For Erin Tiddle and her boyfriend, it was love at first sight. They met while the American was traveling in France in the summer of 2019. He said the other day, “I love you,”. “People tell us it’s like something out of a movie,” she said.
When Tiddle returned home to Los Angeles, they began a long-distance relationship when they could spend time together. Then the pandemic tore them apart indefinitely, as countries shut down travel.
“The uncertainty of not knowing when we’ll be together again was one of the hardest things I’ve gone through,” Tiddle said.
Travel restrictions that have hit life will be relaxed on Monday, when new rules allow air travel from countries previously banned as long as the traveler has proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 testing. Proof of vaccination will be required for land travel but no test.
Erini Linardaki was already in Paris on Friday, making her way from her home in Crete to her partner of seven years in New York City on a series of four flights. The visual artist said the travel restrictions were particularly tough on people in non-traditional relationships. But at the age of 45, it is not so easy for him to just move to America.
“I have kids and a career, and I have too,” she said. “I love her, so I have to fit it into the structure of my life.”
Loved ones have missed holidays, birthdays and funerals, while non-essential air travel was barred from a long list of countries that include most of Europe, Brazil and South Africa. The closures at land crossings with Mexico and Canada have devastated border towns where traveling back and forth, sometimes daily, is a way of life.
Before the border closed, Montreal junior college teacher Gina Granter and her partner in New York City saw each other at least twice a month. Now, amid the shutdown, quarantine rules and other restrictions, they have only managed to see each other three times since the start of the pandemic.
When her partner was able to travel to see them after missing her daughter’s second birthday, the little girl didn’t miss her, Granter said.
“I have a brother named Steven, and he was calling his father ‘the other Steven,’ or sometimes ‘Grandpa,'” Granter said. “She had no memories of being with him in New York.”
With the reopening, Granter, 42, is looking forward to regular weekend trips again, and she plans a longer trip to New York around Christmastime.
“There were painful nights, and it was very hard,” she said.
For many, one of the most frustrating things about travel restrictions has been their arbitrary nature, said Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. The list of banned countries does not necessarily match those with the worst COVID-19 outbreaks. And Alden sees no logic in restricting land travel in North America but not air travel.
He said, ‘There was a lot of anger among the people. “Many people were willing to accept the restrictions, but not the lack of logic and reason, especially for couples and families living apart for long periods of time.”
There were ways around the restrictions, but they were often difficult and expensive. For example, the air travel ban did not restrict citizens of those countries, but travel from those countries.
For Brazil’s Barbara Fitoza, this meant a two-week stay in Colombia, where she didn’t know anyone and didn’t speak the language, so she could move to the US in March to be with her boyfriend. It was his first international trip, and he said flying at the height of the pandemic was terrifying.
The 28-year-old civil engineer from outside Rio de Janeiro was at work when she learned that the US was preparing to lift its travel restrictions. Feitoza said she was “spirited”, looking at the bewildered colleagues and jumped out of her seat.
Some of those separated from loved ones found support in an online group called Love Is Not Tourism. Among them was Lynardaki, who said she was impressed by the diversity of people’s circumstances.
“It’s not just people in their 20s,” she 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 all over the world were united by this difficulty.”
As for Triddle and her boyfriend, they hope to marry and live in the same country in a few years. But for now, the 30-year-old is just waiting to see if she can go to Christmas.
“I’m so excited for him to come back to America so we can spend some good, quality time together here,” she said.