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“VTL Travel? Thank You, Next” — An Ex-Wanderluster Reveals Why Overseas Trips Are No Longer #1 Priority

Not travelling despite Vaccinated Travel Lanes

Pull up Instagram, and I’m sure you’ll come across someone who’s currently boarding their flight to Germany, or road tripping across the UK. Since news about the Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTL) hit, our feeds have been flooded with much excitement and relief. Travel is back sis, and it is time to go off.

For someone who used to eagerly travel for a living, you’d think I’d be one of the first few to snag a ticket before the Singapore Airlines website crashed. But I wasn’t. And I ain’t the only one.

vtl travel poll
Image credit: Neomi Y

A couple of Telegram polls revealed that despite VTLs, a majority of voters said they’d rather stay here in Singapore. Surprising, considering we’re a nation that loves to travel. What gives? Has the pandemic successfully offed our wanderlust? Or has it just drastically changed our priorities? 

Not-so-popular opinion alert, but here’s why travel can wait:

The increased cost of travel

The return of leisure travel comes with a slightly higher price tag. On top of flights and accommodation, you’ll need to budget for PCR tests. If you’re heading to Munich, expect to shell out ~S$280 for PCR tests. The actual amount will differ, depending on where you’re going and that country’s testing protocols.

And as for living life on the edge, i.e. travelling with no insurance, it’s safe – but sad – to say that era is gone.

If you kena Covid-19 abroad, you may be required to cover your own expenses during the 14-day self-isolation period. Travel insurance will help to alleviate these costs, and it’s best to get a plan that includes a quarantine allowance too. For this, you gotta read the fine print.

stressing over money for travels
Photo for illustrative purposes only

So how much will travel insurance cost you? It depends on your destination, trip duration, and the amount of coverage you’re comfortable with. For reference, in 2018, a basic plan from DirectAsia costs ~S$120 for a year-end two-week trip in the US. Now – based on quotes from Aviva and NTUC Income – it hovers around S$170, with the lowest-tier Covid-19 coverage.

That said, I’m all for you travelling via the VTL if you can afford it. For me, two years of being ‘trapped’ at home (Thanks, CB and WFH) made me crave my own space. My priority shifted from saving up for my next grand getaway, to saving up for my future home. A space where I can live mentally free for months and years trumps a physical escape for a few days or weeks.

I believe this extends to other folks as well. With dining restrictions still in place and increased rates of burnout, there are more reasons to save for rainy days. Until more affordable destinations like Bangkok or Bali join the VTL gang, I doubt we’ll board a plane anytime soon.

The copious amount of planning required

Before the pandemic hit, I prided myself on having exceptional trip planning and research skills. But after two years of zero travel, they’re admittedly rusty AF

Not a good look, since travelling is a touch more complicated now. 

spontaneous trips
Spontaneous weekend trips? Nah, that era is gone too.
Image credit: Neomi Y

On top of planning your itinerary, you’ll need to keep an eye on international news. Then, figure out travel requirements, local country restrictions, where to take your PCR tests, and what to do if you test positive for Covid-19. It can be rather overwhelming, especially when things can change on a whim.

Most recently, Denmark imposed a 10-day quarantine for vaccinated travellers from Singapore. And a few weeks back, Germany classified Singapore as a “high-risk area”. While it hasn’t drastically affected our VTL arrangement unless you’re travelling with kids, it’s easy to think of the worst-case scenario.

Remember the accursed Singapore-Hong Kong bubble, or “corridor”? Touch wood. From mid-2020 to earlier this year, It took us on a wild ride. I watched many travellers, including my former boss and colleagues, experience recurring disappointment due to last-minute postponements. Not just once. Thrice.

I suppose there’s only so much nail-biting anxiety and uncertainty one can handle during this transition to a ‘new normal.’ *Flips table*

The undeniable risk of catching Covid-19

Health implications aside, there are social implications too.

Let’s say you contract Covid-19 during your trip. You won’t be allowed to board a VTL plane home until 14 days later. Travel insurance will save the day, but it won’t protect you from the wrath/annoyance of your employer. Unless you have the privilege to work remotely, there’s a chance your employer might not be too pleased about the disruption.

I imagine it’s a grating situation, especially when you’re trying to recover in a foreign land.

Of course, this is all assuming your employer even approves your overseas leave in the first place. And that bit is out of our control.

vtl travel risks
A fellow wanderluster’s reasons for not wanting to travel
Image credit: Neomi Y

A couple of friends also cited loved ones as a reason for not travelling. In their words, they don’t want to “increase the risk” for the elderly and kids they live with. Sure, over 80% of Singapore is vaccinated and we’re treating Miss Rona as endemic, but there are many folks who’d rather not take their chances. 

Considering how many VTL destinations have different COVID-19 measures, they have a point. 

In Germany, masks are a must indoors; optional outdoors. In Denmark, most restrictions have been lifted. Except for the airport, masks are generally not required at all — even in restaurants, grocery stores and nightclubs (unless specified by certain establishments).

copenhagen, denmark
Copenhagen, Denmark.
Image credit: Neomi Y

Dang, it’s like going back to 2019. Once you get past the 10-day quarantine, that is.

But as they say, safety is sexy. And if choosing to stay put means minimising the risks for our nearest and dearest, then home be lookin’ even more like a snacc now.

VTL: To travel, or not to travel

Let’s get one thing straight: this whole piece isn’t to bash the Vaccinated Travel Lanes, or discourage anyone from going. IMHO, I think VTLs are a fantastic scheme.

reuniting with partner
Me, after being away from my partner for six months. Imagine two years.
Image credit: Neomi Y

VTLs allow families and friends to finally reunite. They give a second life to cancelled grad trips, honeymoons, and all other celebratory travels. And they’re a hopeful sign that life is slowly, oh-so-slowly, going back to the way we remembered it.

They’re just not for me right now. 

Things aren’t all bad, though. I’ve enjoyed rediscovering Singapore and its quirky attractions, like AxeFactor and Universal Studios. I’ve even gone on staycations and cruises to nowhere – twice. You gotta give it to our tourism sector: there are still ways to feel like you’re on holiday here.

airplane window view
Image credit: Neomi Y

That said, if you’ve weighed all the risks and decided YOLO or VTLs are worth the hassle, go ahead! Friends who’ve gone overseas told me they’d absolutely do it again, and that they didn’t want to come back home. Something I believe we can all relate to.

So stay safe, have fun, and know that I’ll be stalking living vicariously through your Instagram stories and photos. #dontblockmepls

To my fellow wanderlusters taking the wait-and-see approach, it may be painful but we’ve got this. If taking care of finances or mental health is priority #1, it’s okay to put your travel dreams on hold for the time being. Life do be like that sometimes, but you’re not alone.

There’ll come a day when restrictions end, and we’ll take to the skies once again.

All images from the author were taken on their mobile phone.
Cover image adapted from: Neomi Y