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Traveling was once social currency. Now it might get you shamed.


(Illustration by Rob Dobi/For The Washington Post)

The pandemic has ushered in a new era of shaming. There’s mask shaming, when someone is criticized for wearing or not wearing a mask; social distance shaming, when people are criticized for being too close; even virus shaming, when someone is criticized for getting the coronavirus.

And there’s travel shaming.

Before the coronavirus, travel was social currency. We asked friends and new people we met (remember meeting new people?) where they’d been and what was on their bucket list. Travel shaming back then referred to shaming someone for not traveling enough. People shared their travel experiences proudly, like a badge of honor.

Once the world went into lockdown and flights were canceled, with airports and borders closed, the social status of travel changed. Travelers began to face backlash from people who felt traveling during the pandemic was putting others at risk.

Unlike other breeds of coronavirus shaming, travel shaming doesn’t seem to lead to people being “canceled.” It slides quietly into direct messages or shows up passive aggressively on social media timelines.

Matt Long, travel blogger and podcaster based in Upper Marlboro, Md., has taken several trips since coronavirus restrictions began to ease in the United States.

“Each one has had its own kind of social shaming involved,” Long says.


(Illustration by Rob Dobi/For The Washington Post)

The travel blogger’s first trip was over Memorial Day weekend. Long drove to Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, a property on 2,000 acres in Farmington, Pa., that sponsored his two-day stay. While all of the comments on his social media posts were positive, Long was surprised by resentful messages he received from his friends.

“They said, ‘I haven’t gone further than my driveway in two months, so forget you. My daughter can’t go to swim lessons, but you’re going to a resort. No, that’s not fair,’ ” Long says.

But his most controversial trip was to Disney World in August. The trip was part-work, part-leisure, as the self-proclaimed die-hard Disney fan would recap the experience on his podcast and blog.

“It was a lot of criticism for ‘I can’t believe you’re going down to Florida right now,’ ” Long says. “I had some locals down there [in Florida] who were not happy with me, or anyone being there from out of state, frankly, because they felt like they were literally fighting for their lives and they don’t need people from other states coming down to help make things worse.”

It’s that sentiment that compels Lola Méndez, a Uruguayan American travel writer who stopped traveling at the onset of the pandemic after traveling full time for five years, to stay home.

“I could never live with myself if I knew that someone got sick and died because of me,” Méndez says.

Méndez has felt frustrated seeing writers and influencers on the move again. When people ask Méndez for advice on traveling, she tries not to sound preachy with personal advice, and instead sends them articles from travel destinations that include quotes from locals asking people not to visit.

“I’ve definitely been pretty shady and thrown up some Instagram captions or Twitter captions about why I think it’s irresponsible, all the things I think you should be considering before you make a decision to travel for leisure,” Méndez says.

June Tangney, a psychology professor at George Mason University and author of “Shame and Guilt,says it’s natural to want to travel shame someone during the pandemic. However, Tangney doesn’t think travel shaming will have the impact people expect.

“Is shaming or guilt-tripping people who are not following the program effective or counterproductive?” Tangney says. “I think it’s pretty safe to say that that’s counterproductive.”

Although Tangney says there’s no empirical studies on the topic, all the data she’s seen about shame suggests it causes people to become defensive, angry or shift the blame to other people.

“It’s natural to get angry at people like that, and feel resentful and then want to make them feel bad about it,” Tangney says. “But making them feel bad about it in a shameful way is not helpful.”

Tangney says there’s another way to influence someone’s risky behavior: Try “encouraging people to think about their impact on others in a way that invites them to be more careful instead of trying to beat it out of them,” she says.

The fear of guilt or shame may keep some people at home or keep their trips a secret. Or for some celebrities, wide open on social media.

That includes rapper Drake, who was spotted in Barbados in July; actor Timothée Chalamet, who went to Mexico in June; and Kylie Jenner, who posted maskless photos from Paris this week, despite the E.U. ban on American travelers. And the list goes on.

Travel shaming didn’t work on Long either, who doesn’t feel ashamed of his trips, although he has cut back on how much he posts from the road now.

“I really scaled back how much I shared,” he says of his last Disney World trip. “Normally there’d been an avalanche of Mickey and this time it was a lot more tempered.”

After returning from his Disney trip, he quarantined for two weeks and took two coronavirus tests. Long feels he’s taking the right precautions to travel safely and sees himself as someone who can help alleviate others’ shame by normalizing travel again.

“As long as you’re smart about it and you’re not putting others unnecessarily at risk, I personally don’t see a problem with [traveling],” Long says. “But for the foreseeable future, I think we’re going to have this travel shaming.”

Read more:

What to know about getting tested for the coronavirus to travel

Has your travel bucket list changed during the pandemic? You’re not alone.

These 4 countries are accepting American travelers for remote-work trips

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