Comment: I'm excited to travel again, but planning a trip feels much harder than before

Getting reacquainted with travel felt a little like meeting a stranger at a bar: You start off apprehensive, not knowing how it’ll turn out, and then something clicks and you enjoy the rest of the night.

Lean Jinghui | April 28, 2022, 11:11 PM

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From Apr. 1, Singapore reopened its borders to all fully vaccinated travellers, scrapping the vaccinated travel lanes (VTL) and unilateral opening arrangements.

As of Apr. 26, travel restrictions for all fully vaccinated travellers entering Singapore were further eased, with Covid-19 tests no longer required to enter the country.

Just like that, clearing our annual leave by spending a week in our favourite pre-Covid destinations, such as Bangkok and Bali, is no longer a pipe dream, but a venture that can be arranged, albeit with some administrative hassle.

With a flurry of wefies in Changi Airport and aeroplane Instagram stories, the apparent favourite pastime of many Singaporeans is finally back.

Via Changi Airport Instagram

Putting off travel till now

Leisure travel has been possible for a while now; a slow burn since September 2021, when Singapore launched its first VTL arrangement with Brunei and Germany.

As a naturally anxious Singaporean, however, I was one of those who chose to put off my personal travel plans during the Covid-19 pandemic.

There were several reasons for doing so, beginning with the extra procedures and pricy PCR tests needed, to stressing over having to keep an eye on changing border regulations and public health measures.

But now that the pandemic appears to have largely stabilised, with many countries scaling back on Covid-19 measures, an interest in travel has returned.

According to the Business Times, flight bookings for the upcoming long weekend in early May jumped to 178 per cent of pre-Covid levels, and reached 336 per cent of pre-pandemic levels on Apr. 30, following the easing of travel restrictions.

No more having to stick a swab up my nose for S$120 per pax? Hell yea.

Why does planning for a trip feel harder than before?

Oddly enough, I’ve been experiencing some form of inertia going about my travel plans.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still very excited as I plan for an upcoming leisure trip, and can’t wait to officially escape from life for a good 10 days.

Nothing quite like the thrill of take-off. Via Changi Airport Instagram

However, planning for a trip from scratch hasn’t exactly been a walk in the park.

Different countries, different requirements

For one, I’ve found that the ease with which one makes travel plans now hinges on the country one intends to travel to. Different countries have different Covid-19 requirements and rules, some more lax than others.

For example, the Philippines – where I'm headed to – requires that international travellers present a negative result from a PCR test taken within 48 hours before departure, as well as proof of vaccination and travel insurance for Covid-19 treatment with a minimum coverage of USD$35,000.

In contrast, travellers to the U.S. are required to produce only a negative Covid-19 test taken within 24 hours before departure.

This calls for more preparatory work and reading up beforehand, even when choosing one's travel destination.

Some countries also appear to lack clear instructions on the latest Covid-19 regulations, while some larger countries have different restrictions in each state.

One colleague detailed how she had to email her hotel in Thailand directly, after finding it difficult to get the information she needed from "a wall of text" on the official website.

She elaborated about her trouble planning the trip:

“It is a bit of a mess. I re-read this email from the hotel three times, and kept getting confused about what they meant.

I heard that the Thailand Pass, which you need to enter the country, is also difficult to get, so I damn kan cheong and applied weeks ahead. I got the pass in a few hours.”

What if I get Covid-19?

There's also the possibility of contracting Covid-19 whilst overseas.

While most of us are fully vaccinated, which grants us some peace of mind against "severe disease and hospitalisation", there are other practical considerations.

The same colleague headed to Thailand shared her worries about not being able to come home on schedule if she tests positive for Covid-19.

“Let’s just say I’m bringing my personal laptop there, in case I need to work remotely,” she added.

Meanwhile, I’m wary about the uncertainty of accommodations should I get Covid-19. What if my Airbnb host isn’t okay with me staying if I get infected (completely understandable by the way), and will I have to stay at a quarantine facility if I test positive?

