By Angy Tan
“This is it,” I thought when I got my second vaccine shot. “I’ve held up my end of the bargain—it’s time for you to give me back my right to travel.” Back at the tail end of 2019, after I heard about the new virus in Wuhan, I’m pretty sure I made a few jokes about how we’re going to live in an IRL version of Plague Inc., a mobile strategy game that revolves around killing the world with an evolved pathogen.
It’s funny how life imitates art sometimes. When the first cases were announced, there was no reason to believe that the virus would become the ninth deadliest virus of all time. There were a few outbreaks here and there, mandated mask-wearing, social distancing—nothing we can’t handle.
Cue mass border lockdowns and restricted travel. Okay, sure, no biggie. After all, the needs of the many outweigh the desires of the few, right? I don’t want anyone getting sick because I didn’t follow the rules. And I don’t want my loved ones to be exposed to the virus because of the actions of a few irresponsible travellers either.
And then, 2020 became a bonafide nightmare with limited toilet paper, plenty of (unwanted) alone time, and again, no travelling.
A Dim Light Appears At The End Of The Tunnel
When countries eventually started to roll out their vaccine programs, I struck an agreement with God. The deal was: we get vaccinated, people stop dying, and the world goes back to normal as if COVID never happened. We can finally travel again!
Cue dystopian news reports about the freshly mutated delta variant with a record infection rate and the sound of my crushed dreams.
Amidst the mandated lockdowns and travel bans, I’ve been reliving my travels through my journal to keep myself sane. I remember the ecstasy I felt when I discovered the most delicious carbonara in Italy. Or the time I fell in love with the calm but isolated fields in the middle of nowhere in Romania. And that one night where everyone was jamming to the voice and ukulele of a fantastic volunteer teacher in Cambodia (hi, Emma!).
No matter how bad it gets, I try to remind myself that the carrot of travelling is dangling at the end of the pandemic stick.
But every time a new variant is discovered, my heart breaks a little. Every time the possibility of escape to a new destination is on the table again, it gets taken away by new safety regulations.
“Just a little longer,” we were told by the W.H.O. and the government.
But till when?
It feels like I’m on a neverending roller-coaster ride of emotions that will only stop when I break. It feels like our planet is going on a sick power trip to teach all of humanity a lesson on humility.
A Changed World Awaits
I realised that nothing is truly the same anymore when my current location, Budapest, eased up on its COVID restrictions. As a woman on a mission, my first order of business is to rediscover the places that I love in Budapest. As I walked along the main boulevard, I discovered that the bar where I met my incredibly awesome group of friends had gone out of business. The owners who ran my favourite Vietnamese place had gone home.
Of course, compared to the millions who lost their jobs and homes during this time and the suffering of people whose loved ones succumbed to this horrible plague, my frustration with the no travel rule is nothing. But I’m running out of optimism after almost two years of waiting to travel abroad and live my wildest travel dreams again. I’m tired of missing milestones, celebrations, and the birthdays of the most important people back home. I’m running out of patience, even though I know that all I could do is wait.
So if there’s one lesson to be learned from this ordeal, it’s to seize the day and do whatever you want when you can. I don’t know when the pandemic will end or if the virus will stop mutating (probably not). But that doesn’t mean we have to let it run our lives any more than it already has.
Go to your favourite cafe and pretend it’s Paris. Transport yourself to Turkey with films, music, or even learn the language. Rent an R.V. and make a COVID-safe cross-country road trip with your friends.
After all, isn’t that the point of travelling? To experience new things and learn about ourselves and the world around us? To be resilient no matter what comes our way?
Who knows? In a few years, we might look back to the pandemic days and laugh about how insane it was. But for now, let’s just try our best to get through this and know that one day, we’ll be free again.