For Erin Tridle and her boyfriend, it was love at first sight. They met while the American was traveling to France in the summer of 2019. They said “I love you” on the second day. “People tell us it’s like something out of a movie,” she said.
When Tridle returned home to Los Angeles, they began a long-distance relationship, spending time together when they could. Then the pandemic struck, pulling them apart indefinitely as countries blocked travel.
“The uncertainty of not knowing when we would be together again has been one of the most difficult things I have ever experienced,” said Tridle.
Travel restrictions that have turned lives upside down will be eased on Monday, when new rules take effect allowing air travel from previously restricted countries as long as the traveler has proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test. Land travel will require proof of vaccination but not testing.
Eirini Linardaki was already in Paris on Friday, traveling from his home in Crete to his seven-year-old partner in New York on a series of four flights. The visual artist said travel restrictions were particularly difficult for people in non-traditional relationships. But at 45, it’s not that easy for her to just move to America.
“I have kids and a career, and so have I,” she said. “I love it, so I have to fit it into the structure of my life.”
Relatives have missed vacations, birthdays and funerals while non-essential air travel has been excluded from a long list of countries that includes most of Europe, Brazil and South Africa. The closures of border crossings with Mexico and Canada have devastated border towns where round trips, sometimes daily, are a way of life.
Before the border closed, Gina Granter, a teacher at the college of Montreal, and her partner in New York saw each other at least twice a month. Now, between closures, quarantine rules and other restrictions, they have only managed to see each other three times since the start of the pandemic.
When his partner was finally able to travel to see them after missing their daughter’s second birthday, the little girl didn’t remember him, Granter said.
“I have a brother named Steven, and she called his dad ‘the other Steven’ or sometimes ‘grandfather,’” Granter said. “She had no memory of being with him in New York.”
With the reopening, Granter, 42, is looking forward to regular weekend visits again and is planning a long trip to New York around Christmas.
“There were angsty nights, and it was so hard,” she said.
For many, one of the most frustrating things about travel restrictions has been their seemingly arbitrary nature, said Edward Alden, senior researcher at the Council on Foreign Relations. The list of restricted countries does not necessarily correspond to the places with the worst outbreaks of COVID-19. And Alden sees no logic in restricting land travel but not air travel in North America.
“There was a lot of public anger,” he said. “A lot of people were willing to accept the restrictions, but not the lack of justification and logic, especially for couples and families separated for long periods of time.”
There were ways around the restrictions, but they were often difficult and expensive. For example, the ban on air travel did not restrict the citizens of these countries, but rather travel from those countries.
For Bárbara Feitoza from Brazil, that meant staying two weeks in Colombia, where she didn’t know anyone and didn’t speak the language, so that she could travel to the United States to be with her boyfriend in March. It was her first international trip, and she said it was terrifying to fly during the height of the pandemic.
The 28-year-old civil engineer from outside Rio de Janeiro was at work when she learned the United States was preparing to drop its travel restrictions. Feitoza said she was “euphoric,” jumping from her seat under the puzzled gaze of her colleagues.
Some people separated from loved ones have found support in an online group called Love Is Not Tourism. Among them was Linardaki, who said she was impressed with the variety of people’s circumstances.
“It’s not just people in their twenties,” she says. There were people who had known each other for a very short time, people who had known each other for years, people who were 65 or 70 years old. People all over the world were united by this difficulty.
As for Tridle and her boyfriend, they hope to get married in a few years and live in the same country. But for now, the 30-year-old is just anxiously waiting for him to visit him on Christmas.
“I am super excited that he is coming back to the United States so that we can have a good time together here,” she said.