Since COVID-19 became a global pandemic in March, the travel industry has taken a major hit. And it's understandable that many people still aren't traveling, even with borders open and stay-at-home restrictions lifted. But, for those of us who live abroad, enjoy taking trips, or have loved ones in other countries, travel during pandemic times is a hard but necessary decision to make.
I'm one of the brave—and to some, crazy—souls who decided to travel shortly after borders reopened. I had my reasons, and so do others who have made the choice to go abroad even with the pandemic still looming. Here are our stories:
(Quick disclaimer: This is in no way meant to encourage travel at this time. It's simply a resource to inform and engage those who might be considering it.)
Image courtesy of Janell Hazelwood
Why I Chose to Travel During a Pandemic:
Janell: I've been in a long-distance relationship for three years, and not being able to see my fiance for months on end became devastating. Jamaica was like a second home, and frequent travel there had been my saving grace. I'd self-isolated for the whole month of March, and I'd been working from home even before the pandemic. I really didn't leave the house—even in the months thereafter—except the occasional walk around my yard or visit to the patio. When I needed food, toiletries, or groceries, I'd just have them delivered and left at my doorstep.
The pandemic brought a lot of hardship to my life, including loss of income, client reductions, and bouts of severe depression. I had flight credits, tickets that could be adjusted, and I was in good health. (I hadn't even had a common cold.) By September, the Jamaican government had reopened borders, so I decided to just go.
Jonathan: I've been in the hotel industry for the past 13 years. In March, I was furloughed as a result of COVID-19 and [was later] terminated. I had planned a trip to Peru in March and the week I was scheduled to depart, they closed their borders. Furthermore, I had planned a five-country tour to India, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Hong Kong in April. Needless to say, that was canceled. So COVID changed my life personally and professionally.
I needed a mental break—with being furloughed, moving to a new city, being forced to stay in the house, and the racial tension. That was a lot of trauma to experience first-hand. I needed a quiet place to lick my wounds, recharge, and reevaluate some things.
Francesca: When the pandemic hit, I had plans to return to the Caribbean in time for carnival season. I am a full-time travel and lifestyle influencer, and I cover Caribbean travel pretty extensively. It was shocking to see borders close almost overnight. Some were giving as little as 48-hour warnings before halting flights.
"It was like my whole world changed overnight. It became especially painful as countries started announcing various travel bans."
I wanted to get back to see my partner in Martinique. We had been separated for so long, and I knew once borders started to open that I had to act quickly because just as soon as they had opened, they could very well close again.
How to Prepare to Travel in a Pandemic:
Janell: Initially there was a bit of confusion on my part about the process. Early on, I'd heard rumors that you needed to download an app and get a COVID test before your trip, but I thought that was only for certain states. I was wrong. There indeed was—and still is—a pre-approval process for all travelers coming from the U.S.
Long story short, instead of confusing myself further by relying on YouTube videos and travel discussion threads, I went to the official authorities via VisitJamaica.com. This was the most detailed, accurate, and up-to-date resource. I had to get a COVID test, submit an application online with the negative test results attached, and then wait. The website indicated that it would take at least 48 hours for review, which was nerve-wrecking. It actually took four days, and I had to push my flight date back (yet again). I didn't mind because I'd be there for a little over a week, so losing a day or two wasn't a big deal.
The travel authorization was sent via email, so I screenshot it on my phone. I also printed out a copy of my negative PCR test, which was the test required at the time to move forward in the authorization process. I downloaded the JamCovid19 app just in case I'd be required to use it. (For more information on travel guidelines and restrictions, you can also visit the U.S. State Department site or the CDC website.)
Image courtesy of Jonathan Curry
Jonathan: I went to Tulum, Mexico. [At the time], they didn't have any restrictions on travel nor did they require a COVID test to enter. The process was very seamless. I made sure I read all of the current government standards of the country. I packed several masks and Clorox wipes to wipe down my seats and table.
(For more information on current travel restrictions or requirements in Mexico, please visit the U.S. Embassy and Consulates website here or the U.S. Department of State website.)
Francesca: I did a lot of research before booking my flight. I was more concerned with safety protocols than I was with flexibility. Ultimately it came down to two different airlines, and I ended up choosing the one that had a blocked middle seat over my usual airline where I accrue miles.
I brought a mask, of course, plenty of hand sanitizer, and my own food. Receiving a negative COVID test 48 hours before flying also gave me great peace of mind. I could assume that since it was an entry requirement, everyone I was traveling with most likely was negative as well.
