Travel in the new normal

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MA. ZOE C. LATUMBO

(First of two parts)

A nightmare. Stressful. Challenging. Full of uncertainties. Depressing. Terrible. Traumatic. Unlimited anxiety attacks.

This is how family and friends described the pandemic in a short online poll. For 20 months now, the pandemic has curtailed our freedom to move and physically interact. Despite the ordeal, some of us found notable learnings from this global catastrophe.

Although shrouded in fear, there is always a gleam of positivity in everything that has transpired, said one of the respondents of a survey on COVID-19 experiences. Majority agree that the lessons, though learned the hard way, should never be taken for granted.

A fine shot of Metro Manila’s skyscrapers taken while on hotel quarantine in March 2021.

Ninety percent of poll respondents have been fully vaccinated while the rest are awaiting their turn to complete the jab. They all admit that vaccines are primarily needed to protect themselves, family and friends. Not surprisingly, 75 percent want a booster shot.

Ranked next as the reason for taking the vaccine is the desire to travel again. In fact, 85 percent had made travel plans prior to the pandemic. Asked where they plan to go once restrictions are lifted, the majority preferred overseas vacations and for local sites, Palawan is the most voted choice.

So what happened to air fare, hotel bookings, package tours? For the lucky ones, air ticket payments were converted to travel funds, some hotel bookings refunded, but most prearranged package tours were forfeited. Although the majority aborted their travels and opted to wait until the green light is on, very few people managed to escape from their “house arrest” to seek respite, albeit short lived, in safer destinations.

So how was the experience of traveling in the new normal?

I was repatriated from Yangon in mid-March this year despite my plea to stay in the city, asserting that the coup d’etat staged by the power-hungry military was more temporary than the travels and scary situation back in the Philippines amid COVID. But for an itchy feet to be locked up for 15 months in one city, the excitement to fly again was through the roof.

The writer with family and friends in the US in June and July when travel restrictions eased.

Three cities throughout my journey–Yangon, Kuala Lumpur, and Manila–have nearly similar travel policies, except that when we boarded the flight to the Philippines, seats were full and there is no social distancing for the entire four hours of flying. The face shield, strictly imposed starting at the pre-boarding gate of the Manila-bound flight, did not help to abate my fears.

Oddly enough, the Philippine government did not require inbound passengers of a negative COVID test result. Once landed, we were greeted by a motley group of Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine Red Cross and airport personnel, lining up to meet and assist every single passenger.

That was my longest one-way trip ever, commencing on March 12 from when I was picked up from the apartment through to reaching home on March 24 – all inclusive of transits, two swab tests and quarantine period. At the hotel, healthy food and a literal breath of fresh air are just wishful thinking. But eight days of strict isolation in Manila was a good chance to spend quality me-time for reflection and reminiscences, and to appreciate the changing hues of the horizon though blurred by smog and occasional rains (for the lucky ones that have a glimpse of the outside world from the hotel window). – NWI (To be continued)