Travelling in a Post COVID-19 world

Growing up, I was never fascinated with traveling. When I started working, I was surrounded by people who do it regularly. I can’t say that the travel bug has bitten me, but I make it a point to use up my vacation leaves which gives me time to do two week international travel twice a year — one of which is automatically reserved for Thailand.

I used to take midday flights going back home to the Philippines because there is no traffic. But I actually prefer night time flights and always at the window seat. Missing out on these great views when I fly at night, but I find so much solace and comfort when I do it.

Traveling for me has never been a matter of ticking off countries on a bucket list or getting different visas and stamps on my passport. Rather, it’s a way for me to visit somewhere I feel I want to go to, and if I liked it enough, go there again and just enjoy myself. I usually have a reason to visit some place, such as an exhibit, or a particular place with history, and if there a really cheap too good to be true airline sale that I can snag.

For this year, my trips are supposed to be Thailand for my birthday (July) and Singapore. I was planning to go to Singapore in March to catch the iLight exhibit and to attend a short course in SMU. A few weeks into my trip I was still not booking my flight because COVID-19 was starting to spread, and Singapore was one of the first countries to grow in cases.

Fast forward today, I haven’t been out of the house since March. Travel plans for the rest of the year are thrown out of the window.

I don’t know when it is safe to travel again. We still have half of the year to go to defeat COVID-19, but time has also flown, and more places are starting to open up. There’s been data about second waves happening for countries that opened but every country also manages it differently.

I read an article saying that travel is not expected to be normalized until 2023, particularly leisurely international travel. I honestly don’t see myself being okay to travel as early as next year unless a vaccine comes out or there are more aggressive ways of discovering you have it and suppressing it or controlling it.

On my flight to Vietnam, from Thailand through Nok Air.

Airlines have started operating again, and I’m receiving emails from different airlines I follow. A lot entails what travelers can expect when they go to the airport, and also some policy changes. One airline now only allows one hand carry bag. Previously, you can have a handbag and your hand carry. Some airlines limited the weight of handcarry lugggage. There are also reminders to have masks all the time and reminding people to bring their own sanitizer or alcohol.

Taken at the DMK Airport in Thailand.

I’m no expert on what’s the right way to travel post COVID-19, but personally this will be my behavior for the next few years:

1. Limiting travels to select countries, specifically countries that managed a good job of flattening the curve or be aggressive in testing and suppressing the virus. That doesn’t really leave me with a lot of options, but Vietnam and Taiwan are first to come in my head. I think that they are the best countries that did a really good job in handling this pandemic and I feel more confident being there and going around. If they will allow me to come in is another question, but this assumes that all countries are now opening their borders to the Philippines.

2. Bringing medicine and masks. I actually kind of do this already. I don’t bring masks, but I buy or bring basic medicine such as paracetamol, anti-histamine, antacids, and anti-nausea. I’m a little bit of a paranoid traveller even though I don’t get any nausea from flying, I still bring to be sure. Masks are an Asian phenomenon, even before COVID we would already wear masks if we are coughing or have the cold, allergies or not. I’m personally not a fan, because breathing is harder and I wear glasses, but it’s also a way to be polite especially when you’re coughing every second.

3. Paying extra for better seats. Along with my luck in customer service, I also get luck with airlines. In my whole experience flying, I have experienced paying for the cheapest seats and end up getting bumped to premium economy, booking a business class seat and having no seatmate, or having space beside me. I always pay extra to get seats nearer to the entrance just so I can leave the airplane right away. Now, I’m gonna be paying extra for better seats that gives a better sense of social distancing. I honestly don’t know if airlines will be changing their layout or keeping some seats empty, but I would think that once we settle to this new normal, we might go back to our old ways. At the end of the day, I’m paying for assurance and comfort, and convenience fee is my favorite bill to pay.

4. Get better travel insurance. A part of my job is talking to an insurance supplier for our vehicles, and I learned that not all travel insurance companies covered COVID-19. I’m not surprised as this was the same with medical insurance, luckily mine covers it, but this means I really need to read the fine print when purchasing. I usually just get whatever the airline recommends as travel insurance or sometimes I get Blue Cross because it can be a little it cheaper. I read the fine print, but I usually just look at what I can get for scenarios that are likely to happen such as missing a flight, or getting my luggage lost.

5. Enjoy! I feel like planning trips will be more stressful moving forward. I enjoy making itineraries and drafting budget plans. With this pandemic, there’s now this added layer of thinking about the possibility of getting sick and what I need to do. The only sickness I usually think about when I go somewhere is food poisoning or getting injured while maybe on a long walk or a hike. I never really think that I will get a fever, and even if I did, it was a sickness that I can sleep the whole day through. Since I usually take a two week leave, wasting time being sick in my AirBnB is not an issue. If anything, I just like the thought of being somewhere else. Still reachable by people I know, but also easy to tune them out. I always sleep and feel better when vacationing overseas.

Just like anyone else, I want this pandemic to be over. This is probably the first time I ever felt this kind of uncertainty. I used to only think about my life as like a long term thing, but now I think about what’s it going to be like when I can finally go out. When can I go out. I also think about what happens if someone I know gets it and hits them badly, or if a really close neighbor has it. This is the first time that places have to really actually close. Typhoons have come, but you can always just take a day off if you can afford to. The show always goes on.

Strange times indeed. It’s been a blur for the past few months. So much has happened and when I think about stuff that happened when I was outside, it feels like such a long time ago.

Taken while I was queueing at the check-in counter for my flight back to the Philippines. Taiwan was such a beautiful country. It was a beautiful visit.

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