Grounded: Another Year Without International Travel

Not a single one of us could’ve seen a time like this coming, but here we are in a pandemic that has rendered the world shut for what is coming up to a year. I never thought I’d be going stir-crazy, stuck within the proverbial four walls of Malaysia, but here I am… going stir-crazy.

When we first went into lockdown on 18 March last year, I told myself that we’d be shut in for two weeks; two weeks came and went. Then I told myself we’d be open by June; June came and went. Finally, the government announced international travel closures until 31 December. “Okay, no point stressing,” I told myself, and so I abandoned all hopes of travelling in 2020. 

I placated myself with mental travels. Laying on my living room floor, looking out at the clear blue sky took me back to summer in Los Angeles. On a cold rainy day, in the same position on my cold cream-coloured tiles, the gloomy grey sky felt like Munich in the fall, or London for most of the year. When I went to Redang with my girlfriends in September, I laid back on the lounger in the sun and squinted at the white sand and turquoise water, and imagined being back on the island of Belitung.

As the end of the year loomed, I started getting antsy. At the rate things were going, I knew in my heart of hearts (and also because the authorities were – and still are – being utterly stupid with their SOPs and guidelines) that they’d push back the travel restriction dates. Sure enough, the announcement came that international travel restrictions were extended through to 31 March 2021.

Let’s be real, I thought. We knew this was coming; we saw it from a mile away. So why was it any surprise that they did that? To add salt to an already-festering wound, on 13 January, Malaysia got put back in Movement Control Order (MCO). We can’t travel further than 10 kilometres from our homes – apa lagi interstate travel – so even a trip to a local beach is out of the question for most of us. This MCO 2.0 is slated for two weeks, but glaringly obvious patterns of incompetence and inconsistencies from you-know-who will very likely have us stuck in this rut for the foreseeable future.

Before I go any further, let me say this: I know that there are bigger issues at hand locally and globally, and worrying about not being able to travel is a complete and utter privilege. We cannot, however, ignore the fact that not being able to travel has caused many Malaysians to suffer from ‘wanderlost’. Travel is a huge part of our lifestyle and economy, whether domestically or internationally, because it is a desperately-needed escape – however brief – from our everyday routines.

(Klook Malaysia)

I’ve done a lot of travelling in the last five years or so, and I’ve gotten hooked to the anticipation and excitement that comes from every stage of it (minus the coming back, because like a lot of us, I never want to come back). That feeling all travellers get before embarking on a journey gives us a heady high much like a drug. The withdrawals are all too real.

I miss the excitement of the week leading up to a flight to wherever; the shopping, primping, prepping, and packing; the lack of sleep the night before my morning flight because I’m nervous about missing it; the butterflies in my tummy as I make my way to the airport. I miss long-haul flights, layovers, and crappy airline food. I miss hearing, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are preparing for landing!” Just writing this has me teary-eyed right now. I can barely imagine how my boss feels about not being able to travel when all she’s done in most of her adult life is that. According to her, this is the longest she’s ever gone without having a flight to catch.

It’s selfish and bitter of me to say, but a tiny part of me is glad that the whole world can’t travel. It’s a worldwide time-out. As the popular High School Musical jam goes, we’re all in this together. Well, most of us anyway… I have it on good authority that there are people (here’s looking at you, Americans) still travelling to Mexico, and other South American and Caribbean countries, holidaying like the last 12 hellish months never happened. If there’s one thing the pandemic has done, it’s definitely shown that ‘stupid is as stupid does’, but that’s another story in itself. 

I haven’t made any travel plans this year because I feel like it’s a lost cause. Really, what’s the point? If anything, I’d be setting myself up for disappointment. Nonetheless, I would’ve liked to have had the option at the very least, you know what I’m saying? One thing I’m sure of is that when the world opens again and travel picks back up, I’m going to be back at it like a crack addict with a bad habit. But until that happens, I’ll just be here on my living room floor, squinting at the clear blue Malaysian sky, wishing that I was back in Los Angeles again.

*Disclaimer: The views, opinions, and thoughts expressed here belong solely to the author and do not represent those of Zafigo or its affiliations. 

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Eliza Thomas
Eliza loves long-distance travel, cold weather, and the beach. Her favourite city is Los Angeles and she believes no other country has a better food scene than Malaysia. You're welcome to try and change her mind.