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Vacation shaming travels far and fast

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Those sandy toes stretching out to aqua blue water?

The Maine lobster roll?

Mouse ears in front of Cinderella's Castle?

It's August, people! Where are all the travel pix?

Oh, wait. We're in a pandemic. And a recession. So no one's traveling, everyone's locked down and making bread still, right?

Not really, though. On Aug. 13, 761,821 of y'all passed through airport security checkpoints in America. Sure, it's about a third of the travelers who got patted down on the same day last year, but it's far above the 87,534 passengers who took off on April 14, when pandemic restrictions were new.

And nearly 7 million Americans road-tripped it, according to AAA's numbers.

One company said RV rentals are nearly double what they were last year.

You're still traveling, America. But now it's just in stealth mode.

"I've even refrained from posting on my personal social media page," said Lungi Moore, a Michigan mom whose Instagram is usually all about her family's far-flung travel adventures. 

And who could blame her? Because the pandemic means vacation shaming has hit a new level.

"Enjoy your virus."

"I thought there was a travel ban."

"How incredibly irresponsible," a reader told me after I wrote about the road trip my son and I recently took to Massachusetts to scout out colleges. "Stay home. Be well. Make sacrifices in line with the global emergency that exists. You may be bored; you'll live. Teach your child this time isn't going to be perfect, but we must be collectively responsible to get back to normal eventually."

Even before the pandemic, vacation shaming has always been a thing — but mostly relegated to the workplace in our work-addicted nation. Americans don't come close to getting Europe's government-mandated four weeks of paid vacation. We even managed to work during 768 million of the paid vacation days we were owed in 2018, according to a study by the U.S. Travel Association. We're simply not good at checking out and turning off because studies show that we get a cruise ship load of crap when we do.

But in the novel coronavirus era, vacation shaming stopped being merely about workplace pressure or our friends' slow-burn jealousy. Now it's a moral crusade, backed by science, government restrictions on travel and a host of "grim milestone" news stories about the death toll.

Totally understandable in a nation that has seen more than 166,000 virus deaths and skyrocketing unemployment. For people who have lost businesses, graduations, weddings and funerals, or who couldn't be near loved ones when they died or gave birth, a beach vacation may seem like a selfish and reckless exercise.

Plus, science is already showing us that travel is spreading the virus.

"We now have enough data to feel pretty confident that New York was the primary gateway for the rest of the country," Nathan Grubaugh, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health, told the New York Times.

Genetic data showed that New York's early spring virus boom — and the infected New Yorkers who then jetted across the nation — was responsible for outbreaks in Texas, Louisiana, Arizona and on the West Coast.

Since then, many states adopted restrictions and mandated testing. My son and I left Massachusetts right before it enacted a travel order fining any out-of-staters $500 a day if they didn't do a 14-day quarantine or produce a negative test.

But isn't there a way to travel safely? How are the hundreds of thousands of people who are traveling doing it?

"We utilize Door Dash and eat at the Airbnb, buy all our groceries for the road so there's only stops for restrooms and leg stretching. Masks, face shields, hand sanitizers," said Moore, the Michigan mom who posts on Instagram but has gone stealth on her personal pages. Right now, they're hiking in Nevada — but she felt some travel shaming when she had asked online for advice about rest stops. "All our activities are national parks or outdoors. We had one hotel stay and that was a contactless check-in."

Amy Wolfe has been just as careful, but she had to block social media travel shamers who guilted her and her husband when they posted about their forays through ancient ruins and seaside resorts in Turkey, one of the few nations in the world allowing Americans to visit right now.

"Mark was determined to get me away from work and Turkey was one of a couple choices," said Wolfe, artistic director and CEO of the Manassas Ballet Theater.

She and her vacation-planner-in-chief husband Mark Wolfe, a Manassas City Council member, are unabashed in their vacation travels — posting photos from Istanbul to Bodrum, even though "yes, some people are giving us a hard time about it," she said, and even though her husband is running for reelection.

"We are trying to be very careful and stay pretty much to ourselves," she said. "But we both believe in living life each and every day."

I was thrilled for them when I saw their photos by the sea. The first time I met the couple was on the beach in Virginia, when they met one of the Marines who was with their son when he was killed in Iraq in 2006, after their vehicle was blown up. Seeing them smile on the Turkish vacation told me they are taking care of their mental health — something that's also important during this trying time.

"I will add that the people we've spoken to here are totally puzzled by the American response to [the virus]," Mark Wolfe said in a text interview. "They take [the virus] much more seriously here. We've had thermal body scanners, mask requirements and even standardized breakfast food trays to minimize contact."

And that makes it really weird when they talk to folks back in Virginia who are treating them like they're visiting a hot zone.

"So when people ask if we are going to quarantine ourselves when we get back," Amy Wolfe said, "I feel it should be them that we want to stay away from."

Petula Dvorak is a columnist with The Washington Post. 

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