Commentary: Now is not the time. But I can’t wait to go on my next overseas trip
This travel writer is sitting tight in Singapore and waiting patiently for the day it is safe to travel again, says Karen Tee.
SINGAPORE: One weekend, at some point during Singapore’s almost two-month long circuit breaker, I took a “trip” to Bali.
Not to worry, I did not actually get on a flight at Changi Airport and touch down in Denpasar.
Instead, on a particularly sunny afternoon, I unfurled beach towels in my living room, slathered on coconut scented sunscreen and sipped homemade iced cocktails while lounging to tropical house DJ Kygo on Spotify.
Obviously, it was not quite the same as being at my favourite Balinese beach club but it did help to reduce the sting of having to forego a long awaited holiday scuppered by COVID-19 border closures.
Like many who live in Singapore, I am accustomed to our country’s seamless connectivity to the region and beyond. It was barely a few months ago when international travel was a breeze.
Of course, the coronavirus pandemic has changed all of this. Until a COVID-19 vaccine is successfully developed and administered on a large scale, it is clear that travel the way we were used to will not be returning for the time being.
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WE NEED GLOBAL CONNECTIONS TO REMAIN OPEN
Still, if there is one truth about the human condition, it is that curiosity about the world we live in has always inspired the adventurous to seek out the unknown.
From the first humans out of Africa to those who traversed the then-dangerous Silk Roads and maritime voyagers like Admiral Cheng Ho and Christopher Columbus, our interconnected planet has been shaped by these expeditions.
Currently, we may not be able to easily visit another country, but that has not deterred NASA astronauts from hurtling into outer space on a SpaceX rocket.
So even if at this point the virus-related anxiety of stepping out of one’s home just to go to the supermarket might feel crippling to some, it is not a stretch to believe that there will come a day when mankind will not be able to resist that exploratory urge once more.
As it is, many countries are starting to take tentative steps to reopen their borders. In Singapore, officials are in talks to resume essential travel among countries with low COVID-19 transmission rates.
For an idea of what these “green lanes” might encompass, check out the requirements for the Singapore-China arrangement. Safety measures include a swab test, a one- to two-day self-isolation while waiting for test results and sponsorship by a company or government agency.
The discomfort, inconvenience and additional cost of having to jump through multiple hoops in the interest of public health will probably deter all but those who absolutely need to, to book an air ticket.
In tiny Singapore, we are strongly reliant on global networks and friendly international relations, so it is reassuring that authorities are implementing measures to encourage the continued brokering of these ties safely.
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READ: Commentary: Singapore’s aviation and tourism recovery will be very slow after COVID-19 but long-term outlook remains bright
On a broader scale, tensions between the United States and China are threatening global economic stability, international trade is being disrupted because of fears of viral contagion and many people cannot even cross borders - sometimes within their own countries - to visit loved ones.
More than ever, we need these brave, tenacious people conducting essential business to continue keeping the most necessary regional and international connections open on behalf of the rest of us, until the day comes when we can participate in travel again.
HOLIDAY-MAKING WILL TAKE A TEMPORARY BACKSEAT
With the economy looking set to enter into a coronavirus-induced recession and worries about job losses and lower wages taking precedence, it is not likely that many are excitedly blocking holiday breaks in their calendars.
But for those who might be clamouring to book an air ticket for a vacation, it is unequivocally clear that now is not the time. Even though Singapore Airlines and SilkAir will be reinstating flights to more destinations in June and July, it remains uncertain if these flights will be open to non-essential and leisure travellers.
Plus, wanderlusting holidaymakers should know that Singapore has not yet lifted its travel advisory to defer all travel abroad. Those who disregard this will have to pay out-of-pocket for quarantine in isolation facilities and COVID-19 medical treatment, should they need it.
To play my part in curbing the spread of the virus, I’ve willingly curtailed my nomadic instincts over the past months and will do so for as long as it takes. This has been tough, both financially and emotionally.
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As a freelance travel writer, not only do I live for the inspiration of visiting a new destination and meeting people from all walks of life, a significant portion of my income also depends on my ability to travel.
There have been times during the circuit breaker when I do little more than stare at the world map on my wall morosely, glumly thinking about all the places I’ve yet to check off my bucket list and the fun yet hopefully insightful stories I could have written.
No doubt about it, I intend to be among the first in the (digital) queue to book my air ticket on Singapore Airlines - but only when it is deemed safe to do so.
FINDING WAYS TO TRAVEL IN SINGAPORE
On the other hand, staying home has given me the much needed headspace to relive once-forgotten memories of past travels.
I remember that unexpected night out in Tbilisi, Georgia, when my introverted self uncharacteristically began singing Abba’s Mamma Mia together with a group of wine-buzzed strangers in a restaurant. Apparently, I can be outgoing too.
Or, when I stop to gaze at the little sliver of the orange-pink sunset from my window, I am mentally transported to the breathtaking beauty of the endless sunset on an African savannah, where it is both comforting and humbling to feel that small and insignificant. (Now that’s a reality check.)
I now realise that my expedition to the Amazon rainforest in Peru, where I learnt about painstaking conservation efforts there, has driven home the importance of preserving what’s left of our own natural flora and fauna before they are all gone forever.
It may not be necessary to travel to gain these realisations but often, these personal experiences spark profound realisations that make an indelible imprint on one’s life.
Most of all, travel has taught me to recognise the privileges I am lucky to be born with.
Getting out of the sheltered, comfortable bubble of Singapore has offered me the chance to observe and listen to others with greater empathy. This in turn is something I strive to apply at home too, through my actions and as much as possible, the work I do.
This is why I am doing the best I can to continue expanding my horizons in this hopefully temporary situation, within the comfort of my four walls.
I will keep going on virtual trips via livefeeds or augmented reality experiences, stream interesting international shows and documentaries and read inspiring tales.
If I must, I will even turn my living room into a beach club once more.
All this so that when I finally get to dust off my neglected passport, I will still feel closely connected to the pulse of the world.
Karen Tee is a freelance writer.