What Are ‘Secret Trips’ And Why Are They Even A Thing? An Investigation

We’re a few weeks shy of the one year anniversary of the world shutting down. New normals include freezing next to a heater while trying to enjoy dinner in the street of Soho, wearing a mask in public (working those sexy eyes), and redefining Netflix and chill with quarantine and social distancing. Jokes aside, we’ve seen loss, struggle, and a whole lotta hope as we do our part to flatten the curve. Trust me, I’d kill right now to be playing games of flip cup with strangers at a dive bar in the Lower East Side, or be so disgustingly close in a crowd at a concert screaming for an encore. But until then, emotions are running high, and it’s a really heavy vibe right nowespecially on social media. What once was a highlight reel where you’d post trips, milestones, and celebrations has now become a place for shaming and judgment. It’s reached the point where people are actually afraid to post what they’re doing during the pandemicso much so that they are opting to live their life off of social media. Hence, the rise of secret trips.

I’ve seen the term “secret trips” used among millennials since COVID-19 hit. It’s a pretty self-explanatory term, but let’s define it anyway: taking a trip of any kind during the pandemic that isn’t shared with friends, family, or posted on social media to avoid judgment for traveling during a pandemic. Travel site Well Traveled Club found that more than 90% of their members were planning a multi-night trip in the height of the pandemic and were not planning to share it online because of fear of being shamed for traveling. 

CDC guidelines state, “Travel can increase your chance of spreading and getting COVID-19. Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.” With that being said, I can see why some people want to keep their travel adventures a secret.

This is the start of our investigation: What are “Secret Trips” and why are they even a thing? Lucky for you, I’m an unofficial social media FBI agent (did I say unofficial?), so I did some digging and interviewed Secret Trip-goers, then spoke to a licensed psychologist and a physician. Here’s what they had to say.

The LA To New York Wanderlust

Nick and his wife Danielle are Los Angeles residents, where, as of December 2020, there were too many bodies for mortuaries and hospitals to handle. The couple have been traveling since the summer. They started small, beginning back in May, when they would escape their quarantine routine and drive two hours to Santa Barbara for the weekend. At the time, Los Angeles was starting to open hiking trails and takeout for restaurants, though the county was not promoting traveling long distances away from home, instead urging residents in a public order, “With this virus, we are safer at home.” 

Nick tells me, “Santa Barbara was truly an escapeit was almost like COVID didn’t exist there and was super relaxed with restrictions.” After spending the entire summer on these drives, the couple decided to fly cross-country to New York City for a few weeks. One hot spot to another, right? Nick and Danielle were living their best Bonnie and Clyde lives, and the fact that what they were doing was not recommended and frowned upon only made it more enticing. 

“Taking the risk and bending the rules is exhilarating sometimes. We were doing this for selfish reasons, and we know that. But on the other side of things, when times are grim, people need a break. Being as safe as possible, but trying to find the little joys where possible,” he tells me. Regarding the decision to keep it on the DL, he explains, “People didn’t need to know what we were up to, this was just for us.”  While sparks were flying for their secret escapades, the couple did take tests before and after traveling (they flew Delta with middle seats blocked), and neither have contracted the virus.  

The CDC notes that while “viruses other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes”, getting on a flight involves spending time inside the airport, in security lines and at the terminal, where social distancing may be difficult, and which can put travelers at risk of exposure to the virus from respiratory droplets and frequently touched surfaces.

And with vaccine rollouts taking place all over the country, people are only feeling more comfortable getting TF out. In the eyes of physicians like Meagan Vermeulen, MD, FAAFP, though, “Dr. Fauci put this into perspective very well during a CNN Town Hall on COVID yesterday [01/27/2021] when he stated, ‘getting vaccinated is not a free reign to travel.’” Dr. Vermeulen is the founding program director of the Inspira Family Medicine Residency Program at Mullica Hill and assistant professor of Family Medicine at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine. 

Dr. Vermeulen believes that Dr. Fauci’s insights are true for a few reasons. “One, it takes about 10-14 days after your second dose to achieve full effectiveness, which is 95-95% reduction in the likelihood that you will become ill from COVID-19. Two, and this is the part that’s tricky, we don’t know how likely someone who is vaccinated is to pass the virus to people who aren’t fully vaccinated or vaccinated at all. There are studies going on right now to compare how much the virus ‘hangs out’ in the noses of people who have been vaccinated versus those who have not been vaccinated; this will help scientists figure out how well the vaccine works,” she explains.

While a trip to Tulum with your group of friends shouldn’t be on the table, a small getaway with your pod (people you live with or have close, exclusive contact with) is your best bet if you’re going to do it. If you have to get away, Dr. Vermeulen says, “Plan a different kind of travel. Rent an Airbnb with an excellent safety/cleaning rating. Spend the budget you would on that trip on an upscale hotel that you would normally go to for one or two nights as a mini-get away. It’s not the big getaway you want, but it’s still luxe and safe.”

