It is about the time, almost to the end of the year, where the holiday season is about to begin. Every year, around this time, I will be planning my holiday, to disappear for a while, to recharge myself. But not to burst my own (or anyone’s) bubble, here I am, stuck at home.
If you remember just before COVID-19 hit us in early 2020, overtourism was a real thing. Destinations like Venice, Bali, Amsterdam, and Boracay were swamped with tourists. You can easily find online pictures of beaches with a sea of tourists. Doesn’t this seem surreal now? The travel industry is one of the hardest-hit industries globally. Overtourism? That’s almost impossible for now. But please don’t get me wrong, I am not all that pessimistic.
In fact, here is what I am doing, I am looking back at all my travelling photos and videos. I am trying to relive those happy moments. I still have tons of pictures of my last backpacking trip on my phone, here’s one: me getting ready to go to Cambodia.
And there I was, so excited for my next adventure. I remember my bag was so heavy and I thought I could survive it all for weeks. Nope, I didn’t, my shoulders were so sore but it was well worth it!
These memories are so vivid and I can’t help myself but think about how everything has changed. I miss travelling so much! And the more I think about it, the more I realized there are so many things that I took travelling for granted.
1. Having the freedom to travel
Here’s a picture of me at the Mekong river, absolutely sunburnt but feeling the most at peace and free. Of course, this is the first thing to hit me. The freedom to travel anytime and anywhere. Many airlines have been impacted by COVID-19 because of travel restrictions. Cirium, a data travel company reported that 43 commercial airlines have collapsed and at least 485 airplanes have been idled.
I will spare you from more bad news and get back to my point. The freedom to travel means I can pick any destination, buy my plane ticket, and the next thing I know, I will be on the plane so excited about my adventure. With all the travel restrictions and the pandemic, the freedom to travel anywhere and anytime on planet earth is definitely a thing I took for granted.
2. Choosing attractions, shops, and restaurants
One thing I really love to do is to walk around the city, to explore every part of it. What are the attractions around? Which restaurant should I dine in? Which bar should I go to tonight? I miss walking around looking at all the shops, souvenir shops - those tiny things that I don’t need at all. I remember there were tons of restaurants. Often, I took so long to decide what to eat because I was spoilt with choices. Oh, did I mention about the nightlife?
This is the famous Pub Street in Siem Reap. If you have been there you would know that this street, well, pre-COVID, is always busy and bustling. There were tons to choose from, whether you want to enjoy club music, reggae music or live music.
This is my favourite bar while I was there. I remember just sitting down at this bar, listening to her jazz singing (may I add - they were absolutely great!) and getting a beer to wind down for the day. Ah…. good times! I wish I was there now. The last I checked on the internet, Pub Street is in near-total darkness and music is no longer heard. To be honest with you, while typing this and reminiscing the good times, it was all these small little things that I have taken for granted. I don’t know how long it will take for destinations like Siem Reap to be how it used to be.
3. Connecting with others
When I said I travel to take time to recharge, this is it. To connect with others through travel. We never know who we will meet when we travel. Some of the best people that I have met are from my travels. Some of the best advice I have gotten in my life are from strangers I met through travelling.
Here’s a picture of a friendly local woman that I’ve come across. This lady is a farmer and the gentleman is a Tuk Tuk driver. They were just relaxing and chatting away. I was taking pictures of the scenery and they started a conversation with me. It started with where I am from, exchanging little information of ourselves. The next thing I know, I looked at my watch, and it’s been over 30 minutes!
You learn a lot of things about a place and culture when you talk to the locals. We all come from different backgrounds and it was nice to connect with others. These little meaningful conversations broaden my perspective of life. Bottom line is, we all need human connection. To connect with others, to find like-minded and to find different perspectives are what we are built for. Travelling connects us that way. Like this wise lady in the picture told me “young lady, the world is beautiful and full of surprises, you never know who you will meet”.
4. Getting together with friends and family
This is one of the best things to do. Meeting up with your friends and planning your trip. In this fast-paced society, we all have our own lives and we are pretty much so busy all the time. But the important thing is to set aside a time from your busy life and spend it with people you love.
This picture of me and my friends was taken in Bali. We pretty much decided to hop on a plane and meet in Bali for a short getaway. This trip was a blast and I absolutely miss them.
Not to forget it is almost the end of the year. We have Christmas and then New Year. These are the important dates for most of us. A time where our families and friends get together to celebrate. For me, Chinese New Year is important. We have reunion dinner where every member of the family will gather to celebrate. I won’t lie and say in 2021, Chinese New Year would be the same. In fact, this Christmas, most of us are unable to make it home to celebrate with our loved ones.
5. Having impromptu trips – weekend escapes
When I am stressed out, my best medicine is taking an impromptu trip over the weekend. Living in a city is nice but it can feel a bit concrete for me at times. Usually, I would book a place for a night or two, somewhere near the city. For me, these weekend escapes are normally surrounded by nature. I just need some fresh air to replenish myself. Well, this might also vary depending on where you are now. Where I am currently at, the travel restrictions are tight. I can’t travel to another city unless I have authorized permission. You are lucky if you are living in a place where you still can travel for the weekend.
Overall, the pandemic reminds me of the real meaning of distance. Whether it is length, space, remoteness or separation, I can feel it and understand it now. The freedom to travel anywhere and anytime is a privilege now. To be able to socialize and connect with others freely is a privilege. Most of all, to be able to explore a place and culture freely with all of the businesses open is a privilege. If you can resonate with me, your travel spirit is alive. I don’t know when we can travel again, but rest assured, when I do, I will not take these things for granted again.