I am starting to get invites for trips with friends for a month or two from now. As much as I want to travel, or at least start planning, it feels too early. Most recently, a friend asked if I want to visit our two friends in Portland, Oregon. We would both be flying from two different cities on the East Coast and staying with our friends and their partners. The thought of being in an airport, sitting on a crowded flight and being in a different city right now feels irresponsible.
I am really struggling with how to have conversations about not feeling comfortable with this just yet without coming off as judgmental.
— Rachel, District of Columbia
Friends and family members have been clashing over the coronavirus for about a year, from mask-wearing to vaccines to group gatherings. I wholeheartedly relate to your situation, as my loved ones regularly remind me that I'm "all gloom and doom" and "ruining the fun" when I turn down pandemic travel suggestions.
To find the best solution for our problem, I went to Andrea Bonior, a licensed clinical psychologist who has an advice column, Ask Dr. Andrea, on The Washington Post's Lily publication. On a phone cal, she told me these situations may be easier to approach now that we've been knee-deep in the pandemic for so long.
Here's how Bonior recommends tackling the topic.
Before you answer your friend, Bonior said to determine the risks you're willing to take, the ones you're not and why. Ask yourself: How much of your own mental and physical well-being are you willing to sacrifice for a trip?
Maybe you are comfortable taking some risks locally, such as going to your gym where you know its safety protocols, but you're not comfortable flying across the country.
Once you feel confident in your stance, reply to your friend honestly. That means do not say "yes" or "maybe" to a trip if you know you are going to back out later. Bonior said a lot of people think it will be easier to avoid conflict, but it actually can damage your relationship by eroding trust.
Opt out as clearly and respectfully as possible so your friend does not get hopes up or get a mixed signal that if they wear on you long enough, you will eventually give in.
Bonior said a good friendship is built to withstand differences of opinion as long as they're conveyed respectfully. Consider this an exercise for strengthening your relationship.
Should the conversation get heated, remember that travel shaming does not work.
Bonior said that while travel shaming will not change anyone's mind, you do not have to keep quiet if you have legitimate concerns for their safety.
"You can have a respectful conversation, 'Hey, I totally get that you're trying to do this. I would feel remiss if I didn't just mention I'm worried about you doing this, and I will shut up, but I got to get this off my chest,' " Bonior said. "That's different than shaming … but once your friend has made a decision, then the shaming part is just going to create some sort of a rift."