The Vermont Cabin In The Woods

Caitlin is a Brooklynite who has been alone in her studio apartment for most of quarantine. With three friends, the group drove six hours north to Stowe, Vermont for a New Year’s skiing adventure for eight nights. 

Unlike most states, Vermont has very strict mandatesincluding being required to show a negative COVID test result whenever asked. “Before arriving in Vermont, we needed to sign a waiver with our Airbnb host stating we agreed to follow state mandates about traveling, which included either a 14-day quarantine before travel or a 7-day quarantine, followed by a negative PCR test in your home state,” Caitlin explains.

With every meal home cooked, packed lunches for the slopes, and precautions more than followed, Caitlin, a regularly active Instagram connoisseur, chose not to share her snowy adventure with her followers. 

I feel like there are too many judgmental eyes out there. In these people’s eyes, there is no right way to live your life during the pandemic unless it fits their mold,” she tells me. “The biggest reason I took this trip was because I needed a mental health break. I needed to get away from work, my tiny apartment, and the stresses of the holidays away from my family. The last thing I wanted was a naysayer sliding into my DMs and lecturing me about how ‘frivolous’ my mental health break was to them.”

I won’t lecture you, but the next time you go on judging someone IRL or on social media, think about context. It’s important, because you know what happens when you assume. Do you know all aspects of someone’s story before jumping to conclusions? And more importantly, maybe take a look in the mirror. Unless you’re sitting pretty at home, which you have literally not left once in the last 11 months, then continue riding on your high horse. 

The Miami Escape

Jake flew down to Miami a couple times during 2020 from New York City to spend time with his brother, making sure to do the proper pre- and post- quarantining and wearing masks at all times. “We avoided crowded places, which was hard, to be honest. Most businesses were mildly busy,” he says. 

Choosing to not share on social media because of potential backlash, Jake surprisingly found a new perspective on his trip. “Not sharing my experience on social media has also made me enjoy the moment and be more present,” he tells me. “I used my phone way less and just truthfully enjoyed my time with my brother. We actually had meaningful conversations throughout our stay and connected on a level we haven’t experienced in a very long time.”

Whether on social media or IRL, he’s not going to let naysayers dictate how he should be living his life. Jake states, “People are sick of being kept from living a ‘normal’ life, so when they see others breaking the ‘mold,’ they’ll retaliate with hate. It’s human nature. We’re all free and entitled to live life however we see fit.” 

The Psychologist Has Thoughts

Dr. Joanna Petrides, a licensed clinical psychologist and assistant professor at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine who specializes in anxiety and human behavior, tells me, “Using shame to control the behaviors of others is nothing new. When people experience fear or uncertainty, they seek out control and one way to do so is assumed to be shaming someone into changing their mind. Shame has never been an effective behavior change approach.” 

“As we can see from our travelers, if individuals feel what they are doing is right for them, they will find a way to still do it but circumvent the pressure of shame from others. So it’s best to spare the shame and practice active listening to understand where the other person is coming from,” she adds. 

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all for quarantining in the pandemic. Someone who lives alone in a small studio apartment is having a vastly different experience than someone who is home with their family of five. And honestly, before you judge, just take an assessment of your past behavior for the past 11 months. You may have dined at a restaurant, met up with friends not in your household, or celebrated the holidays with your family. You probably assured yourself you were being safe, right?

“We tend to use a different ‘yardstick’ when we are assessing our choices versus someone else’s choices. When we make a decision for ourselves we are privy to all the thought and planning that went into the decision,” Dr. Petrides explains. “However, when we look at someone else we don’t have access to their inner thoughts and only use the surface information that is available to us. This leaves a lot of room for speculation and judgment without understanding or compassion. It’s best to hold judgment until you know the full story”. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re posting on social media or not, just please be smart. Don’t go running to a club or jetting off to a festival in Tulum as soon as you get your vaccine. Keep wearing your mask, use hand sanitizer, keep your social interactions limited, and lastlyjust be nice! This last year has been a sink or swim situation for many, (and yes, I’m getting sappy on your asses) but a smile or calling an old friend is more valuable than you know these days.

Images: Ranta Images/Shutterstock

James Barrett
James Barrett
James is a Travel & Lifestyle Journalist who loves to tell it how it is. He’s interviewed many from Chance the Rapper at the White House to Bill Nye the Science Guy about his fascination for bumble bees. Stories he tells can be heavy and light, like when he writes about Alzheimer’s (which is what initially got him into journalism). A Syracuse University alum and New Jersey native, you can follow him at @jimmyrox.