For a while, it seemed like the Trump presidency would exist somewhere out beyond the scope of what, as the editor of this site, I focus on in my daily life, which is the subject and act of travel. But as these first three weeks since his inauguration have ticked by, posing as months or even years in their propensity to linger, they’ve made clear that Trump is bound to alter our comings and goings in the world. This is true not only for the thousands of immigrants and refugees who have been expecting to gain entry into the United States, but also for those of us who were born here in America, into the indescribable good luck and disposable income of the upper middle class, and who tend to mean it when we repeat the cliché that the world is our oyster.
In that first paragraph, I talked about two very different things, although both of them are called travel. That we use the same word for what Syrian refugees currently do and for what the college-educated, two-income couple heading to a $400-a-night room in a sunny place with moderate humidity does feels ridiculous. It is ridiculous. For the former, travel is a survival tactic, it is fleeing, it is literal escape. For the latter, it is entertainment, it is conspicuous consumption, it is “escapism.” I think us travel-lovers in the States thought that our kind of travel would not be touched. We thought it would only be that we couldn’t stay in Trump Hotels anymore (if we ever did in the first place). Now, I think we were wrong. Now, I think we may have to rethink our approach to our paid vacation days.
I’ve already heard the first rumblings of worry by middle class Americans that they may soon be made to feel unwelcome in other countries. Mexico comes up the most, because we Americans travel there so frequently and because of Trump’s particularly tactless dealings with that country, which he seems not to understand is comprised overwhelmingly of people with intelligence and dignity. But, after word of Trump’s disastrous phone call with the Australian president leaked, it’s no longer a stretch to imagine relations even with that most friendly of allies becoming strained.
In some places, the unwelcoming stance toward America may become official policy. Iran—which recently enjoyed status as an emerging destination for US tourists—has retaliated against Trump’s ban on its citizens by stating that it will no longer grant visas to Americans. This all still has to play out, of course. For now, the travel ban to America is lifted as we all wait for Trump’s next move. But to be on the safe side you’d want to cross Iran off your bucket list for the next couple of years.
At the very least, in this new environment we may become collectively less adventurous, choosing to travel to places where we better understand the parameters than to places that feel obscure. If we do travel to Mexico, for example, we make stick to Cancun and Tulum rather than heading to any place where Mexicans actually live. In other words, we’ll travel in ways that run counter to a greater understanding among cultures. And that’s just us citizens. If you are a green card or H1-B visa holder, you’d be crazy to plan an foreign vacation at all in the current climate of uncertainty.
The issue cuts both ways. Interest in tourism to the United States seems to be falling off a cliff, as well. The flight search app Hopper reported that searches for flights to the U.S. from abroad decreased 17 percent the week after the travel ban was announced. Skift has reported that both business travelers and travel agents are expecting a significant decline in travel to the U.S. in coming months. For some, there’s a political statement to be made in declining to visit—I’ve read several Facebook and blog posts calling for a U.S. travel boycott. For others, there’s a very real worry that a vacation to the U.S. will turn into a border detention instead.
All of this is happening before we have much clarity on what Trump and his administration may be able to realistically accomplish. That said, it’s become clear that Trump is approaching policy without any attempt to understand the broader implications of it. He seems convinced that the U.S. dollar is too strong, for example, hurting our competitiveness in manufacturing with China. His tunnel-vision conclusion fails to factor in that a strong dollar helps keep inflation low, and enables Americans to afford a lot of cheap stuff from overseas, including China. It also helps us afford foreign travel. Global economics is extremely complicated, and I don’t pretend to have a broad grasp of it, but I do know that respecting its complexity should be step one for a president, and that for this one, it’s not.
Again, the Trump presidency is only three weeks old. We don’t know precisely where it’s headed. But we’re beginning to get a glimpse of a potential new reality in which global travel is stymied on multiple fronts, including but certainly not limited to the plights of non-Americans who most need to catch the break of getting through U.S. customs.