(For more information on travel requirements and restrictions in Martinique, visit the CDC website or the U.S. Department of State website.)
What to Expect at the Airport & Upon Arrival:
Janell: I could not check in for my flight online, as I typically do. It was not allowed for international trips. I had to wait for the desk to open at the airport and check in with an associate. Other than that, the airport process and experience in the States was the same as it had always been except there were less people, you had to present your authorization document, and there were masks and social distancing requirements.
Upon arrival in Jamaica, I was delightfully surprised. The lines were typical but there was social distancing and an extra process added to the usual ones that involve customs and baggage claim. I'm always prepared to spend at least an hour at the Montego Bay airport during normal circumstances, and the extra process of checking my travel authorization document, getting information about my health and lodging plans, and listening to instructions on how I would quarantine only took an extra 30 minutes or so.
The officials and airline workers were kind, straight-forward, and efficient. My temperature was taken, and I was given a form with information on quarantining. I was also instructed about the "resilient corridor" limits I was to remain within during my stay and told what to do if I suddenly had any symptoms of COVID. (I wasn't told to download or use the app. I'm not certain as to why, but I kept it on my phone anyway. I suspect it was due to my length of stay and my choice to book at a compliant hotel.)
The experience was the total opposite of the nightmares of three-hour waits, scary soldiers, and double testing that I'd heard about.
Jonathan: Outside of the mask mandate, the airline didn't have any other restrictions in place. Fortunate for me, the middle seat was empty next to me and another young lady occupied the window seat. The flight was about 65-percent full. The airport was quiet, all the lines were very short, and there were limited food options in the concourse. You could cancel and get a flight credit with the airline.
Once I arrived, I had to keep my mask on throughout the airport. They had markers [6 feet apart] on the floor to make sure you weren't too close to your neighbor. Once through customs, I went through a non-intrusive temperature scan.
Francesca: I was impressed by how strictly the airline was enforcing their mask policy. I heard that they had added nearly 100 people to their no-fly list for non-compliance. They meant business!
I found that once it came time to fly, the airport was surprisingly empty. I think I interacted with less people throughout the flying experience than I do going grocery shopping.
The Trip Experience:
Janell: Typically, I'm able to go wherever I want, and I'm all over the place. I might be in Kingston one weekend, Negril, Savanna-la-Mar, Hanover, or Lucea the next, then off to Montego Bay. That totally changed. It was literally like a ghost town compared to the usual, and a curfew was being enforced. Though I did not have to download the app and check in via video, I didn't feel comfortable going anywhere other than the nearby beach, adjacent shops, the hotel pool, and back to my room. My fiance would bring food or we'd order in. The cleaning staff disinfected my room daily, the few people on site practiced social distancing, and everyone wore masks. (Negril Beach Club is actually a favorite of ours and the vicinity to Seven Mile Beach is divine.) I also noticed that most places required temperature checks and hand sanitizer use before allowing tourists to enter.
At my hotel, the vibes were super-mellow—even for Jamaica—and there were hardly any other tourists to talk to or at least be around—even at a distance. It got a tad boring and monotonous after three days because I'm used to being able to go on excursions or local adventures, however, I remembered why I was there—to spend time with my fiance. That was good enough for me. Due to quarantining, I was also able to watch the landmark general elections on TV with him and witness the honking cars and small celebrations from our balcony—a historical moment for us to share.
Image courtesy of Janell Hazelwood
Jonathan: Tulum still had some action when I first arrived, however beaches closed at 5pm and there was an 11pm curfew.
Francesca: My experience landing was a bit strange because I'm used to landing at an airport and being immediately surrounded by people. There were no large groups eagerly awaiting loved ones, and the airport was nearly empty. I was pleased to see the people who were present were wearing masks and respecting social distancing guidelines.
Travel Tips for Traveling in a Pandemic:
Do your research. Don't just rely on hearsay or online videos. While they might be helpful, look to the official authorities about what's required for travel and the recommendations based on where you want to go. Also, pay close attention to the cancellation, business hours, or booking policies of hotels, airlines, major attractions, and travel agencies.
If you're required to pre-test for authorization, be sure to get the correct test at the correct time. As of recent, test results can't be more than 10 days old and there are specific types of tests required. Ask your healthcare provider or test administrator lots of questions and make sure you're getting the correct type at a certified center or lab. Print out your results and authorization as well.
