Visiting Mount Fuji, diving in Bali: Where we want to go once the pandemic is over and what we miss most about travelling

PHOTO: Melissa Teo, Lynette Phua

It's been around a year and a half since any of us have stepped foot on a plane for recreational purposes and boy is our wanderlust strong.

Unfortunately, with failed travel bubbles and new waves of cases in countries that previously had the virus situation under control, it doesn't look like we can retrieve our dusty passports anytime soon.

However, it doesn't hurt to reminisce while we wait for this madness to be over.

Disrupted plans

Like many, I had eagerly mapped out my travel plans for 2020 and was already in the midst of making all the necessary arrangements when Singapore announced its first Covid-19 case. My partner and I had been looking forward to two trips to celebrate his graduation, but the pandemic had other plans for us.

Instead, we spent the next few weeks frantically trying to cancel our flights and Airbnb bookings, fearing that we wouldn't get any refunds. We were already prepared to lose around $2,500 in total but thankfully, most of the platforms eventually refunded us.

We were considered very fortunate. A number of my friends who had splurged on their exchange trips were unable to get the bulk of their money back. Some even found themselves stranded overseas for days as they had difficulties booking flights back to Singapore.

What my colleagues say:

"My friends and I were casually talking about going overseas in November 2020 as one of them was going to be getting married. So basically, it was going to be one last trip to have fun before settling down. Fortunately, we hadn't made any concrete plans or any bookings because Covid-19 hit. My friend's wedding was actually also postponed because of the pandemic, so I guess it's not too late for that trip once the situation improves." - Kimberly Lim

Jannah and her friends in England. PHOTO: Jake Low 

"My graduation trip plans were affected. Thankfully, I hadn't booked anything yet, but because I was in England, I would've wanted to trail from Paris to Prague. I would've gone alone if nobody wanted to come with me. Again, thankfully I hadn't booked or planned in detail else I would've been even more gutted." - Jannah Zainol

Lynette diving amongst fishes after she got her diving license. PHOTO: Lynette Phua

"I was supposed to go to Okinawa with my girlfriends after I had finished my studies in TCM (traditional Chinese medicine). I was also planning on going to Bali alone and I even took an advanced diving license in 2019 so I could go diving with the manta rays in 2020!" - Lynette Phua

Reminiscing about our most memorable trips

I'll admit — for a few months, I avoided looking at past travel pictures and videos because I didn't want to be reminded of the trips that never happened. However, I now look back at these fondly and my boyfriend and I would occasionally go through them together when we are feeling sentimental.

While we've had multiple memorable trips, the one that makes me the most emotional is our very first trip to Japan. It was our most expensive trip and I blew a few thousand dollars on it, but no regrets — every cent was worth it.

We had spent a few days near Mount Fuji and the first time I saw her, I actually cried because seeing her in real life felt like a dream come true.

I find it hard not to love Japan — the people here are unbelievably polite, the scenery is gorgeous and the food is mind-blowingly good. Oh, and how can I forget their heated toilet bowls? Life changing.

What my colleagues say:

Kimberly, her dad and their camper. PHOTO: Kimberly Lim 

"I did a two-week road trip in New Zealand's South Islands. Easily the best experience of my life. I went with my parents and we were on a budget so we rented a camper van and stayed at campgrounds. It was so scenic and so nice to be surrounded by the bluest lakes and prettiest mountains everywhere we went." - Kimberly

Amierul in Venice, Italy during his exchange trip. PHOTO: Amierul Rashid 

"My most memorable trip is my summer exchange programme to Stuttgart, Germany. In general, I miss trying out food from the region and comparing it to what I've had in Singapore. As an example, I'd want to know how a Neapolitan pizza I've had in Singapore ranks against one from Naples, Italy. " - Amierul Rashid

Polaroids from some of Nabila's adventures. PHOTO: Nabila Ghani 

"I went to Vietnam. it was almost a week of a completely chill routine that consisted of mostly seafood barbecue and pho! When it comes to travelling, I miss enjoying good food the most." - Nabila Ghani

Thiam Peng grabbing a bite at Los Angeles Union Station. PHOTO: Tan Thiam Peng 

"Almost every travel memory is memorable now." - Tan Thiam Peng

Still waiting for the day we can scratch things off our bucket list

While I have no idea where my passport is anymore (oops), I still wistfully add destinations to my bucket list in hopes of putting these saved up plans into action when the borders reopen.

