We’ve lived with Covid-19 for over a year now, and if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s just how lucky we are to be in Singapore.
That said, thanks to travel restrictions, wanderlust is at an all time high.
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So when we reminisce about our travels and express a profound yearning to get on a flight out of Singapore, most are quick to point out just how spoiled and entitled we are.
But is that truly the case?
What travel means to us
Travel has always been, for me, the solution to many of life’s tribulations.
Feeling bleak and uninspired? Visit the concrete jungle that is New York and feel the inspiration course through your veins. Just went through a breakup? Go on a solo trip to Bali and let her teach you a thing or two about the importance of change and self-discovery (a cliché I know, but it was my reality).
All of that is of course, only achievable with money and time to spare. So I don’t doubt that it’s a privilege to travel.
For what it’s worth, I get why travel is often viewed as a want and not a need.
Do we really need a trip to Hong Kong right now? Or do we just want to visit Hong Kong for the superfluous? To eat authentic dim sum and marvel at the skyline?
To gain some perspective, I spoke with a couple of avid travellers to find out what travel means to them.
Travel as a means to rest
Prior to the pandemic, 24-year-old Yasmin* would travel abroad at least three times a year.
Kuala Lumpur, Melbourne, Bali — the gravitational pull of the destinations itself is less than that of an escape from Singapore.
This runs true to form in a lot of Singaporeans.
It’s not so much about wanting to go to Japan to see the deers in Nara Park or Johor Bahru for its jaw-dropping shopping deals, rather, it’s the respite that comes with travelling that we yearn for.
This doesn’t come as a surprise — in a study on work-life balance, Singapore was ranked the second most overworked city.
Like many of us, Yasmin gave staycations a shot. She shared that staycations just aren’t of the same calibre as a proper vacation overseas because you’re still in Singapore.
“Even when I’m on leave, I still get work emails and WhatsApp messages and I feel inclined to reply,” she said. “Mostly because I’m Singapore bound so I feel like I need to be accessible still.”
“It’s different when I’m out of Singapore because you know, I’m on vacation.”
This school of thought is not limited to just Yasmin. Whether self-imposed or not, there’s this expectation for us to be accessible when you’re in Singapore because you’re not miles away, on vacation.
Of course, whether or not we’re able to hold ourselves back from working while on leave or vacation ultimately hinges on our personal relationship with work.
In Singapore at least, it is deeply ingrained in us that hard work plays a pivotal role when it comes to success. This produces a nation of workaholics struggling to draw a clear line between our personal and professional lives.
At the same time, our self-esteem is also inextricably linked to our productivity, fueled by internalised capitalism. Thus, many of us feel guilty for resting, with some even deeming rest as a form of laziness.
We’re afraid that if we were to take a break, we’ll be left behind, scrambling to keep up.
Travel to broaden your horizon
Situated 3,912KM away from us is 23-year-old Audrey*, attending her second year of university in Perth.
When given the choice to return home to Singapore or stay in Perth, she opted for the latter.
While Audrey’s financial situation accounted for the bulk of the decision (she had saved up and is paying her university fees all on her own), Perth’s laidback nature and breathtaking landscapes roped her in as well.
“It really is an eye-opener. Living in Perth made me realise that work isn’t everything,” she said. “It is so liberating. Over here, creativity and self-expression are encouraged. I feel like I can explore who I really am and what I want.”
Simply put, travel opens our eyes to the limitless possibilities out there — the myriad of culture and lifestyle that exists outside of our own. It urges us to be more open-minded and offers us a different perspective.
With every new city we step foot into and every new person that we meet, we learn and we grow.
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“If I had stayed in Singapore, I think I’ll have a harder time coping with the pandemic, just based on how small it is”, shared Audrey.
And she’s got a point.
Cabin fever is described as feelings of claustrophobic irritability or restlessness that one may experience when stuck in a confined space.
It isn’t something limited to Singapore, but unlike in countries like Europe, our options for a change of scenery is significantly limited. We can’t just hop onto a train and find ourselves in a whole other landscape a few hours later.
This might also explain why we clinched the top spot for the most vacation-deprived country in Expedia’s Global Study, with Singaporeans expressing a greater longing for the return to travel more than anyone else in the world.
Travel as a necessity
While it might seem improbable, travel is in fact, essential to some.
“Before Covid, I would frequently travel out of Singapore with my friends. It was my way of coping with the situation at home.” said 26-year-old Lynn*.
With the new Covid-19 restrictions, it was reported that there was a 22% increase in family violence reports since the start of circuit breaker.
For people like Lynn, travel is of utmost importance, mostly as an escape from their abusive household.
While Lynn was able to save up enough to move out, not everyone has the means to do so. For a lot of them, frequent travels out of Singapore is all they can afford due to their current circumstances.
Frustrations toward the stringent travel restrictions aren’t only limited to Singaporeans. Noel*, a French expat in his mid-thirties, shared how the closed borders are affecting him.
“I think I’m overall fortunate to be in Singapore, given that the pandemic has been better managed than in most other places,” he said.
“But lack of travel is a big issue, not so much for playing tourist but to see my family back home.”
Noel has been living in Singapore for a decade. It’s been a year and a half since he saw his family and it’s slowly taking a toll.
Should he choose to return to his home country to visit his family, he risks not being able to re-enter Singapore and losing his livelihood.
Is wanderlust senseless?
Understandably, the pandemic has engulfed us with a sense of malaise.
While a handful are still able to get on with their daily lives, for others, travel restrictions only exacerbated feelings of unrest and uneasiness.
After all, there’s nothing quite like being stuck in a small island for a long period of time to stir up introspection. We’re now forced to face whatever feelings we’ve been running from and forced to rethink our current way of life.
Circling back to the question: Are we spoiled and entitled to still want to travel?
Perhaps we’ve been getting it all wrong. The focus shouldn’t be so much on whether we’re entitled to still want to travel. Instead, it should be why we yearn to travel so much in the first place.
While privilege does contribute to one’s ability to travel, it is not the driving force of our wanderlust. The root cause of Singaporeans’ chronic yearning for travel is our unhealthy work-life culture.
That and the non-existence of domestic travel here.
As much as we like to joke about knowing your friend’s cousin’s ex or having dated your colleague’s best friend, it’s pretty much indisputable that Singapore is indeed, a tiny red dot.
Soon enough, there just isn’t new faces to meet and new places to explore. Sights and people get repetitive and we’d crave for a break from what we know, for some novelty. It’s just the nature of things.
Some of us have a higher tolerance for the run-of-the-mill, others just can’t function without some sort of inspiration or escape, travel being one of them.
At the end of the day, travel does instil in us this grand sense of unlimited possibilities and offer us a chance to break out of our current lifestyle.
As such, it’s unlikely our wanderlust as Singaporeans will lessen, or ever go away. Neither will our romanticisation of travel.
And for good reason — we’re only human.
*Names have been changed to protect their privacy.
Also read: COVID-19: Singaporean Students Overseas Recount their Arduous Journey Home After MFA Recall
How have you been coping with Covid-19? Did it change your view on life as well? Let us know in the comments!