Go with an open mind and release the selfish vibes. COVID-19 is still very real, and the fears of locals are warranted, so if you're not able to freely do the things you're used to doing on vacation, make the best of it. Be grateful for the front-line workers serving you at the hotels, beaches, airports, and restaurants, and show that gratitude by tipping well and following protocols.
When in doubt, just stay home. If it's not an emergency or there's so much involved with planning that it causes you and your family unnecessary stress, wasted time, and extra money, reconsider traveling at all. Many airlines, hotels, and travel agencies are offering options for cancelling or rescheduling trips, and to be honest, this might be the time to do a domestic solo trip in your town or to focus on other goals.
Have a plan B. With restrictions returning, have another plan just in case things get canceled.
Assess your tribe. [This is] your community that you come in contact with on a daily basis. Is anyone in your tribe high-risk as it relates to COVID? Are you able to quarantine in isolation if you contract it? We all have to do what we feel is best for us while still considering the community we will return to. Get yourself tested before and after travel, for your own safety and the safety of others.
Francesca: The No. 1 thing is to comply with local health regulations and consult official websites frequently. The situation is constantly evolving, and staying on top of it is critical. And please, wear a mask and wash your hands frequently!
For more of Janell, Jonathan, and Francesca, follow them on Instagram @janellirl, @thejonrobert, and @onegrloneworld.
Featured image by Shutterstock
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The Unhealthy 'Unconscious Contracts' We Make With Our Parents (And How To Break Them)
I’m a quotes kind of girl. Unapologetically so. I think I like them so much because they’re a way of packing in a lot of wisdom and insight without giving an entire speech (or writing an entire article). And if there’s one quote that I know I use at least three times a week, it’s “Adulthood is surviving childhood.”
It’s not a good thing either because, basically, what the quote is saying is a lot of us experience so much trauma as children that many of our adult years are actually spent trying to figure out how to survive it all. In fact, I recently read a Guardian article entitled, “Survivors of childhood trauma often grow up believing they are unworthy,” which had a line in it that summarizes a lot of why I do what I do for a living: “Jane now understands that she was conditioned as a child to see toxic relationships as almost normal.” I’m here to reprogram a lot of counterproductive stuff that a lot of us don’t realize we are doing…as best as I possibly can.
And yes, believe it or not, a part of the reason why we get into then tolerate then endure the oftentimes pure suffering of unhealthy relationships with other people — personal and professional, romantic, platonic and familial — is due to something known as unconscious contracts. Boy, when I first learned about unconscious contracts and what they entail, it was like I had a new way of helping to free up so many people from their hamster wheels of dysfunction with other individuals.
Okay, but I’m getting a little ahead of myself. If you already feel drawn to or even triggered by the intro of this article alone, please set aside some time tonight or this weekend to dive into what it means to sign an unconscious contract, how it typically ends up working against you, and what you can do to change it ASAP.
What Is an Unconscious Contract?
I like giving credit where credit's due, and when it comes to the entire concept of unconscious contracts, one of my instructors taught it to me. She said she learned it from a neuroscience educator by the name of Sarah Peyton.
The gist of an "unconscious contract" is it's an agreement that you made, oftentimes in order to get through living with your toxic parent (or parents), that ended up being an unhealthy habit or approach to dealing with other people as you grow and develop into adulthood (you can watch an intro video about it here that is pretty damn enlightening if I do say so myself).
According to Sarah and her findings, a lot of our full dependence on our parents (especially our mother since she's usually the primary caregiver), as far as communication goes, happens around four months of age and, without us even noticing it, we find ourselves figuring out what needs to be done in order to get along with them — even if it's ultimately to our detriment.
An article that dives deeper into all of this is "When Relationships Fall Apart: Conscious and Unconscious Agreements in Relationship." The authors speak on the fact that a conscious contract is an agreement where both parties know the commitment that they are getting into, while an unconscious contract is usually unspoken, although what transpires is one person decides to suppress their thoughts, feelings, and needs in order to make another person happy (or it at least makes getting along with them easier to do).
Now I'll already tell you that if you read this and thought, "Isn't that just compromising?" you just revealed that you are someone who definitely needs to continue on with this piece because, no, suppression is not compromise; suppression is you denying a part of who you are in order to keep the peace — or avoid abuse — and there is nothing compromising about that. It is destructive and definitely the kind of "unconscious contract" that you need to break…immediately if you can.
Before I break down how to do that, let's go a bit deeper into all of this.
