Travel across the world today is another ball game altogether. Something people so eagerly looked forward to and envied by those who couldn't do the same, is being looked at from a completely different point of view. The Covid 19 pandemic has put up boundaries around everyone's daily bustle, including the travel restrictions for people planning to move around the state or across countries. The word 'vacation' or 'travelling' sets off an alarm in people's minds since 2020 is all about staying home. As integral as social distancing is at this moment, is travel shaming really justified?
After the pandemic hit the global economy, the tourism and aviation industry have bared the worst of it. The travel industry saw a gradual decline right from the first few months of the year, as the infectious disease was spreading faster than ever owing to the regular great deal of air travel around the world. But the pandemic is not the only factor that has induced this sense of travel shaming. A Swedish initiative known as 'flygskam' encourages people to take the train instead of flying to lower carbon emissions. Flygskam or "flight shame" originated in Sweden in 2017, when Swedish singer Staffan Lingberg pledged to give up flying. They are seen indulging in tågskryt (train bragging) by posting pictures on the 90,000-strong Tågsemester (train holiday) Facebook group or using the hashtag #jagstannarpåmarken that says "I stay on the ground". As a result, the figure for domestic travel was down 9%, according to Sweden's airport operators, Swedavia. The 16 year old environmental activist Greta Thunberg sailed from Plymouth in the UK on a zero emissions yacht as a personal initiative to minimise the carbon footprint of her travel.
Besides this prior flight shaming movement which discourages the passenger who chooses to travel via an aircraft, this year's shaming quota also includes: mask shaming (when someone is criticised for wearing or not wearing a mask), social distance shaming (when people are criticised for being too close), and even virus shaming for when someone is criticised for getting the coronavirus. Where vacationing meant stress free moments spent in nature, often captured in pictures and videos to be posted on various social media platforms, the travel shaming this year has quieted down this travel buzz and enthusiasm. People indulging in travel are being criticised or blamed for it as they may not only risk contracting the coronavirus themselves, but also be potential carriers of the virus across the distance they are covering. Even though the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued protective guidelines and travel advisory for passengers, these travellers are receiving flak for disrespecting communal norms from the general population. These individuals who are choosing to travel, are also choosing to lay low about it. Where once sharing pictures and videos was a highlight of their vacation, their doing so today only results in social media shaming.
A recent CNN article discusses how Sarah Archer, a 27 year old content marketing manager from Boston, was travel shamed which gave her "a pit in my stomach" during her recent travels in Europe. Sarah wanted to visit her boyfriend who lived in Switzerland but found it hard to do so with an American passport. Her boyfriend and she first met in Serbia which had reopened to tourists, then rented a car and drove across the border to Croatia, which had then opened up to US passport holders. Soon after, Croatia had been removed from the list of risk countries for entering Switzerland, enabling Archer to fly to Zurich with her boyfriend after receiving a nod from the Swiss government. She claimed to have done her everything safely and legally throughout her travels. She wrote a Medium article about how she managed to enter Europe and shared posts on her Instagram account, where she was surprised to receive direct messages from a few friends asking whether she really needed to be travelling in such times. "They asked me if it didn't seem irresponsible and selfish to travel at this time," said Sarah in the interview with CNN. She found it ironic that most people around her in Serbia and Croatia and now, in Bern, Switzerland, where she's settled in with her boyfriend for a few months, aren't seen wearing masks on the streets or in grocery stores, whereas she and her boyfriend make sure to wear masks whenever they are out in public now, crediting the shame she felt because of the slack received on social media. The online shaming of individuals can affect not only their mental state but also strongly manipulate their habits and behaviours.
Matt Long, travel blogger and podcaster based, who has taken several trips since the coronavirus restrictions began to ease in the United States mentions in an article that while all of the comments on his social media posts were positive, he was surprised by the resentful messages he received from his friends. In the very same article, Lola Méndez, a Uruguayan American travel writer who decided to stay home with the onset of the pandemic after travelling full time for five years commented, "I could never live with myself if I knew that someone got sick and died because of me." She says she has felt frustrated seeing writers and influencers on the move again and if asked for advice on travelling, she tries not to sound preachy with personal advice, and instead sends them articles from their travel destinations that include quotes from locals asking people not to visit. Where experts are warning people the elderly and people with compromised immune systems to avoid travelling at all, and everyone else should stay home unless a trip is absolutely essential, it is suggested that encouraging these travellers to think about their impact on others is a better way that invites them to be more careful, instead of the travel shaming that is making rounds.
The residents of heavily trafficked tourist destinations and vacation spots have turned to complaining against the outsiders who are entering their areas. They fear being put at the risk of exposure to the virus by these inconsiderate passengers. Such a case was witnessed by Merry White, a professor at Boston University who arrived for her vacation in rural Maine with a negative COVID-19 test in hand, as required by state guidelines for visitors from Massachusetts, found that that the locals didn't trust visitors and nor did the visitors trust the locals. She experienced dirty looks and the locals grilling and shaming vacationers who show up with out of state plates.
People are definitely feeling affected by this shaming, either changing their travel plans or mostly hiding them. "The pandemic presents a unique case of travel entering the moral sphere, because there are two things that happen when you travel: The first is that I put myself at risk, and the second is by virtue of putting myself at risk, I could be spreading coronavirus to other people," said Dr. Jillian Jordan, a Harvard Business School assistant professor who studies moral psychology in a New York Times article. "Some people think any trips of any kind are bad while others are off flying to hot spots. If you think it's fine to travel and some people don't think it's fine, but you're not persuaded by the opposing argument, you may feel motivated to hide your behaviour." he adds.
Several people from multiple countries are accepting this 'new normal' way of life. They believe that the best must be made from this situation by adapting and living life within the given circumstances. Protection guidelines are believed to be followed to rather move along with the times than be held back by the fear of the virus. While Lee Abbamonte, a travel expert and blogger, who didn't leave his apartment for over eighty days during the pandemic, except for essential errands, said the best decision he made for his mental well being was to fly to Las Vegas to play golf, get into the mountains and basically do outdoor activities where he could be distanced from others. Abbamonte, who says he doesn't care much for any slack he receives, also added that he has yet to be shamed for any of his travels this summer.
Travel or flight shaming movement, as discussed, has been around for a while, reflecting the catastrophic repercussions of the carbon emissions that are a leading factor that influences climate change. Measures to control and calculate our carbon footprint are being devised for a better tomorrow. The shunning of air travel is one such significant course of action taken to lower these harmful emissions. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a UN specialised agency, has developed a methodology to calculate the carbon dioxide emissions from air travel for use in offset programmes. It allows a passenger to estimate the emissions attributed to their air travel which is simple to use and requires only a limited amount of information from the user. This initiative promotes individual contribution to understanding and calculating their carbon footprint. Worldwide, flights produced 915 million tonnes of CO2 emission in 2019. Humans produced over 43 billion tonnes of global carbon emissions.
Travel shaming can affect our confidence and self esteem, but looking at the bigger picture, it may not be all bad as it is at least getting the job of conserving our health and environment done, which is unfortunately everybody's last concern in a regular world.