There's also the fact that I'll have to rearrange my itinerary if I go on a multi-city trip; an inconvenience that a friend attested to, having had to cancel and rebook multiple accommodations after testing positive for Covid-19 overseas.

As someone who worries about the unknown, putting in some extra time for research feels necessary, even if it is inconvenient.

It's different from pre-Covid days, when I would have been a lot more willing to throw caution to the wind and book an impromptu trip. Doing so now seems risky, with not-as-fun consequences if things go wrong.

Making the effort to read the fine print of my travel insurance policy and booking accommodation with more flexibility to cancel has also never felt so important.

F***, maybe I’ve just forgotten how to travel

Maybe I’ve just forgotten how to travel, after two long years of not doing so.

Not gonna lie, it took a while for me to remember there are options like Skyscanner and Kayak to search for the cheapest flights. After all, while leisure travel has resumed since last year, it was only feasible via select VTL flights back to Singapore.

Getting reacquainted with travel planning actually felt a little like meeting a stranger at a bar: You start off apprehensive, not knowing how it’ll turn out, and then something clicks and you enjoy the rest of the night.

In fact, a friend shared that she stayed up into the wee hours of the morning while planning for a trip to Bintan, after getting caught up in the excitement for travel again. For her, this exhilaration only came after she had gone on a Google search spree of things to do in Bintan, and stumbled upon a trove of idyllic beachfront photos.

Anyone else miss Bintan? Via Unsplash

As another colleague pointed out, perhaps our relative lack of exposure to "travel content" for two years has contributed to a general apathy toward leisure travel, as it’s hard to feel inspired when there’s no social media-driven Fear of Missing Out (FOMO).

In the absence of travel enthusiasts and acquaintances' Instagram highlight reels in foreign destinations, there’s also been a dearth of updated how-to guides and articles like “Five places to visit in (location)” to fall back on.

While pre-Covid, we might have easily sought someone who had travelled recently to our destination of choice for up-to-date tips and advice, that pool has now shrunk as well.

The antidote to cumbersome travel planning

So what options are there, for those who intend to travel overseas soon?

The easiest way might be to explore the trend of bleisure – where business and leisure travel is merged.

A friend shared how she intends to extend her stay in the US post business trip, to further explore and sightsee other cities across multiple states. Given that part of the trip is planned for by the company, this somewhat reduces the amount of travel planning needed, even if this option might only be available to a select few who can travel for work.

Alternatively, one can “phone a friend” – that is, opt to visit a friend who is already living in the country or city you intend to visit.

That acquaintance or friend will likely have all the information you need about current Covid-19 requirements and regulations, and depending on how close you guys are, might even be able to resolve the tricky problem of accommodations while you’re there.

Or, you can do what I did: Choose a destination based on an activity I had in mind, and the "resources" I had on hand who I knew could recommend me places to go.

As I've been wanting to pick up diving, I spoke to an acquaintance who was a divemaster, who then pointed me to a couple of beginner-friendly spots in the Philippines.

After that, all I had to do was work out the new steps required — i.e. pre-departure testing protocol and local Covid-19 regulations.

Travel isn't everything

Seeing how some of us might have picked up new ventures to escape from the mundane during the pandemic, perhaps the simplest antidote to travel planning inertia is to also appreciate that there are now other equally meaningful ways to satisfy our sense of adventure, apart from travel.

As someone who used to go abroad about three to four times a year pre-pandemic, I've found that newfound hobbies like rock climbing, and meeting up with friends and family have kept me plenty occupied, and made me reevaluate the need to travel as frequently as I did pre-Covid-19.

I don't know about you, but personally, perhaps it's actually sufficient to plan for one to two long trips in the year, to satisfy the wanderlust and disconnect for a little while.

While I'm still looking forward to my upcoming trip to Philippines' beaches, I am realising that it does not have to be the highlight of my year.

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Top images via Changi Airport Instagram and Unsplash.