Day 81: Traveling During a Pandemic

This topic is a hornets’ nest I probably shouldn’t kick. However, it’s something I’m sure lots of people are thinking about, and afraid to talk about, so I’m going to talk about it a little bit.

Last week I went on an optional trip during the pandemic. I’m still not 100% sure how to feel and think about it.

Here’s the thing. I’m not a COVID denier. I know the pandemic is very real and is causing very real harm: physical, societal, and economic harm. I’m also not minimizing the risk. This is a virus that will kill some percentage of those who contract it. The risk is real, and every person passing through public spaces is contributing to the potential spread of the virus.

So, with all of those realities in mind, why the hell would I choose to go on an optional trip?

Well, it’s complicated. Let me see if I can distill it into as few points as possible.

The trip was literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

We were handed the chance to go to an amazing destination for free and to do it with another couple in our family that we don’t get to see all that often. All we had to pay were travel costs. Once we got there, meals and lodging were covered. This is a location that I would never visit otherwise because there’s just no way I could afford to, and it’s likely this will be the only time in my life that my wife and I get to spend four full days just hanging out and exploring with the couple that invited us to go along.

This was a one-time limited-time offer. We had to go this summer if we were going to go, and we really, really wanted to go. It was a now or never situation.

We were committed to exercising the greatest care possible.

We wore masks anytime we were in a shared indoor space, and wore them outdoors if we were close to others. We avoided being in shared indoor spaces as much as possible. We did all the things you’re supposed to do: washing our hands often, avoided touching our faces, the works. We’re healthy and have no symptoms that would suggest we’re carrying the virus, though that’s no guarantee that we aren’t carriers, and we acted as if we were infected so that we would minimize our potential to contribute to the spread.

In short, we felt like we were doing everything in our power to minimize the risk that we might contract the virus or contribute to it’s spread.

The destination was ideally suited to maintaining social distancing.

Our destination itself was an outdoor attraction with an extremely low concentration of people. We spent our trip hiking, biking, and generally spending all day outdoors away from other people. If the attraction had been indoors or crowded, we’d have skipped it. The risk while at the location was extremely low, probably lower than the risk during my normal everyday life. The real risk was the time in transit, particularly the time in the airport and on the plane.

Would I Do it Again?

This is the second trip we’ve taken this summer. During the first, we were able to basically avoid other people 100% of the time. We took our own car and stayed in a private Airbnb. This second trip was slightly less safe, particularly because we did have to fly.

If I’d been able to delay the trip, I would have. If it had been a trip I could have taken next year, I’d have skipped it and done it next year. However, given that it was now or never and the destination basically came with social distancing baked in, yes, I’d do it again.

What is Your Personal Level of Acceptable Risk

It comes down to a question of acceptable risk. How risky was the trip? Fairly low, I believe, though I’m not a public health expert. What was the justification? It was literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

With those qualifiers in mind, my personal computation of the acceptable risk equation came out in favor of going.

We’re all making this calculation every day during the pandemic. We’re all looking at the activities we want and need to participate in, our perception of the associated risk, and making a judgement call. Factoring into the equation is how seriously, or non-seriously, we’re taking the pandemic as a whole.

I fully expect that some folks will look at my calculation and think it was off and that I should have skipped the trip. I also know that others will think that I’m overanalyzing the situation and making a mountain of a mole hill.

And that is the point.

This is a really complex time. We’re all making a complex mental calculation about risk and reward and our underlying assumptions don’t match up. Those differences will lead us to different conclusions.

So let’s be kind.

Does that mean we can’t express our opinion and try to change the behavior of others? Absolutely not. If you think I should have stayed home, I respect your perspective. Heck, I understand it and was at a 60/40 split myself as to whether or not I should go on the trip. However, if you disagree with my calculation, then let’s talk about the calculation. We can disagree on the calculation while agreeing that we all have a responsibility to look out for each other and for the good of society.

4 thoughts on “Day 81: Traveling During a Pandemic”

  1. Such a hot topic!

    I empathize with your decision here for the once in a lifetime trip. On the other hand we as a society in the USA are really dropping the ball right now with this pandemic.
    We have guests coming to visit next week from a hotspot and I’m already having a discussion about protocols. I think that if we are at least talking about it rationally then that’s a good place to be.

    The biggest problem I see with handling this pandemic is that so many people are asymptomatic and spreading it without knowing. How do we get a handle on that?

    I don’t know what the calculation is and the mixed messaging we are getting from various leaders is not helping.

    • Yep, agreed with all of that. I’m STILL conflicted about having gone on the trip. 😂 Talk about a waste of energy. The way I see it, the asymptomatic spread stops when one of two things happen: herd immunity via infection or vaccination OR we do a genuine nationwide 4 week lockdown. I see no other way. I don’t think we have the nerve for a true nationwide lockdown, so I think we’re just in for a really long road to herd immunity.

    • There is a 3rd option: the virus mutates to a less deadly form. That’s what happened with the 1918 pandemic. The only thing people did was reduce transmission then.

      The really sad part of all of this is that we had a plan and team in place to handle this exact situation.

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