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Corona-era holiday travel divides Finland into "good" and "bad guys"

One crisis psychologist says a tough spring and uncertainty about the future may be driving criticism of overseas travel.

Kuva on Hanna Temmesin lomakuva.
Hanna Temmes was one of few passengers on a flight to Vienna, Austria at the end of July. Image: Hanna Temmes

A decision by some people to holiday abroad following the easing of travel restrictions has sharply divided people into two camps: those who did right by staying in Finland, and "selfish" people who chose to holiday overseas, according to respondents to an informal Yle poll.

However one crisis psychologist says the ordeal caused by the coronavirus-driven state of emergency and an uncertain future overshadowed by an invisible threat may be responsible for the social discord over travelling abroad.

A recent unofficial online poll by Yle found that roughly one-fifth of about 100 respondents decided not to travel this summer or had cancelled planned trips.

Survey respondent and Helsinki resident Hanna Temmes said that it seemed to her that many of her childhood friends had been preparing for a "civil war". On one side of the front are those who vacationed in Finland, while those who went abroad are on the other side.

"We are seen as the bad guys, while those who visited crowded local destinations are the good guys and are almost national heroes."

One respondent who cancelled a trip to Dubai said that she would have wanted others to show similar restraint, adding that people who chose to travel abroad this summer were "negligent". The woman said that she "sensed a second wave" of coronavirus was on the way and didn’t want to risk falling ill or unwittingly spreading the disease because she had no symptoms. She especially questioned long trips overseas.

Other respondents said that they were "proud" that they had chosen to remain at home in Finland and added that it was one way of "doing their part" to stem the spread of the epidemic.

Off to Estonia, Greece and Germany

According to the Yle straw poll, Estonia was the most popular destination for people who opted to travel abroad this summer. Tourism was the most common reason given for travelling, while family was also frequently mentioned, with many saying that they travelled to see their grandchildren, for example.

Temmes was one of the survey participants who said she packed her bags as soon as travel restrictions were lifted. Like many other respondents, she said that she had spent some time staking out a suitable destination. Her travels took her to Austria and Italy.

A real estate professional who had been telecommuting during the epidemic, Temmes said that after family and health, travel is a top priority.

"I pace my life with travel and I always travel when I can. I will not have the thing that I enjoy most taken away from me. Who has the right to say whether or not someone else’s trip is unnecessary?"

Story continues after photo

Kuva on Hanna Temmesin lomakuva.
Helsinki resident Hanna Temmes said that she visited near-deserted destinations while others who stayed in Finland went to crowded domestic locations. This photo was taken in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. Image: Hanna Temmes

Several people responding to the survey, including Temmes, said that they had chosen their travel destinations on the basis of the epidemic situation and that they had paid special attention to hygiene during their trips. Very few had travelled to places that would have required them to quarantine upon returning to Finland.

Like Temmes, many said they felt even safer abroad than in Finland. Temmes added that it felt silly to go out to a nearby store without a mask--Finland had not yet issued a mask recommendation when she returned home.

She said that during her trip, she received messages that she found had a disapproving tone. Many shared coronavirus guidelines and asked why she had "deliberately gone looking for corona". Others praised local destinations on social media and said that "you’ll be able to travel abroad again, don’t worry".

"It felt absurd to stand in the almost deserted plaza at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna and read stories about the jam-packed Koli (National Park) and kilometre-long queues for petrol at Tuuri,” she said, referring to Finland’s biggest department store complex in Alavus, southern Ostrobothnia.

"A lynch mob mentality"

Yle’s informal survey revealed stark divisions over overseas travel during the summer. Many people who opted not to travel described others who did go abroad as selfish, "me-first" people. Others even went so far as to say that "overseas travel should be banned".

People who chose to remain in Finland this summer said that it seemed "pointless in an uncertain situation".

Half of the people who did venture abroad said they had not received any negative feedback, while others spoke of a "lynch mob mentality" and kept talk of their travels to a very close circle.

One woman who travelled to Latvia, Lithuania and later to Greece said she remained tight-lipped about her whereabouts after she heard that she was selfish for "dragging her carcass abroad to be grilled".

She related comments according to which people hoped that she would have to "pay out of her own pocket for possible coronavirus [health] care".

Bad guys leave, good guys stay

Crisis psychologist Eija Palosaari said that the denunciation of people who travelled abroad this summer is being driven by a rough time during the early peak of the epidemic last spring. She noted that people were called upon to sacrifice a great deal.

Palosaari said that the prospect of a second wave of the outbreak may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, paving the way for people to vent their negative feelings on people who travel abroad, for example.

"When you have persevered and gritted your teeth for a long time, it may feel that your tenacity has been wasted when others take risks. This can happen if people don’t know about the precautions that travellers may have taken," she noted.

The psychologist said that a protracted crisis like the coronavirus epidemic can sap people’s energy, especially since any possible return to normalcy is shrouded in uncertainty. The odourless, silent and invisible threat is lurking in the shadows.

Crisis highlights inequality

Yle asked Palosaari why some people would risk overseas travel under the current circumstances.

"The fact that people do not recognise danger as coming from themselves, but from the outside. They think they are invincible," she commented.

Palosaari noted that the coronavirus crisis has also highlighted inequality among people in Finland. Some have lost their jobs, while others have been able to work remotely, even from their seaside summer cottages.

"Overseas travel could also annoy [people] if they are financially insecure and if they have problems with their day-to-day livelihood," she pointed out.

Survey respondents also commented on the money issue. Many said that they went abroad because they "could get more for their euro there".

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