We recently wrote a three-part series on Conscious Travel in the Age of Coronavirus, including specific tips to guide our travel decisions in these strange times. In part, we were inspired to write this series because many people are now slowly opening up their bubbles and venturing out on small vacations, even if just to escape the banality of quarantine life. Given that we are a community that connects travel enthusiasts over social media to share or ask for travel tips, we thought it best to shed some light on ‘travel shaming’, a growing online phenomenon.
Travel shaming is not new; it is simply a new form of social media shaming, and people who travel are not immune to being denigrated online. A recent example is of an online campaign called ‘flight shaming’ or flygskam started in Sweden in 2018 to compel travelers to reduce their carbon footprint by foregoing airplane travel. The positive impact of this movement was detailed in an article by The Independent, particularly that it inspired many to change their personal travel habits and even take up gardening and other environmental sustainability practices. However, as the name suggests, the mechanism to inspire change was to shame people who chose to travel by air rather than offering encouragement to find alternatives.
Many digital content creators and influencers who earn a living through travel face a moral dilemma – do they continue to travel and risk travel shaming, or do they simply travel in secret? The same goes for people in the tourism and travel industry who are struggling to make ends meet. While they would love the luxury of staying safe in their homes, their livelihoods depend on travelers leaving their safe spaces to visit their establishments. It takes a lot of courage and effort for these business owners to go on social media to advertise their services while risking being shamed by potential customers.
It’s worth pointing out that shaming travelers usually results in them being more secretive about their travel, not canceling their plans altogether. Here are a couple of points to consider regarding travel shaming –
Travel Shaming makes large assumptions based on very little information. Most posts sharing travel plans or soliciting travel advice don’t offer much personal detail about how they chose to travel during this time, whether they are going somewhere to be with family, what precautions they are taking to ensure the safety of people in their circle, and what their struggles are in their current situation. Commanding the traveler to change their travel plans without knowing whether they are traveling responsibly only assumes that the traveler is being reckless, when that may very well not be the case.
Travel Shaming rarely inspires behavior change. While there is space to let opinions be known over social media, shaming people into agreeing with a point of view often invites antagonism. In fact, public health professionals with deep experience around behavior change tell us that shaming does not work (this NPR story talks about the pitfalls of shaming to influence behavior change).
We hope that this article serves as an educational resource as we navigate how to support our community through this unique period. Also as a reminder that although the pandemic has changed the way we travel, not everything is forbidden. As long as travelers are following government regulations and taking appropriate health and safety precautions, it is good to remember that they are doing so legally.
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