For Erin Tridle and her boyfriend, it was love at first sight. They met while the American was traveling in France in the summer of 2019. They said, “I love you,” the second day. “People tell us it’s like something out of a movie,” he said.
When Tridle returned home to Los Angeles, they began a long-distance relationship, spending time together when they could. The pandemic then struck, separating them indefinitely as countries blocked travel.
“The uncertainty of not knowing when we would be together again was one of the hardest things I’ve been through,” Tridle said.
Life-changing travel restrictions will be relaxed on Monday, when new rules come into force that allow air travel from previously restricted countries, as long as the traveler has a vaccination test and a negative Covid-19 test. Land travel will require a vaccination test, but no testing.
Eirini Linardaki was already in Paris on Friday, making her way from her home in Crete to her partner for seven years in New York City on a four-flight series. The visual artist said travel restrictions were especially harsh for people with non-traditional relationships. But at 45, it’s not that easy for her to move to America.
“I have kids and a career, and I have it too,” he said. “I love him, so I have to adapt him to the structure of my life.”
Loved ones have missed holidays, birthdays and funerals, while non-essential air travel was banned from a long list of countries that includes most of Europe, Brazil and South Africa. Closures to land crossings with Mexico and Canada have devastated border cities where round-trip travel, sometimes daily, is a way of life.
Before the border closed, Montreal University professor Gina Granter and her partner in New York City saw each other at least twice a month. Now, between closures, quarantine rules and other restrictions, they have only been seen three times since the start of the pandemic.
When her partner was finally able to travel to see them after losing her daughter’s second birthday, the little one didn’t remember, Granter said.
“I have a brother named Steven, and she would call her father‘ another Steven ’or sometimes‘ grandfather, ’” Granter said. “I had no memories of having been with him in New York.”
With the reopening, Granter, 42, is looking forward to returning to regular weekend visits and plans a long trip to New York around Christmas.
“There were nights of anguish and it was very hard,” he said.
For many, one of the most frustrating things about travel restrictions has been their seemingly arbitrary nature, said Edward Alden, a senior member of the Foreign Affairs Council. The list of restricted countries does not necessarily match the sites with the worst outbreaks of COVID-19. And Alden sees no logic in restricting ground 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 restrictions, but not the lack of reason and logic, especially for couples and families separated for long periods.”
There were ways to avoid restrictions, but they were often difficult and costly. For example, the ban on air travel did not restrict the citizens of these countries, but traveled from these countries.
For the Brazilian Bárbara Feitoza, this meant staying two weeks in Colombia, where she knew no one and did not speak the language, to be able to travel to the US to be with her boyfriend in March. It was his first international trip and he said it was scary to fly in the middle of a pandemic.
The 28-year-old civil engineer from outside Rio de Janeiro was working when he learned the United States was preparing to remove travel restrictions. Feitoza said she was “euphoric,” jumping out of her seat as colleagues looked at them puzzled.
Some of the separated loved ones found support in an online group called Love Is Not Tourism. Among them was Linardaki, who said she was impressed by the variety of people’s circumstances.
“There aren’t just people in their 20s,” he said. “There were people who have known each other for a very short time, people who have known each other for years, people who are 65 or 70 years old. People from all over the world were united by this difficulty.”
As for Tridle and her boyfriend, they hope to get married in a couple of years and live in the same country. But for now, the 30-year-old just wants to be able to visit him for Christmas.
“I’m very excited for him to return to the United States so we can have a good quality time together here,” he said.