How an Unconscious Contract Affected Your Childhood Development
Last fall, Newsweek published an article entitled "Why Adult Children Are Cutting Off Their Parents More Than Ever." Now for the record, no parent is perfect, and since some people like to throw around words like "toxic" as if they are confetti, let's look into some signs that you definitely had a toxic parent as a child/teenager — and that you may still have one now:
- They didn't respect your privacy/boundaries
- They pressured you to agree with them even when you didn't
- They were harder on you than they were on other children (especially outside of the home)
- They found a way to make everything about them
- They wouldn't let you ask questions for clarity (and/or they lashed out when you did)
- They were controlling
- They didn't shield you from trauma (and they oftentimes caused it)
- They used religion to justify their toxic behavior
- They used you as a makeshift therapist/counselor (told you too much information)
- They were verbally and/or emotionally and/or physically and/or sexually abusive
- They were emotionally unpredictable
- They weren't supportive (or you felt like they were competing with you)
- They kept you walking on eggshells
- They deflected from taking accountability for their mistakes (or poor choices)
- They either used guilt or withheld love in order to get their way
If any of this resonated with you, yes, on some level, you are a survivor of a toxic parent — again, not an imperfect parent; more like someone who put you in a position where you dealt with some level of trauma on a consistent basis. And because it's a parent's job to help you to become a holistically healthy individual, when the opposite happens, it can stifle you on some level.
For instance, I grew up with parents who didn't know how to respect a boundary or take accountability if it hit them square in the face. I don't even have the time to get into how deep it all went. For now, I'll just give one example of how it played out in my adult years — recent ones. One parent was so toxic that they really should be in prison. Because they're not, they had the nerve to email me acting like they were doing me some favor by leaving me alone…like I had told them to do for almost two decades now, that they still had moments when they would disrespect the boundary. And where did they get my contact information? From the other parent. WILD. Not you out here enabling my abuser.
Boundaries are limits, and limits (when they are not used to weaponize or manipulate) are put into place to keep us safe. People who don't respect your boundaries are unsafe individuals.
When I think about how my boundaries were constantly being dishonored as I was growing up affected me all through those years. One way is I didn't know how to set healthy boundaries with other people. As a result, I had some of the most toxic female friendships known to man (no joke). Another result is I had a tendency to be controlling to certain other people too. Control is what was modeled to me (suffocatingly so), all the while being told that it was love, and so… that's what I thought it was.
I had written an "unconscious contract" with my parents that allowed them to railroad my space, my body, and my feelings. My needs were basically the "rent" that I had to pay to live in their home and have my basic material needs met. And so, I thought that's what relationships looked like — that I had to go above and beyond while overlooking what I deserved in order to keep people around, OR I had to control the narrative in some way as a way of expressing my "love" to them. And I lived just like this for many years.
How an Unconscious Contract Affects Your Relationships Now
Before the end of the year is out, I'll be finishing my third book. One of the things that it's going to touch on is just how emotionally abusive one dynamic with a certain guy was. I'll give you an example. One time, I helped him put on an event. I got him the venue for free. I made the programs. I set up the slideshow. I ran the slideshow. He didn't pay me a dime. Because the venue was about an hour away and we left unbelievably late (in separate cars), I asked him if he would stay on the phone with me because I was sleepy. He yelled at me, told me that I needed to find someone else, and hung up. And the next day, what did I do? I texted him to make sure that he was okay. AMAZING. He never apologized, even when I brought it up. Instead, he deflected and justified his behavior. Also AMAZING.
In hindsight, I know this is the fallout from unconscious contracts that I had "signed" with my parents, several of them. Something in me thought that if I just loved that man enough, eventually, he would stop mistreating me. Yet, I know him well enough to know that he has his own unconscious contracts that need to be broken, so while I was over-giving, he was over-hustling. He also was being ungrateful and narcissistic (and narcissism is also oftentimes the result of a traumatic childhood; it's a cryptic way of protecting oneself). Yeah, because I still had some "live contracts" going on, folks were able to get away with all kinds of stuff.
I'll give you another example. I have a girlfriend who keeps picking materialistic and shallow women as friends (check out "7 Signs Your Friendship...Actually Isn't One"). Her mother was exactly that way. It's wearing her out now because she feels like all she has in common with her circle is shopping and, inconsequentially, debt. Yet, until I introduced the concept of unconscious contracts to her, she didn't realize that all she really had in common with her mom — and the only time her mom ever really spent quality time with her — was when money was involved (including her mom feeling entitled to her money in present time).
Again, adulthood is surviving childhood. So, take a moment and think about the list that I provided as it relates to whether or not you had a toxic parent. Where the points apply, ponder what your adult relationships look like these days. Where are there patterns? Where are there mirror reflections of the relationship that you had with your mother and/or father and/or caregiver? Where do you see the same kind of unhealthiness…even now?
