• The Star Staff

Getaways during a crisis: A ticket to squabbles

By Tariro Mzezewa

Michael Huxley has been getting called out a lot lately. His sin? Traveling during the coronavirus pandemic. Huxley flew to Spain from Liverpool a few weeks ago and has been on a handful of trips within Britain since the onset of the pandemic, upsetting friends, family members and strangers, who say he should stay home to lessen the risk of contracting or spreading the virus.

“I’ve been getting criticism in my professional life and from people in my personal life,” said Huxley, who runs a blog, Bemused Backpacker. “Some come at it from an ethical point of view and think I shouldn’t be traveling and spreading disease anywhere, and then others come from the emotional ‘You shouldn’t be traveling because you’ll kill my grandma’ point of view.”

The decision to travel or stay home has become a flashpoint this summer, with people defining what kind of travel, if any, is acceptable in different ways.

Some say people should only go on essential trips. Others say pleasure trips within driving distance are acceptable. Still others, like Huxley, who is from Liverpool, say traveling is fine, with rules in place like washing hands, maintaining a clean environment and keeping distance. The various delineations of what’s right and what’s not are creating fissures among friends and family members.

“It was easier to ease my family, who know that I’m a qualified nurse, that I’ve traveled the world for 20 years and can look after myself,” Huxley said. “But communicating to acquaintances and people who don’t know me that I have weighed the risks, that I have worked the various ways I can reduce the risk for myself, and I am still choosing to travel was impossible.”

Huxley said he traveled during other crises, including the SARS and MERS outbreaks, as well as in the period after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and was in Egypt during the 2011 revolution.

“I don’t see this as any different from those events,” he said. “You do get outbreaks, pandemics, terrorist attacks, but life goes on. Travel still goes on.”

Erin Niimi Longhurst, a British Japanese author and director at a digital agency in New York, got the silent treatment from her mother for weeks after she traveled to London from New York this spring — a rare thing for the mother and daughter, who typically talk multiple times a day. Niimi Longhurst went to London to be with her partner and relatives, upsetting her mother, who lives in Hawaii and is not traveling. She stayed for three months before returning to New York. Niimi Longhurst’s sister lives in New York and just had a child.

“My mother really wanted to go and be with my sister but had made the decision not to,” Niimi Longhurst said. “Her mentality was, ‘Why is it OK for you to go back? If everyone acted like you, we’d be in a worse situation.’ She was incredibly worried for me, and she was pretty furious with me.”

Jill Locke, a professor of political science at a college in Minnesota, and her younger sister, Jennifer, who lives in California and is the chief executive of a wine company, initially didn’t see eye to eye about visiting their parents, who are in their 80s, in Seattle this summer. The sisters exchanged texts and phone calls, with Jennifer Locke pushing for the trip.

“We were coming at it from such different places,” Jill Locke said. “For many reasons, for me, it felt like it was the wrong thing to do, even though I really wanted to see our parents, but she didn’t feel the same way.”

Before the pandemic, Locke planned to fly to Seattle with her husband and children, but as the coronavirus spread across the United States, she decided to rent an RV and drive there. She soon realized that the cost of the RV would be prohibitive, and felt that some states between Minnesota and Washington weren’t taking the virus seriously enough. In the end, both sisters decided to stay home.

“Weighing all these contingencies made me wonder what I would be bringing to my parents even if I traveled as responsibly as possible,” Locke said. “There have been a lot of texts between us, and we both got so worked up and frustrated.”

Locke’s sister said she didn’t take the prospect of traveling lightly and has been following guidance to not travel during the pandemic. Nonetheless, she thought it was important that she see her aging parents soon.

“At the time, I felt like ‘If we don’t go see our parents now, then when will we?’” Jennifer Locke said. “That’s been the gutting thing: not knowing the answer to that. It feels like time is being stolen from us.”

Lindsay Chambers, a writer and editor who lives in Nashville, Tennessee, said she has been surprised by the ways people are justifying going on vacation this year, including those who don’t want to pass up cheap flights and those who would not reschedule bachelor and bachelorette parties. Chambers said she has barely left her home since February but has been following local news and seen images of people gathering at bars and tourist spots in downtown Nashville. The tourists, she said, are not being considerate of others. She was stunned to learn that her own friends were going on a beach trip this summer.

“I had to stop myself from shouting at friends who told us they’d be ‘quarantining at the beach,’ ” she said. “Traveling to another state and staying in a rented condo in the middle of a raging pandemic is not how quarantine works. At all.”

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