During the global pandemic, some Singaporeans, here and based overseas, have ventured carefully into countries that have a more relaxed stance on Covid-19 measures.
At a time when Singapore is seeking to open borders safely, beginning with the Vaccinated Travel Lanes to Germany and Brunei, the stories of these four travellers demonstrate how it is possible to explore the world again with peace of mind - sometimes with kids in tow.
1. Assess and keep mask on if preferred
Who: Ms Andrea Yeo, 33, marketing professional in Madrid, Spain
Ms Yeo's plans to relocate to Spain were postponed because of the pandemic, but they finally materialised in July last year in the midst of it.
She and her husband were in Italy this past July for a two-week summer holiday.
Before that, when borders were closed, they travelled widely within Spain to explore cities and towns such as San Sebastian, Seville, Murcia and Caceres.
"We do not want Covid-19 to hinder our love of travelling," she says. Even though mask-wearing is not mandatory outdoors in Europe, she would assess the environment, opting to do so on some occasions.
This was her second time in Italy and, memorably, there were visibly fewer tourists. The canals in Venice appeared much cleaner and there was less litter at tourist attractions like Cinque Terre.
"It was also easier to find choice accommodation in the peak summer period even though we booked our travel only one month in advance," she says. But she had to make more restaurant bookings to ensure she had a table, instead of just showing up, because of the reduced dine-in capacity.
As foreign residents in Spain, the two Singaporeans made sure they complied with all the requirements to enter Italy and re-enter Spain, for instance, by having all the relevant documents and Covid-19 tests done beforehand. "We will definitely travel again soon and we are already starting to plan our next trip."
Tips to explore safely
• Arrive at the airport early to allow more time for checks.
• By getting vaccinated and taking the necessary precautions such as safe distancing and frequent hand sanitising, travelling should be the same as before, albeit with masks on.
2. Forget flying, take the car instead
Who: Ms Laura Low, mid-40s, senior project manager in Munich, Germany
The first time she travelled was in June last year after the first lockdown in Germany, where she has been based for the past eight years.
After careful pre-planning, Ms Low and her German husband headed to the Netherlands for a two-week holiday with their children aged 11 and 13.
Her husband drove nine hours each way. She says: "We have been avoiding air travel as we do not want to be in an enclosed area with many people."
Since then, they have gone to Croatia and Switzerland, also by car.
She devised ways to explore safely each time.
"We chose to visit sparsely populated areas, so we didn't have to worry so much about social distancing," she says. "We favoured accommodation with large windows that allow for natural ventilation and frequent airing of the premises."
They had decided to travel only if they could drive to the destinations - each drive took seven to 10 hours - except for a trip to Singapore last December for three months.
"I felt reassured to fly home because I knew the flight would be relatively empty and Singapore Airlines aircraft are equipped with high-efficiency particulate air filters."
Tips to explore safely
• Do not rush. Travel only when you are really comfortable. Choose destinations that have robust healthcare systems in the unlikely situation that one falls sick.
• Buy travel insurance and register with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in case you need assistance.
• It might be worth visiting cities where friends and family are residents, so they can provide support and help reduce the anxiety of travelling.
• Like Ms Low and her family, you can do self-testing with antigen rapid test (ART) kits regularly during the trip and voluntarily isolate when you return home.
3. Manage expectations of trips
Who: Ms Sherlene Wong, 43, fitness instructor in San Francisco, United States
After being in various stages of a lockdown, she wanted a break from the pandemic.
Around Christmas last year, Ms Wong took the plunge and booked a two-week holiday to Hawaii without knowing how the pandemic would be like this year.
In June, she and her American husband boarded a five-hour direct flight to Maui with their nanny and two children - Claire, five, and Eli, 19 months.
The adults were fully vaccinated and everyone, except Eli, had to have a negative Covid-19 test result. After the holiday, they also self- quarantined at home for 10 days.
"We were naturally concerned about virus exposure on the flight, especially for my son who was not able to wear a mask," she recalls.
But in hindsight, she had never felt safer as everyone had to show a negative Covid-19 test result before boarding. Also, everyone aged two and older wore their masks at all times, except when eating and drinking.
The sense of safety continued in Hawaii. She says: "We chose to spend our days on remote beaches and stay at a resort away from the tourist traps as we know Maui would be crowded.
"When we were outdoors and away from others, we were comfortable enough to remove our masks to make the most of Maui's fresh ocean air and sunshine."
They have already made plans to head back to Hawaii, this time to the Big Island, over Christmas.
But more importantly, she has booked tickets to come home to Singapore in February next year to see her parents and have her kids celebrate Chinese New Year with their extended family for the first time.
Tips to explore safely
• As a parent of unvaccinated children, Ms Wong says she is a lot more careful. It also helps to manage one's expectations of what one wants to get out of the trip. She and her husband enjoy eating out a lot, but on the trip, they gave a few of their favourite restaurants a miss as they did not offer outdoor dining. "With my unvaccinated kids, we did not want to take the risk to dine indoors," she says.
• Good planning is crucial and be civic-minded at all times. Ms Wong and her family respected the local mask mandates and were grateful to the locals working in the tourism sector who put their lives at risk every day, just so visitors can enjoy travel again.
4. Avoid crowded places, hit the outdoors
Who: Ms Lorna Ow, 40, director at a consultancy firm in Singapore
For the past eight years, Ms Ow has been travelling from Singapore to the United States for leisure.
This year alone, she had been to Atlanta in Georgia twice, staying 1½ months each time, to visit her American fiance.
While she was not vaccinated on her first trip, she managed to get her jab in the US on her second trip as she had been unable to schedule a vaccination appointment in Singapore before her departure date.
"On my first trip in January, I was especially concerned about the flight. But I was less worried when I saw the flight crew in protective gowns, goggles, masks and gloves," she says.
"The flight was rather pleasant even if we had to wear masks the entire time."
On the ground, she was impressed that even though there was no mask mandate in Georgia, businesses made mask-wearing compulsory where she stayed.
"Pre-pandemic, my fiance and I would travel within the US by air, hang out at bars and restaurants and meet friends," she says.
"Now, we plan visits to places we can drive to and make sure we are not in crowded places and are always outdoors."
Tips to explore safely
If you are fine with not travelling, do not do it. You will not enjoy yourself if you are in constant fear. But if you cannot wait to jump on a plane, remember to continue taking precautions such as wearing a mask and using hand sanitisers - even if you are fully vaccinated.
- A former tax consultant, Soh Wee Ling is a freelance writer and photographer who returned to Singapore in 2018 after a decade abroad. It has been more than two years since she was last in France, where her husband is from. The thought of seeing family and friends again is tempting, but she is still a little hesitant about travelling with two young, unvaccinated children.