Solo Travel in the Midst of "Mask Consent"
Updated: Jul 10
January 20 marked a special date for my existence, and no, I am not talking about Inauguration day. Nothing wrong with Inauguration day, kudos to President Joe Biden and Kamala Harris for making history as the first woman of color to become vice president of the land of opportunities.
The day before the inauguration, I received a call from the University Medical Center appointment's office to schedule my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. I received my second dose by February 11th, bringing hope for my social life for the months to come.
Once the two-week mark since receiving the second dose -- following experts' recommendations --- I felt the wind of change. In my case, that was Google Flights.
I worked throughout last year with news organizations based on the East Coast. It made sense to me to look for flights that will take me somewhere on the East Coast. Ideally, I wanted to travel -- like any other aspiring journalist whose dreams are larger than their imagination --- to New York City. However, after a cautious evaluation, I told myself, do I really want to make my come back to solo traveling to a place where I have been before? The short answer was no.
Then, a flight deal came through my computer screen, a one-stop roundtrip flight to Washington D.C. for less than $200 (taxes not included). How come? The easy way to find these deals is by opening an incognito window, going to google.com/flights, go to "Explore," and set up your dates as "flexible."
It's not Brujeria. It is a matter of having a budget --- to have money to book a ticket if you see a good deal -- and, for the most part, having the flexibility to travel, preferably during the week. I have found google displays better deals if you set your trip for four to six days.
According to my mom, I should obey the following guidelines:
Keep wearing face masks in public transportation.
Do not hug strangers; this has been a rule we established since I was a toddler.
And do not kiss strangers, even if they look like Chris Evans.
For the most part, one can argue the CDC will endorse my mom's rules.
Upon my arrival at my Airbnb, I could see locals not wearing masks as they walked down the streets. I was a little skeptical about the CDC unveiled the new guidelines. No masks are required if you have been fully vaccinated; it seems very fitting as it seems as though social settings could go back to "normal."
Some folks were the exception to the rule; my Airbnb host was one of them. She visited the building several times as she welcomed and gave a tour to the visitors. At all times, she kept her mask on and maintained her distance.
Yet, seeing people walking around without a mask seemed like it was not ok, or they were breaking the law. After a year of wearing a mask, it feels strange to see people's faces finally.
I spent most of the time in public transportation, where is still required to wear masks. Everyone seemed to adhere to the regulations.
I once ran into a situation in Adam's Morgan neighborhood, a multicultural neighborhood in Washington D.C., in which, for the most part, you will find a combination of book stores, restaurants, and bars.
I was making my way back to my Airbnb and decided to make the last stop in Lost City bookstore, where ACLU canvassers were spreading their message on voter suppression right across the street. I stayed right by the entrance next to the postcards section when I heard someone yelling at one of the canvassers, "I am not going to wear a mask." " Are you going to make me wear a mask? They made put on the vaccine, and now I still need to wear a mask?" The canvasser didn't feel comfortable speaking to people less than six feet apart without a mask and offered the woman to wear her mask as he was trying to spread his message. She ended up agreeing to wear the mask he offered, then kept, as I could tell, an amicable canvassing conversation.
That interaction kept rolling in my head as the days went by in my visit to D.C. On the same day, I visited a small bar within walking distance from my Airbnb with two friends. The sign read something along the lines, "If you are fully vaccinated, masks are optional. If you are not, you are required to wear them inside."
The bar is located in Bloomingdale, a neighborhood characterized by its 1895 Victorian architectural details, and was featured in the opening title sequence of the Netflix show “House of Cards.”
Surprisingly some people kept their masks inside the establishment. I arrived first and grabbed a table; upon my friends' arrival, they took their masks off and said, "is it ok? I am fully vaccinated." Those have been the most common phrase I've listened to these last weeks "...I am fully vaccinated."
We then made our way to my friend's house for a "get together," where obviously no one wore face masks. I didn't know anyone from the party; it was the first party outside El Paso since the pandemic started, where I interact with people outside of my circle. It felt strange as it was the first time that has happened in over a year.
Traveling by yourself is always a huge responsibility but increases if you add up a pandemic. The way your decision-making process change. It is no longer "unsafe" or "necessary" to wear a mask, yet the thought of asking people their preference in terms of social distancing and mask-wearing prevails.