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Vacation Psychology and Coronavirus

by Begüm GÜVEN & Şebnem YAREN

It goes without saying that the current state we are living in is an unusual time for all of us. Although we all hoped that this pandemic would be over by now, it is still going strong and infecting more people as we speak, even six months after its outbreak. If there is one thing we can be sure of in these uncertain times, it is that this summer was and still is different to any other we have experienced before. From going to the beach with a mask to festivals getting cancelled, taking a vacation during one of the deadliest pandemics in history comes with its physical and mental challenges.

Despite health experts’ countless warnings about crowded spaces and social distancing, unfortunately plenty of people are still switching cities to take a dip in the water or lay in the sun, without realizing how much of a risk they are putting themselves and others at. However, these people are not 5-year-olds who do not know how to make a risk analysis in their head, they are grown people who can weigh out the positive and negative consequences of their actions, but still decide to make the judgement call to take a vacation. This decision process and what leads to it, is the topic that should be discussed, which is what this article is going to be about.

Vacation effect is known among scholars as something which indicates that tourists’ overall happiness and physical well being increase during the very needed holidays. We usually live in cycles and when the sun starts to hit us more than gloomy winter days, we are accustomed to take a break from our everyday lives. Given our busy schedules, we think we deserve a break too. It has been proven that taking a vacation increases our productivity when we return and also reduces our stress. Particular to the pandemic state the world is in, there is also the fact that we have been in our houses for too long, and understandably, we crave a difference. It may be that we not only want to change our surroundings, but also our behaviours too. During vacations, people tend to allow themselves to do things which they normally avoid doing and thus act more care-free. With the precaution requirements the coronavirus brings, we may also be longing for the holiday memories which we remember as more fun and relaxed. This is also related to humankind’s psychological tendency to gravitate towards instant gratification, rather than thinking about long term. So even though it is our health that is on the table, we psychologically cannot conceptualize the risks easily, but can realize that we are feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Thus, we choose the riskier option, or most people do. (1)

Yet, we should flip the coin and dig a little deeper into our memories. Do we remember the week after our vacations, and perhaps the boredom and sadness it brought to us? In psychology, this is called the fade-out effect which is the vanishing of all positive outcomes of our vacation. The downfall happens quickly too, and within two weeks, we no longer feel as happy as we were on vacation. We turn back to our normal state, and sometimes even feel a bit more bored than usual. If the positive effects of a vacation dry out this quickly, is it worth going on one during a deadly pandemic? Considering the outcomes these holidays may bring forth such as deadly health problems to us or our loved ones, it may not be worth it this summer. Most people try to rationalize their behavior by promising that they will be careful and keep on their masks, or apply social distancing. However, the places they visit might not be appropriate for them even though they take all the precautions, since they are not the only one that go on a vacation. It is common knowledge that holiday destinations are crowded most of the time, and unfortunately, due to some psychological reasons explained previously, even a fatal pandemic does not change that. This fact has led to some serious actions taken by the government such as the shutdowns of beach clubs in İzmir, Turkey and its nearby districts. Despite these regulations, most people ran to the beaches anyway, and the number of cases increased respectively. When people got used to the vacation lifestyle, and started to act careless towards the rules, we found ourselves back in square one. With all these tragic developments, we need to remind ourselves that although the virus is not hot news anymore, we should keep in mind that our actions matter just as much, or maybe more.

After having discussed how difficult of a mental trade-off people face when making these risky decisions and what these decisions result in, the next step is to discuss thoroughly what should be done if you still choose to take a vacation. The great outdoors should be your preferred choice of vacation. Various studies show that if you are going to be around people, being outdoors is much safer than being indoors. A Japanese study even shows that you are 20 times more likely to catch the virus indoors. (2) As a result, you might want to consider going camping, but keep in mind that crowded camping areas still pose a great threat because of the public facilities that everyone uses (public bathrooms, showers, etc.) If you decide to travel out of the city, do not forget to check the COVID-19 density at where you are traveling to, from your country’s local healthcare apps (e.g. Turkey’s “Hayat Eve Sığar” application) and do not travel to or from places where there are large amounts of cases being reported, as well as your own city if yours also classifies as a danger zone. You might catch the virus yourself, or your loved ones might, which would result in a butterfly effect in terms of infectiousness where more people would get sick as you travel.

In conclusion, it is understandable that everyone faces mental and psychological challenges due to quarantine, but no matter how many precautions you take, if a place is crowded, it may not be a good idea to be there for your and the world’s safety. So please, try to be creative and look for another option, there are many other ways to take a mental health break without putting yourself or others at risk. Stay safe and healthy, not only for yourself but for your loved ones too, so that all of us can experience a normal summer in 2021.

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