I swopped wanderlust for staying home and found that I liked it

SINGAPORE - My name is Clara and I am a travel addict.

Like every addiction, it crept up on me. I cover travel, so it was normal to look up flight deals or browse travel blogs in the middle of the work day.

I sought the rush of booking plane tickets and would fritter away precious vacation time fantasising about my next destination. On road trips, I'd turn to my partner at the wheel and say: "Shall we go to Kenya next year? Or to the south of France?"

Never mind that our current route was flanked by towering mountains or that we were driving into a brilliant sunset of auburn and gold.

Once home, and a few carefully curated Instagram posts later, the cycle would begin again. Sometimes I wouldn't even get around to uploading photos from my memory card until it was time to pack for my next trip. The joy of travel lies in anticipation, not reminiscence.

Covid-19 put an abrupt halt to this. I went on a month-long trip to Scandinavia earlier this year and was lucky to return without incident. But, coming home to an empty Changi Airport, I knew this would be my last trip for a long time.

Travel players foresee this too. According to the International Air Transport Association, it took about four years for air passenger traffic to return to trend levels after Sept 11 and the 2008 financial crisis.

Changi Airport Group has shuttered Terminal Two for 18 months. Aviation analyst Brendan Sobie, who runs consulting firm Sobie Aviation, says recovery will likely take a couple of years.

NEW WAYS TO SEE THE WORLD

In the meantime, it is unwise for a chronic wanderluster to hanker for something so far down the line.

This was one of my early lessons when I graduated into the workforce seven years ago.

 
 
 

Call me a millennial, but it was a shock to the system to go from long summer breaks to what felt like a paltry 18 days of leave each year.

I sought the advice of a life coach who was doling out free nuggets of wisdom at a flea market.

"What is it about travel you enjoy?" she asked.

"Meeting new people, learning about different cultures and having new experiences," I said, echoing travellers the world over.

Perhaps, she suggested, there were ways I could do the same in Singapore.

I had never been part of a sports team, but that year, I learnt to play touch rugby, waking up at 6am every Saturday to join a recreational group who showed me the ropes and were patient with my butterfingers.

Frequenting pop-up stores and art exhibitions, I found in each one a different perspective of home.

Exploring Singapore is no longer an option under the circuit breaker, but new start-up RandomDots, founded this January by expatriates Marc Astbury, 29, and Anna Guo, 28, brings hidden corners of the country to you.

One Saturday night, I try out their #StayHome experience, which includes a meal, cocktail kit and surprise activity.

It is like visiting a friend abroad. When they ask where you want to go, you say "anywhere" because sometimes it is wonderful to go with the flow.

This reveals a livestreamed cocktail-making workshop by Abhishek Cherian George of The Spiffy Dapper bar, followed by a competition to make the most attractive drink.

Watching the entertainingly explicit barkeeper on my television screen feels like shooting the breeze at the bar - even better, as his attention is not divided among all the other patrons.

With travel, as with everyday life, it is the people that prove most memorable.

CONNECTING FROM AFAR

Amid the pandemic, there are more ways than ever to make new friends. This month, Airbnb launched online experiences that feature hosts and activities from around the world.

Part of travel is venturing beyond my comfort zone, so while browsing, I deliberately skip the virtual farm visits (I love animals) and cocktail classes (yum), and land instead on a flamenco dance class with an instructor from southern Spain.


Clara's own throwbacks took her down a rabbit hole of old photographs and journal entries. ST PHOTO: CLARA LOCK

As evidenced from my fledgling touch rugby attempts, coordination is not one of my strong suits.

But I gamely put on a red dress and heels to join Spaniard Eva Izquierdo on video conferencing app Zoom from her home in Seville , where she breaks down the dance into manageable steps of clapping, stamping and twirly hands.

The class is meant to last an hour, but we pour drinks and talk for two, swopping notes about the strange stay-home situations in which we find ourselves.

Ms Izquierdo, who runs tours and dance workshops, cried for two weeks when the coronavirus decimated her business. Then she picked herself up and has taught 50 students online in the past week.

She is 47, single, lives alone and loves meeting new people.

Online classes let her do just that. She still buys groceries for her parents weekly, but bemoans the connection is fleeting.

"I want to hug my parents," she says. I, too, miss doing the same.

THROWBACK SEASON

With travel plans cancelled, those on social media turn to past trips to quell wanderlust.

Living in an Instagram age means only the best photos from a trip make it online but, of late, more are unearthing old photos and writing longer, reflective captions to accompany them.

A friend posted about visiting Wuhan on her virgin trip to China before the pandemic struck. Another recalled how she was stranded for a night in Ischia, an island off the coast of Naples in Italy.

 
 
 

Each post is a window to a different time. It is in these recounts that we make sense of travel.

My own throwbacks take me down a rabbit hole of old photographs and journal entries, replete with lessons from my twenties.

Solo travel taught me to enjoy my own company, backpacking through South-east Asia made inequality stark and one has no choice but to be adaptable in the face of last-minute flight delays.

I may have learnt these things while travelling, but they could not be more relevant now. If I could embrace uncertainty and solitude on the open road, then why not amid a circuit breaker too?

This year, through stillness, I have experienced the world anew. One day, when plane aisles and empty skies fill up once more, I intend to be fully present to savour it all.

But I have learnt to enjoy staying home too.