My boyfriend and I in Tokyo Disneyland. Four more Disneylands to go! PHOTO: Melissa Teo 

After that first trip to Japan, I became obsessed with the country and have made it my life goal to visit all 47 prefectures before I die. I also hope to visit all six Disneyland parks around the world because unfortunately, Singapore doesn't have one.

What my colleagues say:

Kar Peng in Universal Studios Japan. PHOTO: Kwok Kar Peng 

"I hope I get opportunities to explore more of Japan, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I also want to visit Pompeii, the pyramids in Egypt and Xi'an." - Kwok Kar Peng

"One place on my bucket list is Okinawa, where I hope I can find the secrets to health and longevity. I also want to go to Bali to dive with manta rays, Machu Picchu to hike and Mongolia to take the Trans-Mongolian Railway!" - Lynette

"Malaysia is the first place I'll visit once the pandemic situation improves. It's been about two years since I've seen my family there, I think. And I miss them so much. My cousin had a baby about a year ago and I haven't even gotten to meet him yet! I'm keeping up with them on social media but I am feeling a lot of FOMO (fear of missing out)." - Kimberly

The silver linings

Despite most of us feeling bummed out about our current predicament, I have to admit — there are some benefits to not travelling for a year.

Once I got a taste of earning my own money in 2018, I got a little overly excited and splurged on multiple trips. I felt the need to explore the world as much as possible while I was young because I was worried that once I got older, I wouldn't be able to enjoy the experiences as much.

And then, I burned out.

I didn't think that burnout from travelling existed since it was meant to be a recreational activity but yes, it's real. Towards the end of my last trip to Bangkok, I felt too tired to properly enjoy it and ironically, this one year "break" has helped me recover from it.

Secretly, I was also happy that I had one less thing to feel FOMO about. Prior to the travel ban, I would compare myself to my peers and feel envious when they visited a part of the world that I couldn't. In hindsight, it was rather toxic and the break has helped me to reflect on that.

What my colleagues say:

"The main perk for me is the appreciation of the little things in your home country that you'd take for granted otherwise, like the city skyline or the peaceful canal by your neighbourhood park connector. Those things at your doorstep that can actually bring you just as much of an escape or breath of fresh air." - Jannah

"Besides a lower carbon footprint, I've also managed to save up. I used to spend at least $2,000 to $3,000 travelling each year." - Kimberly

"All my extra money went towards investing (like, who am I even?!)" - Lynette

What will be the 'new normal' for travelling in the future?

Experts have warned that Covid-19 might become endemic and is here to stay. While this isn't the most appealing news, it's something that we have no choice but to deal with.

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Therefore, I anticipate future overseas trips to be a bit more cumbersome as compared to pre-Covid-19 days. It would most likely involve us having to complete more complicated travel declaration forms and getting vaccinated more frequently. While some countries may not make masks compulsory, it would probably be something I would instinctively do just to be safe.

What my colleagues say:

"I think there'll be sanitisation stations. Everywhere. Like a metal detector machine where you have to walk-through but instead of getting scanned for metal, you get sprayed by sanitisers." - Jannah

"The new normal will probably consist of regular Covid-19 booster shots, wearing face masks on the plane and overseas and not being able to travel for at least one more year. I'm personally also not keen to travel to Europe, USA, and perhaps Australia because of fears of anti-Asian hate." - Kar Peng

"I think at some point travel will reopen. This will be in the form of controlled routes that are safe for both countries. However, unlike the current situation, I think quarantine will be removed. The faith will be in herd immunity and infection management." - Thiam Peng

"There'll be face masks everywhere, more jumpy travellers and no more thronging at immigration centres." - Olga Bessarab

melissateo@asiaone.com