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,” on day two. “People tell us it's like something from 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 hit, separating them indefinitely as countries locked down travel.
“The uncertainty of not knowing when we would be together again was one of the hardest things I've even been through,” Tridle said.
Travel restrictions that have upended lives will relax Monday, when new rules go into 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 no test.
Eirini 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 especially hard on people in nontraditional relationships. But at 45, it’s not so easy for her to just move to America.
“I have kids and a career, and I also have him,” she said. “I love him, so I have to make it fit into the structure of my life.”
Loved ones have missed holidays, birthdays and funerals while nonessential air travel was barred from a long list of countries that includes most of Europe, Brazil and South Africa. Closures at the land crossings with Mexico and Canada have devastated the border towns where traveling back and forth, sometimes daily, is a way of life.
Before the border closure, Montreal junior college teacher Gina Granter and her partner in New York City saw each other at least twice a month. Now, between the closures, quarantine rules and other restrictions, they’ve managed to see each other only three times since the beginning of the pandemic.
When her partner finally was 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 was calling her dad ‘other Steven’ or occasionally ‘Granddad,’” Granter said. “She had no memories of being with him in New York.”
With the reopening, Granter, 42, is looking forward to regular weekend visits again, and she plans a long trip to New York around Christmastime.
“There were anguished nights, and it was so hard,” she said.
For many, one of the most frustrating things about the travel restrictions has been their seemingly arbitrary nature, said Edward Alden, a senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations. The list of restricted countries doesn’t necessarily match the places with the worst COVID-19 outbreaks. 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. “Many people were willing to accept restrictions, but not the lack of rationale and logic, particularly for couples and families separated for long periods.”
There were ways around the restrictions, but they were often difficult and expensive. For instance, the air travel ban didn’t restrict citizens of those countries, but rather travel from those countries.
For Bárbara Feitoza of Brazil, that meant staying for two weeks in Colombia, where she knew no one and didn’t speak the language, so she could travel to the U.S. to be with her boyfriend in March. It was her first international trip, and she said it was terrifying to fly at the height of the pandemic.
The 28-year-old civil engineer from outside of Rio de Janeiro was at work when she learned the U.S. was preparing to drop its travel restrictions. Feitoza said she was “euphoric,” jumping from her seat as bewildered colleagues looked on.
Some of those separated from 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.
“It's not only people in their 20s," she said. "There were people who've known each other for very little time, people who've 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 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 is just looking forward to him being able to visit at Christmas.
“I'm super excited for him to come to the U.S. again so we can spend some good, quality time together here,” she said.
AP journalists David Biller and Diane Jeantet contributed from Rio de Janeiro.
Travis Loller, The Associated Press