Norway!)
Don’t be afraid to be as COVID safe as you like, despite what the guidance is. On my first few flights during the pandemic, I put on a KN95 mask, a blue mask, a face shield and my glasses to protect myself from COVID. Everyone around me was wearing a single mask. I wiped down every surface I touched and constantly used hand sanitizer. At that time there was a lot less information about how COVID spreads, so being quadruply protected reassured me a lot and made my travel experience a lot more comfortable. I expected to receive a few strange looks from people, but did not get them. I now only wear a KN95 on the plane as I am triply vaccinated, but definitely appreciate when people around me wear more protection. I give them the space I would have wanted when I was in that situation. You never know what someone’s COVID experience is, and I always err on the side of being more cautious, because there’s nothing like testing centers and urgent cares to ruin a nice holiday.
My priorities for travel during COVID are safety and comfort. The comfort is achieved by knowing I’m doing all I can to make myself and my loved ones safe and by asking others around me to be safe. Artful Journeys trips differ from my solo voyages across the Atlantic in that you live, eat and sight-see as a group in your destination. Anything you do in the weeks before leaving, at the airport and on the plane affects everyone on your trip. While maybe not wearing a mask makes you a bit more comfortable, in order to maximize the efficacy and enjoyability of the trip, think about both your own comfort and the comfort of the group as a whole and weigh the two accordingly.
My views are influenced by especially vulnerable people in my life, and so they might seem extreme. All attending Artful Journeys trips will be vaccinated, but people still remain vulnerable. It is very possible to be safe and have fun, the new normal not being a lesser version of the old normal, just different. The new normal also includes a lot more awareness of yourself and how your actions may impact others. I believe this to be a marvelous change, especially relevant for Artful Journeys, as art and music rely upon adaptability and increased awareness, bodily, socially and mentally.