When we're children, we are innocent and a blank slate. We rely on our parents to show us how we are to see ourselves, along with how we are to live out our lives. So yeah, without some serious inner work (and oftentimes therapy), the contracts that we became a part of as children will continue in our adult world — that is, until we break them.
What Can You Do to Break an Unconscious Contact
I already know — this is some pretty heavy stuff (which is why I implied at the beginning that it's not exactly lunchtime reading). Yet you know how the saying goes, knowledge is power, and if you could relate to any of this, how freeing is it to get to some of the roots, to receive confirmation that you're not crazy (sis, you're not) and then be provided with tips on how to get up out of these, what seem like lifelong binding agreements, that are not serving you (and never really were)?
Okay, so now that you know what an unconscious contract is, how you found yourself being a part of one, and how much damage they ended up doing, what can be done to break the contract? Good question.
A PDF that I was given (via Sarah Peyton's site) is what my instructor shared with me. I have edited it a bit so that it can make a bit more sense (if this is your first time hearing about unconscious contracts):
Step 1. Determine what the contract initially was.
“I (your name), ________________ , solemnly swear to you (parent/caregiver),___________________
to (whatever the self-defeating behavior was) ________________________ in order to protect you/honor you/survive, no matter the cost to myself. “
Step 2. Was the vow heard? (In order to feel validated in this exercise, you should get someone you trust to serve as a representative to act as the parent/caregiver you are speaking to.)
“Parent or caregiver, did you hear this vow?”
“Parent or caregiver, do you like this vow?”
Step 3. Can the vow be released? If so, release it.
If yes, the representative says, “I release you from this vow and I revoke this contract.”
(If the vow cannot be released, like your parent lives with you and they are still doing the behavior, you may want to seek therapy to figure out what boundaries need to be set up, especially if your parent tends to go full gaslight or full denial whenever you bring trauma or their past mistakes up.)
Step 4. Create a blessing to break the unconscious contract.
The representative says, “And instead of this vow, I give you my blessing to...(create the blessing)”
In a perfect world, you could talk to your parent about all of this, and no representative would be needed — yet honestly if that were the case and your parent was truly self-aware, apologetic, and willing to make amends, they would probably approach you first about the harm that they caused. That's why a representative can be helpful. They are symbolic, and while you may never get this kind of release from your actual parent, the validation and affirmation that comes from the exercise may be enough for you to fast-track your way to healing and to feel stronger in saying "no," setting limits and requiring that your needs be met from your parents — and to offer up consequences when that is not the case.
This is an exercise that can reduce fear and stagnation so that you can start to get on with how to have healthier relationships with others moving forward.
The Benefits of Ending Unconscious Contracts…and Creating New Ones
A wise man once said, "My word is my bond." That said, to tell you the truth, the only way that breaking an unconscious contract is going to work is if there is integrity behind your words. You need to identify them, vocally acknowledge them, and have your representative acknowledge you/them. You need to receive the blessing, and then, what I recommend is setting up a new contract — this time between you and yourself.
For instance, if your childhood unconscious contract was all about you walking on eggshells, the new contract needs to say something along the lines of, "I will no longer put my own feelings and needs aside whenever I feel bullied or even dismissed. My voice matters, especially when it comes to what directly affects me, so I will speak up when necessary." Whew. Can you see how empowering that is?
It can't be said enough that there is plenty of data out here to support the fact that at the age we are traumatized, oftentimes we remain right there emotionally until we heal — and healing can include breaking our unconscious contracts. Only, in my opinion, it's not enough to break one…you need to then replace it with another; otherwise, you could find yourself slipping back into what's familiar…even if you know it's not what's better/best for you.
This really is something that I could go on for days about because it’s the kind of topic that is so freeing once people are able to apply it in their own world. For now, I’ll just say that contracts are binding agreements. Yet, the good thing about unconscious contracts is you can let yourself off of the hook, knowing that you, as an adult, now have the space to live as you wish. You don’t have to “go along to get along” in the midst of super crazy, super counterproductive, super toxic ways.
You can write new contracts — ones that will strengthen you, validate you, and give you the kind of life that YOU want to live. Not the one that your toxic parent(s) made you think you had to settle for.
So, what unconscious contracts are you going to break today?
What new ones are you going to put into motion?
There’s no time like the present to start fully living YOUR life.
Amen? Hallelujah. For real.
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