My family traveled during a pandemic


Virus photo from the CDC, layered image by Kaya Suraci

My family planned to go to Austria this summer for the first time, and as excited as I was for it, excitement certainly doesn’t overshadow the COVID-19 pandemic- so we canceled it. That was a pretty depressing day for our family since we haven’t seen our relatives in Vienna for a couple of years now. I personally have never been to Europe and was excited for the chance to go. To make up for it, my mom planned a trip to Hawaii for when the pandemic was over. Or, at least, when we thought it would be over. In the end, we ended up traveling during a pandemic.

As someone who has a lot of anxiety over the pandemic, as the trip got closer and numbers continued to climb I was very hesitant to board a plane. It felt hypocritical the way that I posted on my Instagram story about COVID-19 while knowing quite well that I had plane tickets to Hawaii.

The trip is now done and over with, and after two tests done before and after the vacation I can confidently say I do not have and did not have COVID-19. But the fact remains that I very well could have gotten it. On the plane there were people who wouldn’t wear the mask over their nose, people who took off their masks constantly to eat or drink, and people who wore masks that John Hopkins Medicine has deemed ineffective such as “bandanas, gaiters, or masks with exhalation valves.”

Unfortunately, I don’t have the ability to control everyone around me- as much as I would love to at times. The best I can do is to control my own safety and my risk of spreading to others. My family decided to purchase KN-95 masks, which are more effective than cloth and surgical masks, according to the vice-president of ECRI, a non-profit healthcare organization. We wanted to be as safe as possible without taking N95 masks from healthcare workers, and a KN95 seemed to be the best option. In addition, we layered a cloth mask on top for extra protection. At the time this was known to be important, but according to a recent interview with Dr. Fauci, chief medical advisor to the president, wearing two masks is “just common sense” at this stage of the pandemic. Some of my family members found this was uncomfortable for them and instead used solely the KN95. We also learned that some scientists believe it is possible to contract COVID-19 through the eyes, and we purchased glasses for that purpose. As you can imagine, we were certainly a fashionable group making our way through SeaTac. Unfortunately, we found that we couldn’t see anything because of how quickly the glasses fogged up- a common problem with masks- and we decided that our ability to see was more important, considering the unlikelihood of contracting the coronavirus through the eyes. The most important part of COVID-19 safety is to cover the nose and mouth.

 Other than masks and a failed attempt at wearing glasses, our safety precautions generally consisted of testing and social distancing. We rented an AirBnB rather than a hotel room to avoid being near other people, and my dad somehow acquired a ridiculous amount of wipes to clean the entire house. Our stay in Hawaii was completely about being with family, so we normally just went to secluded beaches to snorkel, hang out, swim, and watch sunsets. We rarely had interactions with other people, and when we did they were always from a distance and with masks on. Our trip felt fairly normal for a tight-knit family of introverts, and we found even more secret places to explore.

Traveling is an incredibly dangerous thing to do right now, and I am fully aware of it. While I had a fantastic time in Hawaii, there was often the looming thought of putting my family, my grandparents back home, and the island I was on in danger. Taking all the precautions we did, our family stayed safe and we were able to add my grandparents back to our circle after we got tested back home. My advice is to be responsible- but that means a lot of things. The most responsible thing to do is to stay home. If you are a minor and don’t have much of a choice in these matters or are planning to travel anyway, then following the safety precautions I outlined above are essential. This pandemic has affected all of us, and will continue to do so, but there are always ways to keep yourself safe.