Party like it's 2019?

Spring break this year served as a double-edged sword for many Americans. On one hand, Russia’s unprecedented invasion of Ukraine cast a dark shadow over many vacation plans. On the other, the loosening of COVID-19 mask- and travel-restrictions gave people something to celebrate and a reason to get out of town again.

Due to the pandemic, many students haven’t enjoyed a true spring break since 2019. The novel Coronavirus shut most of the United States down just before many schools’ spring breaks were set to begin in 2020, squashing travel plans and sending college students back to their hometowns unaware of just how serious the virus was. Going on spring break this year provided a sense of normalcy and relief for many college students, who have spent the majority of their university years under COVID restrictions.

This year’s break saw many college students traveling to international destinations like Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and across the pond to London and Paris. Other students decided to stay domestic by traveling to different beach-side cities in Florida. No matter the spring break destination, many students were thrilled just to be able to travel again.

“It felt really nice to travel with my friends again for spring break this year,” Julia Mervis, a senior at the University of Southern California, explained. “USC didn’t have a spring break last year because they didn’t want students traveling unnecessarily, so this year’s break felt like a breath of fresh air.”

Not only were students happy to go on spring break with their friends, many also believed it served as a positive for their emotional well-being.

“I think that remote learning and COVID in general really took a toll on many students’ mental health since we were so isolated,” a junior at Northwestern University said. “Just having that break in school to travel somewhere different or warm is the boost of serotonin many college students like myself need at this time of the year.”

However, the increasingly tense crisis in Ukraine put a damper on many vacations. While some students chose not to discuss the awful situation to keep conversations light, others couldn’t help but think about the people of Ukraine and the repercussions Russia’s invasion will continue to have on the world.

“Me and my friends individually kept up with the news of happenings in Ukraine while we were on break, but no one really talked about it out loud,” a junior at Harvard University said. “I think it’s one of those things where you want to be aware of what’s happening in the world and not look tone deaf, but you also want to enjoy spring break with your friends because you only get so many in your lifetime.”

Students who chose to travel to Europe had less of a privilege to tune out news about the war. Many ventured to European hot spots to visit friends who were traveling abroad or finally return to the Continent after not being able to because of the pandemic.

Jess Riley, a senior at Boston University, told Insider Higher Ed that while she was thrilled to be back in Europe after two and a half years, she couldn’t help but think about the situation in Ukraine.

“I can’t even describe how amazing it feels to be back [in Europe],” Riley said. “Although the people of Ukraine are really on my mind, given that I’m much closer physically to where the war is happening, I feel incredibly lucky and grateful to be here.”

While the war in Ukraine continues, American spring breaks have come to an end. And as summer travel nears on the horizon, the same questions remain: will COVID’s omnipresence continue to dwindle? And will Ukraine always be a topic of conversation while on holiday? Only time will tell.