Spring breakers weigh travel amid social media shaming

SPRING, Texas (KTRK) -- Stuck in her home with her 15, 13 and 10 year old daughters, Brenda Ugarte feels like she's going a little crazy. So she is planning a beach trip for spring break.

Even though, she admits, she was one of countless social media users who criticized others for traveling.

"Before I had COVID, I was the same person," Ugarte said. "Are they crazy for going? Just stay put. But I changed my perspective. I would go with traveling."

She says she changed her tune after never leaving her home. Her family still caught COVID-19.

Experts believe travel will pick up in the spring after more than 10 million people were screened at TSA checkpoints nationwide during the two-week holiday travel period between Christmas and New Year's Day. That's more than six times the number of people AAA predicted would travel by air.

Houston travel agency owner Trevor Williams said travel shaming on social media has been a big part of the pandemic.

"People have felt like traveling is not doing your part and minimizing the spread of COVID," Williams said.

Despite the vaccine, health experts warn that people should still avoid non-essential travel. The Houston Airport System estimates over 3.5 million people passed through Houston airports over the holidays.

"We can find so many reasons to shame about everything," Williams said. "What it really boils down to is what my clients say 'I can't stop my life'."

As for Ugarte and her children, a change of heart doesn't mean she's not vulnerable to the same shaming practices. It doesn't worry her though.

"I am still safe," Ugarte said. "I am still keeping myself and my family safe."

SEE ALSO: 'Mom's worth it': US holiday travel surges despite COVID-19 outbreak

"A lot of times we see more negative posts come up because of the sense of being anonymous," said Julie Hill, an assistant professor of psychology at La Salle University.

She says negative comments can be harmful when directed at someone.

"It was more or less like, 'Why are you doing this, why are you doing that,'" said Steve Dampman, a photographer who said he got a lot of social media backlash for a trip he took this year, but he feels he traveled safely.

SEE ALSO: Holiday travel breaks record for COVID-19 pandemic; testing sites prep for surge

Experts say it's best to talk to people about the pandemic directly and not on social media.

"For the people in your life, talking to them offline is going to be much easier," said Hill.

She explained that it's easy to misinterpret what someone is trying to say over social media. She recommends actually talking to someone instead.

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