As the coronavirus spreads, people around the world are being told by health and government officials to stay at home to curb the problem.
But not everyone is following that advice. You may see the evidence on social media, watching friends, acquaintances or loved ones posting real-time photos from airplanes or hotels. Or maybe you know someone who’s about to go on a trip, despite the blatant warnings.
We spoke with travel, health and relationship experts about the best way to persuade people to stay home.
Why it’s dangerous to travelThe person traveling or about to travel may not understand the gravity of the pandemic. While there have been hundreds of thousands of confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, they may believe it’s not a problem in their community or the place they plan to visit.
Special pathogens expert Syra Madad, who was recently featured in Netflix docuseries “Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak,” has advice about how to suggest otherwise.
“Everybody should operate under the pretense that there is coronavirus disease in their community, even in areas that may not be reporting widespread transmission,” she says. “You don’t know who’s sick and who’s not.”
Madad says that those more at risk in the pandemic – the elderly and people with compromised immune systems – should not be traveling at all, and everyone else should stay home unless a trip is absolutely essential.
“You’re at risk of spreading the disease,” she says. “At this point, everybody should avoid all nonessential travel.”
Remind the potential traveler that many states are currently under stay-at-home orders; that the White House has said residents should avoid discretionary travel; and that the State Department has asked that everyone avoid all international travel until further notice.
What is nonessential travel?Experts are warning people to avoid nonessential travel. Perhaps people considering it are unclear about what the term means.
There’s no strict definition because the concept is subjective. What’s essential is different from person to person. Work or family responsibilities may feel essential to people even during a pandemic.
“It depends on the context,” Madad says. “But at the same time, we want to also make sure that people realize it is their own personal responsibility.”
Is your friend or loved one’s travel plan essential? Ask them. If their trip is not necessary, remind the person that it doesn’t matter what destination they’re considering; any travel is a bad idea.
“We’re getting to a point where any kind of unnecessary movement from your household should be avoided,” says Adrian Hyzler, chief medical officer for Healix International, a company that specializes in security, international medical and travel-assistance services. “Everyone needs to do everything they can to stop (coronavirus) transmission.”
Explain the additional risks of travelIf the potential of contracting or spreading coronavirus isn’t enough of a deterrent for the person planning on traveling, there are other potential issues that may persuade them to stay at home.
“No one should be taking vacations for a number of reasons,” says Hyzler. “One is that the lockdown is becoming the norm now in many countries around the world and states in the U.S. You may find yourself trapped in places.”
While it may be possible to travel somewhere now, a traveler can become stuck on the way back as many countries shut their borders and airlines continue to cancel flights. If they are able to make it home, they will likely be quarantined two weeks afterward.
How to execute the conversationIt’s not easy to change someone’s mind, during a global pandemic or otherwise.
“You really can’t control another person,” says Paulette Sherman, a psychologist and relationship expert.
Instead, what you can strive for with constructive conversation is to understand what the other person is feeling, explain how you’re feeling and find a middle ground.
Sherman recommends explaining your point of view to the potential traveler by using “I statements” such as “this is what I feel, this is what I need, or this is what I hear.”
“What we don’t want to do is the ‘yous’ because you’ll start getting very upset, especially if you believe this is a life and death issue,” Sherman says.
Sherman also recommends avoiding the destructive communication patterns called the Four Horsemen of XYZ: criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.
Afraid of confrontation? While Sherman normally coaches clients to be more comfortable with confrontation over time, talking to a loved one or acquaintance about canceling travel plans is urgent.
“At this point, it’s a life matter,” Sherman says.
Finally, Sherman says it’s important to remind the potential traveler that the pandemic will end eventually and there will be future opportunities for travel.
“This hopefully won’t be forever,” Sherman says. “Try to see the bigger picture and save the relationship, if possible.”